In 2018, Jennifer Fox made an Emmy-nominated film called “The Tale” about her pieced-together memories of what she now describes as childhood sexual abuse.
Laura Dern starred in the HBO drama, in which Fox unspooled what she remembered about the relationship she had as a 13-year-old with her 40-year-old coach.
The details were horrific and unsettling, and the lingering pain of the main character, also called Jennifer, was palpable. But the coach was given a pseudonym in the lightly fictionalized film.
Now, a half century after the relationship ended in 1973, Fox has come forward with the name of the man who she said abused her. She said it was Ted Nash, a two-time Olympic medalist in rowing and nine-time Olympic coach who had mythic status in the sport. Early in his athletic career, Nash also coached girls and women in running.
“He was a very esteemed, very talented manipulator and beloved and looked good and acted right and had all the right credentials,” Fox told The New York Times in a series of interviews, adding that Nash, who died at 88 in 2021, seemed like someone she and her parents could trust. Fox has filed a complaint against Nash with U.S. Rowing, the sport’s national federation.
When told of the accusations, Aldina Nash-Hampe, Nash’s first wife, said they were “kind of a surprise to me.”
“But then,” she added, “he seemed to have affairs with a lot of women, and that’s one of the reasons I left.”
Nash-Hampe, 87, said that she and Nash divorced in 1972, after she found letters from Nash to some of those “many, many women,” and also that Nash had “kind of abandoned” her and their two young sons. She said that she didn’t know anything about the experiences Fox described, and that she was not aware of Nash having been involved with underage girls. But, she said, it was as if Ted Nash had two lives.
“He’s got a big reputation for being a wonderful guy,” she said. “But he does have this history.”
His widow, Jan Nash, said she was shocked and saddened by Fox’s allegations and that “it’s just not fair” for Fox to name Ted now that he can’t defend himself.
“Look, I didn’t know Ted at the time, so I can’t say anything about that time,” she said of Fox’s accusations.
In the rowing world, Nash was revered because of his résumé, charisma and, in many cases, status as a father figure both on and off the water. In a 168-page book called “The Book of Ted,” written by Sean P. Colgan, one of Nash’s former collegiate and national team rowers, Colgan quotes another rower saying that Nash’s crew could hardly tell the difference between Nash and God.
Colgan, in an interview from his home in New Zealand, said that he had known Nash for nearly 60 years, and that he never saw “any dent in his moral credibility, whether it’s cursing, lying, cheating, anything like that.”
Nash had accompanied Colgan on vacations with Colgan’s wife and five children and was the godfather of Colgan’s oldest daughter, Colgan said, and Nash never showed any sexual attraction to “younger people.” He called Fox’s accusation’s “preposterous.”
“People that know Ted know that he’s an upstanding guy — the most upstanding I’ve ever met in my life,” Colgan said.
After receiving Fox’s complaint last fall, U.S. Rowing, aided by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, brought in the law firm Shearman & Sterling to investigate. Its inquiry is continuing.
Fox’s complaint included a detailed, nine-page account of her experiences. She also sent a copy of an English assignment she wrote when she was 15 that alluded to her relationship with Nash, and a link to her film. She submitted the name of a childhood friend, Brenda Hughes Miller, who said in an interview with The Times that Fox told her in middle school that she was having sex with a 40-year-old man.
Establishing the facts in sexual abuse cases is often difficult. Victims may not report their abuse because of denial, shame or fear that they won’t be believed, all of which Fox said were factors for her. But her case is particularly challenging because the abuse she described happened 50 years ago and Nash is dead.
Fox, 63, said she had little control over when she would be emotionally capable of saying Nash’s name publicly. She said she hadn’t even been ready to call herself a sexual abuse survivor until she was 45.
But after Nash died, Fox said, she read the “glowing, vomitous” obituaries about “how amazing this human being is,” and it pushed her to speak out. She said she wanted abusers to know that even dying wouldn’t spare them from being caught.
“I was so angry,” she said.
It is common for victims to come forward years after they were sexually abused as children, and rare to have a false accusation in those circumstances, said Marci A. Hamilton, who testifies as a legal expert in child abuse cases and is the chief executive of CHILD USA, a nonprofit focused on child abuse prevention.
“The science says it takes decades for victims to come forward,” she said. In a study CHILD USA conducted of thousands of abuse victims who had been Boy Scouts, Hamilton said, half had come forward before they were 50, and half after.
Amanda Kraus, the chief executive of U.S. Rowing, said she could not comment about Fox’s case because the investigation is continuing. She said, however, that it was the federation’s duty to take the abuse allegations seriously.
The U.S. Center for SafeSport declined jurisdiction over the case because Nash is dead, Kraus and Fox said, so the rowing federation took over. The actions the federation could take against Nash, if any, depend on the outcome of the inquiry, Kraus said. While the federation does not have the power to strip him of his Olympic medals, she said, it can choose to treat his legacy differently in the future.
Kraus said that she had been faced with the issue of sexual abuse more than she expected after joining U.S. Rowing in 2020.
“We’re not going to bury our heads in the sand because every time we do that, we are allowing more young people to get hurt in the future,” Kraus said. “So let’s talk about it. Let’s bring it to the surface.”
She added, “I’ll say this all the time, nothing is more important than the safety of young people.”
Nash, who, like Fox, lived outside of Philadelphia, likely came into contact with thousands of athletes during his long career in sports. After winning medals at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics, he coached crew at the University of Pennsylvania until 1983. The university’s indoor rowing center is named for him.
Nash also was an early supporter of women’s athletics. He co-founded the National Women’s Rowing Association and served as an unofficial running coach at the Padukies Track Club in Philadelphia, where girls and women competed.
“All Ted has done for women’s rowing, starting it, promoting women, helping women, all of these things that he’s done, is it all forgotten because one woman comes out with an allegation?” Jan Nash said. “It’s just not right that one woman can say something and all of the good he has done gets smeared.”
‘The most tentative, frightened little soul’
Fox, then 13, met Nash in the summer of 1973 when she was taking riding lessons from Susie Buchanan, a farm owner who died in 2013. Nash, a muscular, 6-foot-4 Olympic gold medalist, lived next door and served as a running coach for Buchanan and the riding students who lived with her that summer.
The group would meet at 5 a.m. to go on long runs, “to appreciate fitness and the fitness of our horses,” said Pamela Burdett, one of the handful of riders who lived at the farm with Fox the year Fox said she was abused. Burdett was 15 then.
“Back then, Jennifer looked asexual, like an 11- or 12-year-old boy, and she spoke in a whisper,” Burdett said in an interview. “To me, she was the most tentative, frightened little soul you could ever imagine.”
Burdett said she didn’t notice anything strange going on between Nash and Fox. But she recalled Nash once commenting on Burdett’s weight loss, and it gave her “a lascivious vibe.”
“I was like, yuck, and was disgusted because he was my dad’s age,” she said.
Fox, though, said she had enjoyed Nash’s attention. She remembered his saying that she, unlike the other girls, was mature and extraordinary. Her parents didn’t understand her, he told her. Nash and Buchanan, the farm owner, also told her that they were lovers, Fox said.
One night Buchanan brought Fox to Nash’s house, Fox recalled, so that Fox could spend the night. The scene is captured in “The Tale,” in which Dern played the character of Fox as an adult.
Fox, a prepubescent girl with braces who hadn’t had her first kiss, ended up in Nash’s bedroom. It was the beginning of an intimate relationship that would lead to Nash having sex with Fox multiple times, including coercing her to perform oral sex on him, she said.
One day, Fox asked her best friend in middle school, Brenda Hughes, if she had ever kissed a boy. The response was no. And then Hughes asked Fox the same question.
She recalled Fox responding, “I’ve actually gone all the way.”
In a recent interview, Hughes — now Brenda Hughes Miller — said that she had been shocked that Fox had already had intercourse, and that Fox had claimed that the person she had sex with was a 40-year-old whom she called her boyfriend.
“My mouth was on the floor, but I was trying not to judge,” Hughes Miller said. “I remember that I was trying not to be a total square because she was telling me not from a place of fear, of ‘What do I do?’ She was telling me, at the time, from a place of confidence, which was so weird to me.”
She added, “The way she was telling me, it didn’t occur to me at the time, like, go run around and tell somebody.”
Fox said her sexual contact with Nash continued for multiple weeks in the fall of 1973, when Fox was a seventh grader. She ended the relationship on a night when she was supposed to meet Nash and Buchanan at a hotel. The plan was for a 19-year-old college student named Robin Stryker to join them there for a foursome, Fox said. Fox backed out because she felt sick.
Stryker said in an interview that she had been having sex with Nash, but had no idea that Fox was, too. She said the hotel meeting was supposed to let them all “talk about our lives and how we love each other and how we care about each other and what we mean to each other.” But she knew that the meeting could lead to sexual acts, she said.
“I was relieved that Jenny wouldn’t be there,” Stryker said, explaining that she was glad that someone underage would not be involved. The meeting was canceled.
Stryker said she also felt she was groomed by both Nash and Buchanan, who had introduced her to Nash.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he did it,” she said, regarding Fox’s abuse allegation. “I could see him doing that. People have to be held accountable.”
A shocking school essay
For decades, Fox said, she believed that Nash had just been her first boyfriend, and nothing more. When she was 17, she went into therapy because she felt she could never love anyone after what had happened with Nash.
Acknowledging that she had been abused — or worse in her mind, that she had been a victim — would have broken her, she said. She needed to cling to the idea that she had been strong and in control of the situation, she said.
Fox finally saw the dark side of her relationship with Nash when she was in her 40s and was interviewing dozens of women worldwide for her documentary “Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman.” She was shocked to hear that other women had had experiences that sounded like hers — but they referred to them as sexual abuse.
In that film, she used the word abuse onscreen when talking about her own life.
“It dawned on me I wasn’t special at all and that oh, I was just his target,” she said in an interview. “I could handle it at 45 because I was a successful filmmaker who’d had a life, who had an ego, who was big enough to handle it.”
Her mother, Geraldine Dietz Fox, saw the film and began looking through memorabilia from Jennifer’s childhood. She found and read a decades-old English writing assignment in which Fox described her relationship with Nash and Buchanan, whom she did not name.
In the assignment, Jennifer described having a loving relationship with two adults. She wrote that a man had invited her into his bedroom and touched her body and her breasts as she remained frozen.
Where Fox wrote, “Even his kisses made me sick to me stomach,” her teacher simply changed “me” to “my” and later commented: “If what you talk about here were accurate, I would say that you have been taken advantage of by older people.”
The teacher wrote, “thank you for sharing — imaginatively conceived piece of writing,” and gave the paper an A-minus.
Her mother frantically asked Jennifer if what she had written was real. Told that it was, she wanted to confront Nash immediately, she said in an interview this month, but deferred to her daughter, who wasn’t ready to take that step. But Fox told her mother that she wanted to make a film about the experience, and her mother supported her.
Fox decided that it was the right time to write “The Tale.” The film was important to her; she wanted people to know how long it could take a child to realize that she had been abused.
After the film, Fox said, she tried to find ways to prosecute or sue Nash. But there was no going to the police for a case that was decades old because at that time the statute of limitations had expired. She also considered hiring a lawyer for a civil case, but the ones she consulted implied that Nash’s estate wasn’t large enough to make the case worthwhile, Fox said.
So she gave up — until she read how he was eulogized.
“The adult part of me wants to move on, but that child in me, she wants to face him and get it over with and name him,” Fox said. “There was a part of me saying, I will not let you rest until you name him.”