030911: BOB HEWITT

The man she accuses of abusing her when she was his nine-year-old protégée had no place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, a South African woman said on Wednesday.

Suellen Sheehan, 43, a businesswoman in Johannesburg, said it took years to overcome feelings of shame, guilt and fear that she would not be believed.

She and other accusers came forward last year to ask the Hall of Fame to remove Bob Hewitt from its ranks.

The Newport, Rhode Island-based Hall said on Tuesday that it had hired a lawyer to investigate the allegations against Hewitt, an Australian-born former doubles champion who now lives in Addo in the Eastern Cape. The investigation could result in the first expulsion from the Hall.

A man who answered Hewitt’s cellphone on Wednesday said Hewitt was unavailable for comment.

Sheehan said it was difficult to speak out, but once she did, it helped her heal.

“To say his name now is easy. A year ago, I couldn’t say it,” she said in an interview.

“I’ve actually forgiven him. Although he has to pay for what he did.”

The 72-year-old Hewitt played in the 1960s and 1970s, coached young players in South Africa in the 1980s, and was inducted into the Hall in 1992.

At the time of his induction, Sheehan said she tried to block out memories of the abuse that started when he began coaching her when she was nine and lasted until she was 14.

But last year, she and other women who say Hewitt abused them, began talking about their outrage.

She said she knew of other women in South Africa, the US and New Zealand who said they were abused by the tennis star, but she did not say how many accusers there were.

They had approached the Hall of Fame officials who told them they could do nothing because Hewitt did not face criminal charges, Sheehan said.


In December, Sheehan asked the SAPS to open a rape investigation.

Peter van Niekerk, a South African lawyer who represents Sheehan and others, said on Wednesday that the criminal investigation into the allegations against Hewitt had moved slowly.

The spokesman for South Africa’s prosecuting authority did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

Twiggy Tolken, 44, a South African now living in New Zealand, said Hewitt began abusing her when she was 12 years old, and her family reported the abuse to the police when she was 13.

Her parents later dropped the case because they did not want Tolken to have to face Hewitt in court. She said she saved letters he had written to her that detailed his advances and warned her to keep quiet, so that if anyone else ever came forward, she would be able to say, “It also happened to me, and here’s the evidence.”

“In all honesty, Bob Hewitt needs to go to jail,” Tolken said in a telephone interview.

The Hall of Fame’s former president, Tony Trabert, promised an inquiry last year, but the Hall’s chief executive officer, Mark Stenning, told The Boston Globe in May that none was being conducted. Stenning said on Tuesday that had changed, saying the Hall was now “doing the right thing”.

“The Hall of Fame is where it started,” Sheehan said.

“Now, I want him to be charged. And then, I’m done. Whether I’m ever going to get my day in court, I don’t know. But he needs to be charged.”

Sheehan said that as a child she told her mother of the abuse, “and she dismissed it”.

Among others interviewed as part of the Hall’s inquiry is Heather Conner, of West Newbury, Massachusetts. Conner, like Sheehan, agreed to be named.

Conner says she was sexually abused by Hewitt starting at age 15, when she says he forced her to have sex with him near a high school in Massachusetts. Conner is critical of the Hall for not taking action sooner and said she wanted to see He witt expelled.

Sheehan, said the focus should be on the accused.

“The message needs to go out to the coaches, and it needs to go to the people who can abuse their power,” she said.

“They mustn’t think they can always get away with it.”