Durban - Disgraced tennis legend Bob Hewitt’s wife, Delaille, reacted with fury on Friday when asked for comment on his indefinite suspension from both the International Tennis Hall of Fame and South African Tennis Hall of Fame.
Hewitt was suspended after an intensive investigation by the International Hall of Fame into allegations of sexual abuse against him by underage girls he coached from the 1970s to the 1990s.
Delaille Hewitt said her husband was not available for comment, as she rounded on his accusers, as well as the media, for reporting on the story.
Referring to Suellen Sheehan, who laid a charge of rape against Hewitt in December relating to alleged sexual abuse when she was a minor, Delaille Hewitt said, “Do you know what that woman has done to this family?…”
Taking a breath, she went on, referring to another complainant, Twiggy Tolken, who was also coached by Hewitt when she was a teen in Joburg. She now lives in New Zealand.
“And that woman from New Zealand, she withdrew her case in 1981. Why did she not come out on her own? Why did she not come out with her letters before now?”
The letters referred to formed part of the evidence given to the Hall of Fame during its investigation.
The Independent on Saturday has copies of the letters, two of which have a Sun City letterhead.
Allegedly written by Bob Hewitt, sentences include “I can only assume you think of me as a sex maniac” and “hope we can keep up for a long time (like forever) what we were doing yesterday and begin very, very soon phase 1 and then soon after phase 2. My love I can’t wait and only because of my love for you.”
Meanwhile the women who made the allegations have welcomed the suspension.
Heather Crowe Conner, the former American pro tennis player who first spoke out about Hewitt having sex with her when she was only 15 years old, said yesterday: “I am thankful the Hall stood for strong decency and have made him be held accountable for his actions and for the lifelong damaging effect and robbing young girls of their innocence.”
Tolken said the letters have been tested by a handwriting expert.
“The news brought tears to my eyes. It was unbelievable. Such a long wait and such an awesome outcome. The Hall of Fame have done the right thing,” she said.
In tears at the news, Sheehan said she felt so liberated and overwhelmed, while Amanda Wienhold from Durban who had also come forward, said she “applauded” the Hall of Fame for persevering with a long and difficult investigation.
In what was an unprecedented case for the prestigious International Hall of Fame, chief executive Mark Stenning said the investigation carried out by independent lawyers, Hinckley Allen and Snyder, appointed and led by Michael Connolly, a former Assistant US Attorney had been “exhaustive”.
The investigation included hours spent interviewing the women, as well as Hewitt in both Boston and South Africa.
Stenning said the Hall’s executive committee had voted unanimously to suspend Hewitt on Wednesday night after finding the women’s allegations “credible”.
“It’s hard to see a scenario where he (Hewitt) will ever get back into the Hall of Fame. His legacy has ceased to exist.”
The suspension follows hard on the heels of the Jimmy Savile sex scandal in Britain and more recently in the US, where boxing legend, Sugar Ray Leonard has come forward about sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a coach.
British television icon Savile worked predominantly with children and young people through his programme Jimmy’ll Fix It, in which he helped his TV viewers’ wishes come true. Many of these were children and over 400 cases of sexual abuse have been reported since the story broke in late September, following Savile’s death almost a year ago.
Leonard, now a boxing Hall of Famer, has also spoken out about 30 years of anguish at keeping his abuse secret.
Speaking at Penn State University at the end of October, Leonard said one of the most difficult things about abuse was that it was often done by a trusted person and that he had abused drugs and alcohol in an effort to “numb” the shame of being abused.