Former team-mates of Michael Quinn, the Melbourne amateur rugby union player convicted of child sex crimes in the United States, say they feel horror and anger towards their former friend and have been targeted by online trolls since his arrest.
Quinn, 33, was on Tuesday sentenced in a Los Angeles District Court to 12 years in a US prison for child sex offences.
In May, while he was travelling to the US for the Bingham Cup, a gay-friendly rugby tournament, he was caught in a sting operation trying to have sex with a six-year-old boy.
Speaking exclusively to the ABC’s 7.30 program, members of the Melbourne Chargers rugby union club said many of them had to undergo counselling after Quinn was arrested, and that they had been accused by strangers, and even family members, of harbouring a paedophile.
They said they were disgusted by Quinn’s actions and were completely blindsided by his arrest.
“That’s the gut-wrenching part, the betrayal of it,” club president Dan Syrus said.
“Someone infiltrates something we hold dear as a club and they take advantage of it and try to use it for whatever activities they want to do from a depraved perspective.”
The first the players knew of Quinn’s offending was when US law enforcement seized Quinn’s belongings from a Hollywood home rental he had been sharing with four other players.
Club committee member Leon Kennedy was already in Nashville preparing for the Bingham Cup when he heard the news.
“It was the biggest shock of my life,” he said.
“I received an email half way through from a media outlet asking for comment and showing me the news story and I remember sitting there and starting to shake because it came completely out of nowhere.”
The team brought in counsellors and psychiatrists to support the more than 50 players who had gone over to Nashville to compete in the tournament.
“Some players couldn’t play on some of the days because they were so emotionally shaken from this — people close to Michael,” Mr Syrus said.
“To see someone just emotionally broken and not being able to put the pieces together is actually gut-wrenching.”
Quinn led a double life
Mr Syrus said Quinn was a normal, easy-going person and no one ever suspected he was leading a double life.
“You would drink with him pretty easily, have a laugh and [was a] relatively good player on the field,” he said.
“He went out to social situations, he had regular relationships, just a regular person I got to know. That’s probably why it was such a shock,” Mr Kennedy told 7.30.
Quinn was also a leading embryologist and employed at Monash IVF at the time of his arrest. His role was to create embryos for people struggling to conceive naturally.
A former colleague who did not want to be identified told 7.30 Quinn was kind, funny and a complete professional.
They said that for 24 hours after the story of Quinn’s arrest broke, they believed the media had used the wrong person’s photo and name. They are still struggling to reconcile what has happened.
Team-mates trolled online
The Melbourne Chargers received hundreds of messages online after news broke of Quinn’s arrest, accusing them of all being paedophiles and of knowing Quinn was committing crimes.
Two sponsors walked away from the club while eight players left because they could not handle the stigma of being associated with Quinn.
Some players were also targeted personally.
“The thing that really — not hurt me but made me feel really down and out — was you wake up at 2:00am to a buzz on your phone … and you get the subject line of ‘you child fiddling faggots’,” club vice-president Matt Arthy said.
“And that kind of terminology in the first place is disgusting, but to have that when you know that you couldn’t have done anything … what would have we done?
We would have called the cops straight away if we knew.”
He said he felt some people close to him had even been critical.
“It feels like I’ve had family members inferring guilt by association and just saying, ‘why would I associate with people like that?’
“I was like, ‘I don’t!’ I know I don’t and the club doesn’t either.”
Winning the Bingham Cup a ‘cathartic moment’
Quinn became emotional in court today during sentencing, saying he had never offended against a child before and he was remorseful for what he had done.
He got caught in the act … I don’t feel sorry for him.”
“I block it out because I’ve got more friends that need my help and my focus than having to remember him. That’s how I deal with it.”
Despite the shock of Quinn’s arrest, the Melbourne Chargers went on to win the Bingham Cup tournament against 43 other international teams.
“To win it and lift the cup up and everyone’s bursting into tears, it was a very cathartic moment to say we did this — and it wasn’t tainted by someone,” Mr Syrus said.
“[Quinn] wasn’t here, he didn’t deserve to be part of this.”
Mr Kennedy said the players were now focusing on the next Bingham Cup in 2018, continuing to help LGBTI young people in the community and rebuilding the club’s brand.
“Recruiting new people … really helping the community — I think the Chargers have got some really good stuff coming on.” he said.