The recent developments in the Marcel Goncalves scandal have come from out of nowhere for most of the BJJ world. But, those connected directly to the story over the last three years are relieved that finally, someone dared to address it publicly.
Mo Jassim, Head Organizer for the ADCC, went on a highly viewed Instagram bombardment aimed directly at the source, Fight Sports. It brought to light tons of allegations that many of us familiar with the case already knew to be true. Allegations researched by concerned community members intending to help fuel public outcry to no avail until someone with a voice that matters at the top of our industry spoke up about it.
Fight Sports teammates have now admitted to aiding Marcel Goncalves after his public arrest for a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old minor. A student under his care from age 10.
The extent of that help is debatable. But hopefully, a major news organization with the resources to give this story the merit it deserves will take up the cause and help connect the dots between what Ace’s Jiu-Jitsu Club and several other BJJ news sites have discovered.
It doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
The official post-arrest statement from fight sports owner Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu, released over three years ago, used harsh language condemning the actions of his former black belt affiliate coach. Standard phrasing like “Sexual assault can never be tolerated.” and “…he will be held responsible for his actions.” were added to the lengthy release that, at the time, seemed heartfelt and genuine.
Fast forward to the present, though, and we see a different ethos followed by him and the general community representing his team, one that downplays the severity of the crime and alludes toward the victim taking responsibility for her actions.
In reply to one of Mo Jassim’s Instagram stories, a senior member of the FS team wrote:
“The age difference makes it a statutory rape crime, which I don’t condone. However, the girl wasn’t molested or forced, so it’s not the same picture you’re painting…Is the pedophile guilty—yes! However, the sexually active girl needs to be appropriately remedied as well.”
Now let’s look back at Cyborg’s dinner with Keith Rummel, owner of Evolution MMA Naples, formerly Fight Sports Naples. In a meeting shortly after Marcel’s arrest, Cyborg propositioned Keith with the option of paying $35k to Marcel’s family as an ownership buyout to keep the Fight Sports name. Keith declined, citing no contractual obligation to Marcel’s ownership stake, and their business relationship ended.
In an interview with Aces Jiu-Jitsu Club, Keith described several moments at that dinner where Cyborg would reflect that “Marcel didn’t do anything too bad” because the act was consensual and the girl was 16. Not exactly congruent with his official statement posted less than a month prior, where he eloquently proclaimed:
“My heart breaks for the victim and her family. They know they have my full support. I ask that everyone give the victim and her family space and privacy as they are going through something no one should ever have to experience.”
Marcel was arrested for admittedly engaging in sexual activity with a person 16 or 17 years of age — a 2nd-degree felony in Florida. So, the burning question everyone is asking is, how did the crime of sexual misconduct with a minor become rationalized enough to take a 180-degree position so shortly after his arrest until today?
In Brazil, the age of consent for sexual activity is 14, a cultural difference undoubtedly leveraged by his supporters to justify Marcel’s monstrous actions. However, Marcel’s relationship with the victim began at an earlier stage of her life, age ten. Sexual predators start the grooming process of their victims well before the abuse. So, can a cultural issue explain the mass of people that knowingly stayed silent over the last four years considering those facts?
Letting Marcel share his wealth of jiu-jitsu knowledge on the mats or training with him at secret pro training sessions will result in zero legal implications for those that participated. But it is hard to rationalize how men who publicly condemn similar actions with cries of, “If my daughter ever got assaulted, I’d beat the guy to an inch of his life” could coexist with Marcel in private.
Cyborg released a new statement once again condemning the actions of Marcel and anyone else affected by sexual abuse in any of his academies. It reeked of legal speak. I envision a paralegal in a high-priced attorney office inputting Fight Sports information into The Law Offices of Such And Such’s template for “How to Damage Control A Sex Scandle” like some SCOTUS AdLib.
Unfortunately, that eloquent display of leadership falls on deaf ears. How many times can Cyborg be allowed to speak the talk of a hard stance while living a different code of ethics in his real life? A code that infects anyone left still mustering the delusional strength to think this is anything but political spin?
Cyborg said he finally found the error of his ways. We say too little too late. The man you currently disavow lived among you and your students, enjoying his life for almost four years after confessing to a sexual relationship with a child student training under your banner. He paid exorbitant legal fees with no known personal financial resources that pushed his trial further and further—acts that would effectively extend his time with his friends and family until his inevitable guilty verdict and incarceration.
In an exclusive interview with the victim and her father, they spoke about their sadness whenever Marcel’s trial date was pushed back.
Father of the victim:
“I was always completely shocked at how an immigrant could figure out how to work the legal system in America as well as he did. We kept hoping it would all just go away so we could get on with our lives. Then he kept figuring out ways to extend it.”
The victim, a long-time child athlete who proudly competed under the Fight Sports flag for years, also expressed sadness at losing her team after the arrest. She claims to this day that Cyborg has only contacted her twice. Once after the arrest and the second, a recent text that was sent to her father’s previous cell phone number disconnected four years ago. The message was only made aware to the victim through a screenshot from Cyborg after she mistakenly tagged him in an Instagram story for lying in his press release.
“The Fights Sports team felt like my family. My entire life was jiu-jitsu from age 10. I would train eight hours a day sometimes. I had a family, and in a couple of months, they were gone.”
She reflected during one of our several conversations.
Sadly, she quit training, and when asked to explain her loss of passion for the art she loved so much, she replied:
“I couldn’t handle feeling judged every time I showed up to a competition.”
Only after public outcry and mountains of evidence proving Marcel was present at Fight Sports Barbeques and training at Vagner’s gym did Fight Sports executives admit to aiding Marcel’s family in an act of compassion after his arrest. Why wasn’t the victim given the same sanctuary as the opposing party?
Many members of BJJ media refrained from commenting publicly on the topic after Marcel’s arrest and the subsequent rumors of him popping up at FS gyms. There is nothing legally wrong with Fight Sports supporting him in any capacity, and the general thought was Marcel would eventually go to jail, so it wasn’t worth the uproar.
The problem now is that no one has seen or heard from Marcel in some time. Fight Sports stars like Vagner Rocha shrug their shoulders in bewilderment at his whereabouts like character actors in a mobster movie.
It’s a rather convenient and tidy end to his story for everyone involved. The state revoked his passport at bail, so if he did escape back to Brazil, his home country with no extradition to the US, it would have been done illegally. That means no paper trail to connect funding routes.
Sadly it appears yet again that the only one left to suffer will be the alleged victim. The little girl that spent the formative years of her adolescence completely fixated on performing for her team, only to be let down by the one person she trusted most, her coach.
As the rumors of his disappearance grow daily, we can no longer sit in silence, and with so many lies and deceptions exposed, it appears now anything is possible. Hopefully, we have done enough to shine a light on this charade to garner legitimate support in finding the truth.
Cyborg and the entire Fights Sports organization are asking for forgiveness. His well-presented plea expressed sorrow for not recognizing the lack of compassion in the culture at Fight Sports and vowed to change things from now on. A new day of reckoning in his organization is dawning.
But, four years of walking the pious high ground they pretend to tread on while housing Marcel isn’t simply “ill-prepared poor leadership” and alluding toward an introspective revelation after finally being caught red-handed to come to that conclusion isn’t growth. It’s hypocrisy.
Grown men shouldn’t need to be told that provoking an entire organization into slut-shaming a 16-year-old girl to protect your buddy is wrong.
Aces Jiu-Jitsu Club firmly admonished the actions of Fight Sports and would like to extend our deepest sympathies to all victims of abuse at the hands of the coaches they put their trust in. It is time for us to finally stand up to the victim-blaming culture rampant in our gyms. The silence of those high-profile athletes and gym owners that quietly accept these actions as part of our sports will no longer be tolerated.
Anyone reading this that has been a victim of abuse or knows anyone victimized by sexual abuse, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
Kevin is a 1st degree Black Belt under Matt Arroyo and an active competitor on the professional jiu-jitsu circuit.