USA Swimming Scandal – Commentary

by timothyjoyce

COMMENTARY:
BY ALLOWING COACHES TO DATE THEIR SWIMMERS,  USA SWIMMING HAS NO CHOICE BUT TO CHANGE LEADERSHIP AT THE TOP
 
“We have the highest levels of compassion and  concern for abuse victims, but we also must adhere to deliberative processes for those being accused of inappropriate conduct. We must give full respect to the role of law enforcement authorities, who have subpoena powers and investigative resources that USA Swimming does not have. While some may want to see swifter responses, we have learned that investigations take time and rights to privacy and due process for the individuals involved must be protected.
We also understand that some people become frustrated when uninformed viewpoints make their way into the viral world of social media and we are unable to correct the inaccuracies or shed a brighter light on critical facts; but it is more important that we maintain the integrity of process and the dignity of responsible communications.”
Chuck Wielgus, USA Swimming Executive Director, speaking to the organization’s convention last Saturday
 
Since USA Swimming hasn’t responded to any of my email queries since March, I imagine I won’t get to find out if the scandal plagued organization considers WBAL part of the “viral world of social media.” And in terms of inaccuracies, if there are any in my reporting, USA Swimming has not made that known. The infinitely arrogant, defensive and mendacious posture struck in the above paragraphs is all the indication one needs to ascertain that USA Swimming hasn’t really changed that much since the abuse scandal broke in 2010.
 
As has been described on this site the last two months, the issue isn’t just about respecting “the role of law enforcement authorizes”, as Wielgus suggests above. Rather, it’s the continued failure to follow their own set of rules, their own protocols in the reporting of possible abuse taking place. What we’ve discovered is that for more than thirty years now, from Andy King to Rick Curl to the tragic case of Sarah Burt and now the latest story involving Hall of Fame coach Mark Schubert, USA Swimming’s own investigations are either nonexistent or woefully inadequate.
 
And, more importantly, this bears repeating with every article written about this scandal: there continues to be no accountability from those at the top of USA Swimming – no higher-up in Colorado Springs has been fired or resigned since the sex abuse crisis became public two years ago.
 
But in the ensuing days and weeks it will continue to become painfully apparent just how bad and far-reaching this crisis is.
 
In a complete abdication of journalistic responsibility, most of the major media outlets – actually, all of them, save for a couple – lazily ignored the USA Swimming scandal story since the summer of 2010. No follow-up, no checking in to see if things had really changed.  Unfortunately that’s the reality of the media now, as perspective and comprehensive analysis are frequently sacrificed upon the alters of immediacy and privileged access, and there remains an absence of sustained investigative reporting. The M.O. of modern reporting is thus:  get a comment from A, get a comment from B, and report down the middle (there will be an extended column on the media’s culpability in this scandal in the near future).
 
But some of them are back on board now, since WBAL’s continuing breaking news on the story – especially yesterday’s coverage about Mark Schubert. As I wrote on Monday this will likely be a turning point in this case as one will slowly hear a louder call – indeed,eventually a roar – in the coming weeks and months for those at the top at the organization’s headquarters in Colorado Springs to abandon their posts and spend time readying for the inevitable depositions.
 
Late yesterday afternoon I was on a conference call with four other reporters and listened to Dia Rianda and her attorney Robert Allard relay more details on the case.  It was evident that Ms. Rianda is not enjoying any of this.  Yet she is obviously determined to follow through with her suit and make known that this is, in the end, all about the kids.
 
In a clear and articulate rebuke to Chuck Wielgus’s emphasis on protecting coach’s rights outlined above, Rianda correctly stated that “this is all about protecting the kids. Thec hildren should come first, the swim club second and then the coaches.”
 
What struck me with her tone is that Rianda appears to be devoid of any ulterior motives – with her comfortable income, management of her own local swim club, devotion to underprivileged kids, and generous donations to USA Swimming, she is as above reproach a complainant as one can conjure.
 
Rianda also wanted to make it known that she believes the overwhelming number of people involved with USA Swimming at the local and national level have the best interests of swimmers at heart; additionally Rianda acknowledged that it’s good that there are procedures in place to deal with abuse – but, as Rianda also said, the ingrained culture within USA Swimming can’t truly change until those at the top are held accountable.
 
USA Swimming had little to say on Monday about the story, stating they choose not to comment “on open investigations. As a matter of process, when USA Swimming initiates a coach investigation, it immediately notifies the employing club. As per the Amateur Sports Act, membership status is not affected without the opportunity for a due process hearing. Employment decisions during investigations are the responsibility of the employing club.”
 
Apparently the organization will have additional comment on the Schubert lawsuit on Tuesday.
 
Another altogether stunning development the last several days took place at the swimming convention last weekend when, incredulously, an amendment to ban coach-student relationships between adults over 18 years of age was not approved. 
 
While some may believe that a woman of 18 or 20 is free to be with whomever she desires, it’s an altogether different dynamic if she has been under the tutelage of a coach for years prior. Any respectable psychologist will declare that the grooming of a woman often starts in the early teen years – the period when many young girls start feeling attached to their swim coaches – and that a coach can look forward to the time that she comes of age so he can begin a physical manifestation of affection.
 
It is obviously not illegal for a coach, say aged 30, to be involved with a woman of 18 or 19. But that doesn’t make it right in the context of a coach-student relationship. And, if the relationship is truly so all-important, than the coach should abandon his duties as an instructor.
 
What is so difficult to understand is why, after continued stories of abuse, would a national organization – a nonprofit government sanctioned body – not do the safe thing and ban such behavior?
 
But perhaps it’s really not that tough to comprehend; after all, John Leonard and his American Swim Coaches Association (ASCA) group have an outsized influence at USA Swimming.  And consider that Leonard married one of his former swimmers. As did Pat Hogan, the USA Swimming Club Development Managing Director (Hogan is also the one who gave banned coach Everett Uchiyama the positive reference for a country club coaching position even though he knew of Uchiyama’s past behavior). Hogan married one of his swimmers who he had coached since she was 16, and developed a relationship when she was 17 (they laterdivorced).
 
Additionally, if such an amendment had passed it would have focused further attention on the Sean Hutchison situation. As referenced in yesterday’s column, Rianda’s complaint implies that Hutchison was quietly escorted out the door without punishment after it became known, from many sources, that he was involved with an of-age swimmer. And the Schubert lawsuit also makes it known Schubert allegedly made an agreement that, “he would not publicly speak about any sexual abuse issues in general, including what he knew about Kelley Currin, Rick Curl and USA Swimming’sknowledge of same.”
 
Stay tuned. There is much more to come. Wednesday is the board of review hearing for Richard Curl. We’ll see if a) he is permanently suspended and b) if those in charge at USA Swimming who allegedly  knew all along about Curl – Wielgus et. al – will suffer any consequences.
 
Correction: I mistakenly stated in my article on Monday that Dia Rianda is a founding member of the USA Swimming Foundation.That is incorrect; she is a founding member of the US Masters SwimmingFoundation.
 
Sean Hutchison also contacted me after the article was posted, saying that,  “there was an investigation done by a professional independent organization on this matter which cleared me from any allegations.”
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