USA Swimming Scandal – The Fall of Hall of Fame Coach Mark Schubert
ALL FALL DOWN – DRAMATIC NEW COURT CASE LIKELY TO CAUSE DOMINO EFFECT AT USA SWIMMING
In a blockbuster lawsuit being filed Monday morning in California Superior Court in Orange County, legendary Hall of Fame swim coach Mark Schubert is accused of wrongful termination of his former employee, Dia Rianda, in July of this year. The claim states that Schubert fired Rianda because of her persistence with alerting Schubert of continued inappropriate behavior by William Jewell, Schubert’s friend and assistant at the Golden West Swim Club (GWSC).
Additionally, the complaint also alleges that Schubert used damaging information that he acquired about another coach – relating to improper contact with swimmers – as leverage to secure a lucrative settlement with USA Swimming; Schubert himself was dismissed by USA Swimming from his powerful role as National Coach in late 2010 following his behavior at the Pan Pacific Championships that year. Even further, the suit implies that USA Swimming yet again participated in a cover-up by quietly hushing up an inappropriate coach-student relationship by a rising star among the coaching ranks.
In a flash of comedic and brutal irony, this lawsuit comes just days after the Colorado Springs-based entity of mendacity – otherwise known as USA Swimming – came out with a much publicized interview with the Associated Press in which the organization said that they’ve made tremendous progress in rooting out the abusive behavior in the sport. “ They (USA Swimming membership) know the complaints and sanctioning process works efficiently and effectively. I see that as a positive”, stated Susan Woessner, the Athlete Protection Officer of USA Swimming.
One couldn’t make this stuff up.
This is a particularly complicated and complex chapter within the novel that makes up the USA Swimming sexual abuse scandal. This case is especially important because it reaches all facets of the power structure of USA Swimming and involves one of the true legends within the sport. After all Mr. Schubert was a coach on eight consecutive Olympic teams from 1980 through 2008 and was the head coach of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Among the Olympians he’s coached was Janet Evans.
Rianda, a well respected coach and woman of unimpeachable integrity within the United States swimming community, is suing her former business partner and friend Schubert for violating the California Labor Code which prohibits such action on the sole basis of someone having made a bona fide oral or written complaint.
Rianda’s motives for her lawsuit appear to be unassailable; she is herself the head coach of the Monterey County Swim Club and is a founding member of the USA Swimming Foundation. Rianda and her family have contributed more than $100,000 worth of cash and other donations to USA Swimming.
When I spoke with Rianda she says she feels “deeply betrayed and let down by men who I had once – and foolishly – considered heroes.”
The complaint states that on numerous occasions Rianda went to Schubert with concerns that Jewell’s behavior with young female swimmers crossed the line of propriety. Rianda pleaded with Schubert that unless he took proactive steps, the Golden West Swim Club and Schubert’s reputation could be on the line.
In Rianda’s eyes, Jewell’s actions were a clear violation of the GWSC rules that state, “team members and staff will refrain from any illegal or inappropriate behavior that would detract from a positive image of the team or would be detrimental to its performance objectives.” After witnessing Jewell’s actions up close and also listening to the complaints of other parents and swimmers, Rianda saw no other choice than to take a stand and confront Schubert with what she knew.
At a certain point Schubert told Rianda that he had indeed looked into the matter and had informed USA Swimming and that USA Swimming had cleared Jewell to continue to be on deck working with young swimmers. Upon hearing this Rianda then contacted Woessner who informed her that USA Swimming was in fact still investigating Jewell (Rianda also followed up with Woessner several times to report what she had witnessed in terms of code of conduct violations and hasn’t heard back from her). And to further confuse matters, a lawyer from Bryan Cave, the law firm that oversee all investigations for USA Swimming, told Schubert’s lawyer that it was OK for Jewell to continue coaching while the investigation was ongoing.
It is instructive to go back in time a couple of years and trace the evolution of this story that has several damning angles.
In the late summer of 2009, Schubert, who was serving as National Team Director for USA Swimming, recruited Sean Hutchison from Washington state, a young rising star within the coaching ranks, to assist in the running of the Elite Training Center at Fullerton Aquatic Sports Team (FAST) in southern California. At the time Jewell was the CEO of FAST. It must be noted that, according to numerous sources, while at FAST Jewell was the subject of complaints by the parents of Tyler Clary, 2012 Olympic gold medalist, who felt that Jewell’s behavior towards young girls clearly crossed the line.
According to the court document, a power struggle ensued at FAST between Schubert and Hutchison with Schubert wanting to maintain control of the training center (with Jewell as his trusted associate). Around this same time rumors surfaced that Hutchison was involved with a female swimmer he was coaching. This has been confirmed by five sources I’ve spoken to who said it was “open knowledge” that Hutchison was acting inappropriately with at least one young female swimmer.
Schubert then seized upon this opportunity to gather damaging information on Hutchison and boasted to Rianda about hiring a private investigator and securing photographs catching Hutchison in the act. But rather than using this information to inform USA Swimming that one of their star coaches was acting in a wrong manner, Schubert held on to this knowledge in case it turned out to be useful later on. And indeed it did.
In the summer of 2010, after exhibiting behavior unbecoming to a coach of such lofty repute at the Pan Pacific Championships, USA Swimming informed Schubert that he was put on leave from his position. He was then fired as National Head Coach in November of 2010.
Obviously angry at his dismissal, Schubert then took matter into his own hands and decided to use his alleged incriminating evidence against Hutchison, as a way to leverage his bargaining position with USA Swimming. The suit maintains that Schubert leaked information regarding Hutchison to reporter Amy Shipley of the Washington Post (Ms. Shipley is no longer writing for the Post), and she reported on the story in late December of 2010.
USA Swimming then came out with a statement saying that Hutchison was fully investigated and exonerated of any wrongdoing. However, Hutchison then abruptly left FAST and went back to the King Aquatic Club in Washington where he is currently the head coach. If there was no veracity to the rumors of inappropriate behavior, why did Hutchison leave such a prestigious job at FAST after only a year on the job? I reached out to Hutchison for comment but did not get an answer. When Hutchison was queried on this matter in early 2011, he claimed that had always wanted to attempt various entrepreneurial directions, hence his intention to open up a new training center in the northwest.
Then, after initially refusing to negotiate a settlement with Schubert as they felt they had solid grounds for his dismissal, USA Swimming does an about-face and ends up working out an agreement with Schubert whereby he was awarded over $600,000. In return, Rianda states in the filing, Schubert signed an agreement that says he cannot speak publicly about any confidential matters related to USA Swimming (i.e. Hutchison). And, more specifically, he must only speak up about issues of sexual abuse within USA Swimming if deposed.
The themes of retaliation and cover-up that have been the hallmark of the USA Swimming sexual abuse saga continue; Rianda, a woman who is trying to do the right thing, who is heartbroken about having to be the one to come forward, is punished while USA Swimming, in the name of protecting the entrenched old boys network, awards Schubert with a lucrative settlement and lets Hutchison walk away without any further investigation.
In another example of the interconnectedness with this whole scandal, the Rianda case also brings us back full circle to Richard Curl. Curl, as has been reported, is the coach who sexually abused Kelley Currin for years in the 1980’s. Rianda claims that Schubert, on three separate occasions, tearfully told her that he could have done more for Currin but didn’t. Schubert was Currin’s coach at the University of Texas and Currin had gone to Schubert and told him of what had happened between herself and Curl. But Schubert only furthered Currin’s troubles by forcing her off his team after she was having trouble dealing with everything that had occurred.
Schubert made it known to Rianda that he did tell Chuck Wielgus and others at USA Swimming headquarters about Curl’s abusive behavior. So yet eve more evidence that the higher-ups at USA Swimming knew about Curl and did nothing.
This new court case is undeniably tragic on several levels, not least of which is the way Rianda, who has devoted much of her adult life to growing the sport and to helping many at-needs children, was treated. It’s also quite sad that Schubert, a man of immense coaching ability and who was once a great advocate for compensating athletes in the face of resistance from the Olympic establishment, will likely be remembered for being another participant in the sordid mess of the USA Swimming sex abuse scandal.
In Part 2 tomorrow – more details on how this case unfolded and a discussion of happenings at the USA Swimming convention this past weekend, and some words on the silence that is deafening from the USOC. All effort was made to contact all those mentioned in this story. None provided a comment.