At 7:17 EST this morning, on Marc Daniels’ Beat of Sport, on 96.9 The Game in Orlando, Florida, I’m scheduled to be interviewed about the heating up of interest in Congressional oversight of Olympic sports governing bodies. The station streams live on iHeart Radio. I hope I can also get a word in edgewise about the Trump Administration’s appeal of my recent federal court Freedom of Information Act victory for more material from the American immigration records of disgraced former Irish Olympic swim coach George Gibney — who for years has been hiding in plain sight in the Orlando area.
by Irvin Muchnick
Make no mistake — it is a very good thing that Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat from California, appears all-in on the fight to bring down the legislative hammer on the United States Olympic Committee and hold accountable its taxpayer-subsidized 501(c)(3) “national sport governing bodies” (NGB’s) for decades of widespread and systematic coach sexual abuse and its cover-up.
On Sunday’s 60 Minutes on CBS, Feinstein pushed her proposal to force groups like USA Swimming, USA Gymnastics, and USA Taekwondo to report immediately to police authorities allegations of sexual misconduct against youth athletes. (RIght now the NGB’s play chicken-and-egg, claiming they can’t act without police reports.)
All this follows an excellent series of reports in the Washington Post and the Indianapolis Star.
The Post’s Will Hobson has struck a nerve with his account of the abysmal failure of a similar effort to Feinstein’s, in 2013-14, by Congressman George Miller, a California Democrat. The article, “Government probe of sex abuse prevention in Olympic sports went nowhere,” https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/government-probe-of-sex-abuse-prevention-in-olympic-sports-went-nowhere/2017/02/20/75c8b0a6-d287-11e6-9cb0-54ab630851e8_story.html?utm_term=.5ecd3614f2ad, is a must-read because it is the first time that Miller — now retired and working as a lobbyist for an educational publishing company — has addressed, publicly and in depth, what happened when he took on the issue as the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Hobson, a straight reporter, offers no analysis and opinion. I am not similarly constrained. It is facile to blame Democrats and liberals for not managing to get (for example) Chuck Wielgus, the now lame-duck million-dollar-a-year CEO of USA Swimming, taken away in handcuffs for his decades of perjury in civil lawsuits by some of the organization’s dozens, scores, or hundreds of victims of coach statutory rape. After all, Republicans controlled the House during Miller’s initiative. And that is not the standard I would apply to Feinstein today, when there are GOP majorities in both the House and the Senate.
But the worry that the new surge of interest in fixes for kid sport abuse might be only a temporary and exploitive headline is real. Feinstein, like Miller, is elderly and could be in her last term. Meanwhile, the USOC, following three years of paper-shufflling, trapezing blue-ribbon advisory panels, press releases, and millions of squandered dollars, is promising that its “independent” “National Center for Safe Sport” will be operational in April. This ups the ante on USA Swimming’s bought-and-paid-for “independent review” of its specious new Safe Sport program during the time of Miller’s investigation — which was accompanied by the six-figure work of the group’s Washington lobbyists and their affiliated public relations “crisis consultants.”
Miller was a dishonorable flop — not because he didn’t hit a home run, but because he didn’t even try for anything more ambitious than a bunt. I know because I was there. Concussion Inc.’s Tim Joyce and I were literally the only journalists in the country writing in depth and in real time about what was going on with the federal swimming investigation. (Chronological headline links to our dozens of articles during that period are here.)
Beleaguered major news outlets must step up their game, too. The most obvious example is ESPN’s Outside the Lines, which along with ABC’s 20/20 had helped break the swimming abuse story in 2010 — before promptly going back to giving the sport no attention or scrutiny in between Michael Phelps’ gold medal performances and his drunk-driving arrests.
In 2013, ESPN produced an investigation of a sicko coach at the University of Utah, Greg Winslow, who is now banned. But Outside the Lines connected few of the dots, such as the fact that Winslow’s abusive roots were at the youth swimming arm of then Arizona State University coach Mike Chasson, whose wife Jill, a former Olympic swimmer, was chair of USA Swimming’s National Board of Review. And though even the Associated Press and the New York Times credited Joyce and me for breaking the Winslow story, and ESPN’s producer and correspondent leaned heavily on us during their own reporting, OTL excluded me from the talkback panel — likely because I was known to be the only candidate who would speak out on the need for Congressional investigation leading to reform of the aging and unhelpful Amateur Sports Act.
Six months later, in the summer of 2014, a petition spearheaded by open-water swimming legend Diana Nyad forced the International Swimming Hall of Fame to rescind USA Swimming’s Wielgus’s scheduled induction, and the CEO issued one of his cascading non-apology apologies (which of course was not accompanied by resignation from his lucrative post atop the sport). In 2010, it was ESPN’s T.J. Quinn who had skillfully grilled Wielgus on his evasions on the abuse issue. But in reporting Wielgus’s “apology,” Quinn told viewers that it seemed to come out of nowhere, and said nothing about Congressman Miller’s looming investigation.
Getting back to the congressman, here’s what happened in a nutshell. In the summer of 2013, Miller asked the Government Accountability Office for an audit of federal laws governing youth sex abuse in athletic programs. The GAO dawdled before producing — shortly after Miller left office in 2015 — a bland and toothless book report.
At the end of his term, Miller did a limited public dump of an almost equally bland letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation containing approximately one percent of the information that I know his staff had gathered over the course of 18 months. Miller didn’t mention that a California FBI office had subpoenaed thousands of pages of discovery in civil lawsuits against USA Swimming, which the organization had suppressed for years — in defiance of lower courts, even laughing off tens of thousands of dollars of lower court sanctions — before they were ordered to be produced, under seal, by the California Supreme Court.
All this doesn’t even get to Miller’s refusal to hold field hearings (which he could have done even without the consent of the House committee’s Republican majority), to stage a news conference in support of victims, or indeed to utter any public words about the problem at all beyond the standard expressions of concern and bravado about being determined to get to the bottom of things.
In the end, Miller’s office told Concussion Inc. that he was handing the baton on sports abuse to his California delegation colleague, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, but she hasn’t done anything noteworthy either. On the contrary: Speier didn’t even criticize the miserable GAO report, and she ignored the pleas of some of the witnesses who spoke to Miller, and who waived their right to anonymity, to publicly release their testimony.
And here we are today with Senator Feinstein. Let’s hope she does better.