by Irvin Muchnick
The Indianapolis Star is reporting on its acquisition — by order of a Georgia judge — of 5,600 pages of documents on the handling by USA Gymnastics of years of allegations of sexual abuse by its coaches and officials. This is invaluable information toward what must become the end game: Congressional investigations directed toward accountability and, ultimately, real oversight of Olympic sports national governing bodies through updating and reform of the Amateur Sports Act.
The Star papers up the ante on various new rounds of reporting, by both that newspaper’s investigative team and the Washington Post, of widespread sex abuse and cover-up at USA Swimming and USA Taekwondo, as well as at USA Gynmnastics. And it all occurs as the umbrella U.S. Olympic Committee, after years of delays, says it is finally launching its so-called independent National Center for Safe Sport.
Here’s something else the public needs to know: The USA Gymnastics file, culled from discovery in a civil abuse lawsuit, is not the first such comprehensive trove of documents. In 2013, Concussion Inc.’s Tim Joyce and myself reported — with zero support from any mainstream news media — on the upshot of years of attempts by USA Swimming to avoid release of internal records shedding light on how the organization dealt with abuse allegations against dozens of its coaches.
Those documents total a similar thousands of pages to this new cache on USA Gymnastics. In the case of USA Swimming, the organization spent years defying orders by courts in California to produce the records — even paying out tens of thousands of dollars in sanctions in lieu of complying with those orders. Finally, after losing the culminating case for continued concealment, before the California Supreme Court in 2012, USA Swimming relinquished those documents, but under a court protective order that kept them sealed.
But in February 2013 Joyce and I reported that the Campbell, California, office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had subpoenaed a plaintiff’s lawyer for copies of the documents. And in 2014 we began reporting on the contents of the documents themselves, and published some of what we had ourselves acquired. Two of the more important threads of those documents involve Alex Pussieldi, a Brazilian-American coach, and Travis Tygart, a USA Swimming lawyer who has gone on to become chief of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Thanks in part to his ties to former USA Swimming board president and corrupt international consultant Dale Neuburger, Pussieldi became a prominent human trafficker into South Florida of aspiring swimmers from Latin America and the Middle East. I use the term “human trafficker” advisedly: Pussieldii was the legal guardian of some of these teen athletes, bunked them three or more to a room in his house in Fort Lauderdale, and in the sickest twist, peeped on them through a bathroom hidden camera.
In 2004, Pussieldi physically attacked on deck a Mexican swimmer in his charge at the swim club based at the complex of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale. Pussieldi was working under Jack Nelson, the late coaching legend who had abused Diana Nyad, the famed open water swimmer, at Fort Lauderdale’s Pine Crest School when she was a student and he was a coach there in the 1960s.
The Mexican swimmer complained to police about Pussieldi’s assault of him, the coach’s Peeping Tom video system, and his videotape collection of sex acts with minor boys. Pussieldi quietly resigned from the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team. However, he remained a prominent coach and even became a club owner in South Florida over the next decade, as full reporting of his activities were covered up, in documented coordinated fashion, by the Fort Lauderdale municipal government and the local Sun Sentinel newspaper.
Pussieldi didn’t leave Florida until the regional USA Swimming affiliate found that he had engaged in numerous technical violations in the registration of his swimmers. Pussieldi and his business partner at the now-defunct Davie Nadadores were suspended and fined. Pussieldi retreated to his native Brazil, where he was the swimming commentator on the national sports network for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. This makes him something of a parallel figure to Bela Karolyi — the power behind both the Romanian and, more recently, the American Olympic gymnastics programs, who is a familiar face on NBC’s coverage.
Comprehensive chronological links to our Pussieldi revelations — including primary-source documents from the FBI-subpoenaed files of USA Swimming — are at http://concussioninc.net/?p=8652.
Travis Tygart is an instructive figure in a different way, on a number of levels. For one thing, his USADA agency has been cited as a model for the National Center for Safe Sport, but whether that model is one of true independence from the USOC is highly dubious.
In 2001 a Venezuelan national, Simon “Danny” Chocron, who was an assistant coach at the USA Swimming program at the Bolles prep school in Jacksonville, Florida, jumped bail after pleading guilty to 14 felony counts of molestation involving both a 15-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl. At last word he was still coaching back in Venezuela.
USA Swimming put a hearing to ban Chocron on the docket of its National Board of Review, and named Tygart — then an associate with the firm now known as Bryan Cave, counsel to the USOC and USA Swimming — to helm the administrative prosecution. Even though Tygart was himself an alumnus of the Bolles School, he did not recuse himself. Chocron’s flight from justice was not publicized, and his listing on USA Swimming’s now 140-strong directory of banned coaches would not be published for another nine years (as part of the group’s grudging and PR-driven move toward a more transparent “safe sport” regime).
Comprehensive chronological links to our Tygart revelations are at http://concussioninc.net/?p=9424.
Next, Concussion Inc. will upload the primary-source documents related to Tygart and Chocron, as we did in 2014 with those related to Pussieldi.