by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
The USA Swimming youth coach sexual abuse scandal has blown wide open. We have been reporting for some time that federal agents are looking into aspects of the abuse and the insurance operations of national sport governing bodies. And Congressman George Miller’s investigations, which began in June 2013, are ongoing.
But today there’s a hiccup: The new petition by swimming abuse victims, directed at the bicameral Olympic caucus and the Senate Commerce Committee, has stalled — at the precise moment when it should be soaring.
That full reporting and analysis of this story highlights a fundamental disagreement between Concussion Inc. and our friends at the Women’s Sports Foundation is not important. The victims deserve better. More importantly, so does the public of underage amateur athletes and their families.
The Women’s Sports Foundation and its senior director of advocacy, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, did a magnificent job of organizing the campaign that forced USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus to stand down from his induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
But that step was a no-brainer. It was the game within the game — not the game itself. The game is full accountability for the crimes at USA Swimming, and full restructuring of the organization to prevent their recurrence. Here, it is the WSF that is, if not exactly standing down, playing its cards too cleverly by half.
The second petition by victims, “Ask Congress to protect athletes from sexual abuse, the way students are protected!”, is very good. It takes the natural next step from the momentum built by the anti-Wielgus / Hall of Fame campaign. We reproduce the link and full text at the bottom of this article.
This second petition, however, is not a WSF project. Hogshead-Makar emphasized to us that “Victims of USA Swimming Coaching Abuse, Colorado Springs, CO” is “an independent entity,” though she added: “WSF has been advocating for this result for a long time.”
WSF hasn’t been advocating for this result strongly enough, in our view.
Hogshead-Makar and her group rightly point out that USA Swimming’s “independent review” of its Safe Sport program (perhaps $100,000 or more worth of “independence,” produced by Victor Vieth and the Gundersen Health System’s Child Protection Training Center) was largely shaped by WSF recommendations.
But the Vieth report is very poor, in our reading. It cheerleads the efforts of Wielgus, safe sport director Susan Woessner, and others in what has been a fraudulent public relations band-aid ever since the first exposures on national television four years ago. The real solution, as the new victims’ petition well articulates, is accountability and Congressional oversight.
In a potentially troubling denouement to the Wielgus Hall of Fame petition, WSF allowed USA Swimming to invoke WSF as an entity the governing body looked forward to working with on improving the environment for young athletes. Though innocuous on its face, that statement is ominous in light of the subsequent announcement, by the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Swimming’s parent, that USOC is committing $10 million and seeking private donations toward the start-up of an “independent” agency to investigate and adjudicate sexual abuse claims.
We are firmly on record with the opinion that a new USOC-controlled sex police — presumably modeled after the corrupt United States Anti-Doping Agency — is not the way to go. The safety of kids in the 400,000-member USA Swimming is the province of Congressional oversight. What is required, specifically, is overhaul of the Amateur Sports Act.
Everyone on the right side of this issue should be working as hard at a successful second petition as they are at behind-the-scenes politicking.
Petition by Victims of USA Swimming Coaching Sexual Abuse
Colorado Springs, CO
On June 3rd, the Swimming Hall of Fame rescinded Chuck Wielgus’s membership, due to his failure to address sexual abuse of young female swimmers. The story was featured on the front page of USA Today sports here.
We’re now asking to amend the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, 36 U.S.C. Sec. 220501 et seq., to protect girls and women from sexual abuse in club and Olympic sports, the same way that Title IX protects females against abuse in schools and that Title VII protects employees.
In addition, we’re asking that those responsible for perjury and cover up of multiple instances of sexual abuse to be held responsible. As the formal petition on behalf of 19 sexual abuse victims to the Swimming Hall of Fame made clear, USAS and Chuck Wielgus arguably committed perjury and covered up sexual abuse, violating 18 U.S.C. 1621-1622 and 18 U.S.C. Code 1001 and 1519 and other laws.
Why is this important?
19 victims of coaching sexual abuse and 29 stalwarts of the swimming community led a successful protest against Chuck Wielgus’ induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, led by the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Chuck Wielgus has been the Executive Director of USA Swimming for the last 17 years, earning $908,432.00 in 2012, yet he did not adequately combat sexual abuse during his tenure. For example, in 2002, while Wielgus was still Executive Director, USA Swimming settled a claim for childhood sexual abuse with a 13 y/o sexual abuse victim of Havercroft for, reportedly, $400,000. Yet, 8 years later in 2010, Chuck Wielgus denied under penalty of perjury that USA Swimming had any knowledge of prior claims or allegations of sex abuse against Havercroft. Worse, USA Swimming and Wielgus allowed Havercroft to continue coaching and molesting Jancy Thompson, even though USA Swimming coaches and directors knew Havercroft was being investigated by the police for childhood sexual abuse as early as 1997.
Havercroft has never been banned or sanctioned by USA Swimming.
As of May 1, 2014, more than 100 USA Swimming coaches have been banned for life, making this one of the worst sexual abuse scandals in the US Olympics sports world. Many more coaches, like Havercroft, have not been banned. Why? Because there is no statute requiring a sport’s governing body to address sex abuse. There is no civil right or legal protection from sex discrimination in the Olympic movement, or most non-school-sponsored sports, which includes 3.2 million children and athletes. While the Sports Act does contain a prohibition against sex discrimination, it is unenforceable, unlike Title IX. As of May 1, 2014, more than 100 USA Swimming coaches have been banned for life, making this one of the worst sexual abuse scandals in the US Olympics sports world. Why? Because there is no statute requiring a sport’s governing body to prevent sex abuse. There is no civil right or legal protection from sex discrimination in the Olympic movement, or most non-school-sponsored sports, which includes 3.2 million children and athletes. While the Sports Act does contain a prohibition against sex discrimination, it is unenforceable, unlike Title IX.
Over the years, USAS has insulated itself to a small group of “swimming insiders” of just 200-300 hand-picked people, rather than the 400,000 members of USAS. They make sure that the sponsor’s money flows to Wielgus, who earns over $900,000 a year, and his well-paid cronies. But more importantly, this small group has allowed a culture to continue that allows sexual abusers to prey upon the athletes they coach.
Chuck Wielgus recently issued a public apology, but failed to acknowledge any wrong-doing that harmed victims; instead apologizing that he didn’t know better, didn’t know more, and didn’t appreciate the seriousness of sexual abuse.
We, the victims, love this great sport and are deeply concerned about the failed policies and actions of the leadership and organization. We want our sport ridded of child molester coaches and corrupt leaders running this organization. We think the best way to accomplish this is through Congressional action that will hold the leaders of this organization accountable for their misconduct and to make the necessary changes to the Sports Act to keep all club-sport athletes safe from sexual abuse.
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