by Irvin Muchnick
Travis Tygart — the investigator who brought down Lance Armstrong and heads the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) — regularly worked on USA Swimming sexual abuse allegation cases prior to 2007, Concussion Inc. has learned.
While working at the Denver law firm Holme Roberts & Owen LLP (which in 2011 merged with Bryan Cave LLP), Tygart was in the rotation of the lawyers assigned to work with contract private investigators in following up on complaints of abuse or molestation by USA Swimming members.
This information is significant for multiple reasons. Victims of sexual abuse by club swimming coaches, in a petition spearheaded by celebrity open water swimmer Diana Nyad and the Women’s Sports Foundation, recently forced USA Swimming chief Chuck Wielgus to withdraw from his scheduled induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Their grounds were that Wielgus, who has been on the job since 1997, heads an organization that has systematically mishandled, denied, and lied to courts about abuse cases, some of which involved some of the most famous coaches in the sport. Therefore, Tygart’s account of his own years of counseling USA Swimming in this area would illuminate the discussion of current federal criminal and Congressional probes of the procedures and insurance operations of swimming and other national sport governing bodies (NGB’s) empowered by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC).
Tygart’s history also contributes to the debate over an abuse investigation agency that USOC has announced it will begin funding next year. USADA is often cited as the model for an agency that can adjudicate claims in a sensitive legal area with more independence and effectiveness than USOC and its affiliated NGB’s themselves. But critics argue that such agencies — privately financed and consisting of professional staff who have swung through the revolving doors of USOC, the NGB’s, and their law firms — can be neither effective nor transparent. Those critics, who include Concussion Inc., call instead for Congress to hold public hearings with a view toward meaningfully reforming the Amateur Sports Act of 1978.
In an interesting side note, Tygart attended the Bolles School in his native Jacksonville, Florida. The swimming program at Bolles happens to be the venue of some of the sport’s most explosive, yet little known, abuse scandals. One former Bolles coach, Danny Chocron, is back in his native Venezuela, a fugitive from American justice. There are parallels between the Chocron story and that of Brazilian Alex Pussieldi, about whom we have been reporting a good deal. (See the Chocron details at http://concussioninc.net/?p=5993. Links to the Pussieldi coverage are collected at http://concussioninc.net/?p=8652.)
We asked Tygart how many sexual abuse cases he investigated for USA Swimming, and during what years; how many of those investigations resolved in additions to the list of banned coaches (which USA Swimming began publishing in 2010, and now has more than 100 names); and what are the names of the now-banned coaches he helped investigate.
Through spokesperson Annie Skinner, Tygart responded: “USADA remains focused on our anti-doping mission and we are not expecting to be involved in any oversight of the USOC Center for Safe Sport, and therefore I have no information to share regarding any plans the USOC may have regarding the center.”
In future installments, we will be reporting on specifics we can learn on swimming abuse cases in which Tygart was involved, and we will continue to invite his response and comments.