by Irvin Muchnick
With the reheating of the long-cold George Gibney story in both Ireland and the United States, I want to be careful with my criticism of the American politicians who are best positioned to get justice for hundreds of victims of youth coach sexual abuse in USA Swimming and elsewhere, and to implement prospective oversight and accountability in our statutory national sports governing bodies.
Let’s not be too careful, though. Our readers deserve more than wishful thinking on the upshot of the worst global abuse scandal in the history of sports (even if Concussion Inc. and the Irish Times are the only news outlets so far saying as much). These readers are entitled to a straight assessment of what their elected leaders are doing – or, mostly, not doing – about the problem.
The book is closed on the work of retired California Congressman George Miller, ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. In the final analysis, Miller rates, at best, a “gentleman’s C.” He did something, but little more. He asked for a report from the Government Accountability Office, and the GAO is taking its sweet time, while USA Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee pull the wool over the public’s eyes with their new-and-improved Center for Safe Sport. Miller released a weak exchange of letters with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and swimming promptly swooped in to book an FBI agent for a panel discussion at their educational dog-and-pony show, the “safe sport conference.”
The most disturbing element of Miller’s legacy is that Education and the Workforce seems to be circular-filing the extensive record of complaints assembled by his staff between June 2013 and the end of last year. With the Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, Miller had no unilateral authority to call public hearings. But what activists expected – and seem not to have gotten – was the creation of a Congressional “institutional memory” for next steps in the next (that is, current) Congress.
Some of the behind-the-scenes drama these days involves petitions by witnesses to Miller’s staff investigators for full public release of the information they provided. These witnesses tell Concussion Inc. that committee counsel Brian Kennedy responded with two points: 1) There will be no release of their material, and 2) Staff didn’t maintain detailed records of their interviews anyway. No. 1 is disappointing. No. 2 is nothing less than a slap in the face to the families of abuse victims and their advocates, who put themselves on the line to expose heinous wrongdoing, in the hope that someone would listen to them, believe them, and do something about it.
One of the rebuffed Miller staff interviewees then pursued the matter with the office of Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Miller’s fellow California Democrat, whom Miller anointed as the new Capitol Hill leader of the sports abuse issue when he left office. That witness was told by the Speier staff, in effect, that they had no proprietary claim to the Miller material and, in any event, they were simply waiting for the GAO report. As we know, USOC lobbyists are working hard to delay the release of that report until – oh, let’s say a month after the closing ceremony at the 2016 Summer Olympics. And that’s assuming the GAO report will even say much of import.
Congresswoman Speier, you’re going to have to do better than that. This can has been kicked down this road long enough.
Miller’s retrospectively tame initiative followed the 2013 sentencing of honored Maryland swimming coach Rick Curl, the serial rapist of his swimmer Kelley Davies Currin, starting around age 13 – crimes that USA Swimming covered up for a quarter of a century. After Curl’s sentencing hearing, Currin bravely told her story and called for Congressional intervention to help ensure that the same thing wouldn’t happen to others. In an editorial, the Washington Post echoed her.
Today I asked Bob Allard and Jon Little, the attorneys for dozens of other USA Swimming victims, including Currin, for their view of Congressional action to date. They declined the invitation to throw laurels or darts, but gave us this statement:
“Congress is the only entity with control over the USOC and the related NGBs. Congress needs to take serious action against the USOC for participating in the decades-long cover up of sexual abuse in United States Swimming and other NGBs. Congress should at the very least amend the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act to expand the definition of athlete and increase the required amount of athlete participation at National Meetings from 20% to over 50%. These two small changes would be a major step in wresting control of sport away from self interested, greed driven, Bryan Cave mafia that currently controls US Olympic Sport.”