by Irvin Muchnick
As reported earlier, the Government Accountability Office used the dead summer air of the last days of June to dump a two-year-long pending report on federal laws and policies with respect to sexual abuse in national amateur sports governing bodies. The report is just as devoid of substance as this corner had feared.
“GAO makes no recommendations,” the bureaucratic voice of the agency blandly — and accurately — sums up.
While nothing from nothing leaves nothing, there are a few things that need to be unpacked from GAO’s 46 pages of contribution to the literature of inaction on the worst ring of child molesters outside the Catholic Church.
For starters, the anonymous authors here pull a rhetorical trick worthy of USA Swimming itself with repeated use of the phrase “high performance.” This, you see, is what coaches and athletes “aim for” in their programs, all of which to varying degrees track to the determination of the U.S. Olympic team. These two words imply that after-school and weekend club swimming by nearly half a million kids is some kind of policy-designed pressure cooker with a natural residue of abuse — which must be ameliorated but, ultimately, written off, like a cost of business.
Concussion Inc. and other advocates believe there is a smarter way to look at all this. Club swimming is an activity involving kids as young as six years old; more than 99 percent of them will never participate in the Olympics, and an overwhelming majority will not even seriously so aspire. But GAO and the report prompter, former Congressman George Miller, emphatically declined the invitation to be the adults in the room. If they took such a tack, they would be obliged to make the Amateur Sports Act the focus of public scrutiny and discussion, rather than just a throwaway line. They would have to acknowledge that this country, lacking the kind of national sports ministry found in other nations, nonsensically lumps together recreation, casual competition, and serious competition — all under the commercial control of unaccountable, but nonetheless bizarrely sanctioned, 501(c)(3) “nonprofit” sports bodies.
In turn, these entities exploit their parents’ fantasies to trickle down to their kids’. The lure of college scholarships, Olympic glory, and riches tilts the coach-athlete power relationship dangerously away from what the GAO wonks would call “best practices.” And the resulting sexual misconduct creates tremendous and unacknowledged public mental health costs.
Miller, and by extension the GAO, obviously couldn’t have cared less about documenting this voluminous record of abuses, which was brought to their attention by what are called “media reports,” which “raised questions.”
They are even less interested in critiquing the system. With a willful lack of imagination, there’s a lot of verbiage about procedures like background checks on coaches. In point of fact, USA Swimming introduced background checks nearly a decade ago. These achieved nothing toward preventing the group headed by $900,000-a-year CEO Chuck Wielgus from rubber-stamping the credentials of monster rapist Andy King when he moved from one state to the next. Nor did they keep Wielgus from directing that internal documentation of past complaints against King be suppressed — a cover-up incontestably proven last year by the abuse survivor and supporter petitioners who forced Wielgus to abandon in disgrace his scheduled induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Ah yes, more “media reports.”
In our next post, we’ll have more on Congressman Miller’s epic fail, and what he’s up to in comfortable retirement.
Meanwhile, let’s look at the statement today, in response to the GAO report, that was issued by Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Congressman Bobby Scott, both Democrats. Speier, of California, is Miller’s designated successor as an unofficial watchdog of abuse issues. Scott, of Virginia, is Miller’s successor as ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
In her quote, Speier cites the “quiet” epidemic of abuse. I’m not impressed. By not seeking release of more of the raw information assembled by the Education and the Workforce staff and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Speier herself is perpetuating a deafeningly low volume.
For his part, Scott lauds the GAO report’s value in educating the public on the scope of the problem. That is baloney with chlorine. This bloodless report gives no voice to victims, no pointer to meaningful corrective action.
If Speier and Scott don’t proceed to press for hearings, other public forums, and true truth and reconciliation, then their legacies on this issue will be just as hollow as Miller’s is today.