by Irvin Muchnick
In February the U.S. Olympic Committee announced $5.2 million in funding toward the start-up of a “National Center for Safe Sport,” loosely modeled after its performance-enhancing drug police, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
The safe sport agency was created in response to scandals of sexual abuse and cover-up at USA Swimming and other national sport governing bodies. Congress and the major news media have kept this story helpfully hushed up — not just the anecdotes themselves, but also the existence of the Olympic swimming program’s wholly-owned offshore subsidiary reinsurance company to wash and rinse financial exposure.
The whole tableau is “two orders of magnitude worse than Penn State,” former speedskater Eva Rodansky said in a recent carefully worded letter to the office of Congresswoman Jackie Speier, in which Rodansky took issue with Speier’s muted work on the issue. Last month the Government Accountability Office had dipped its toe into these waters with a 46-page report that came just about as close as humanly possible to saying absolutely nothing. “GAO makes no recommendations,” the executive summary deadpanned.
Nonetheless, Speier — who refused efforts by Rodansky and others to secure the release of raw interviews and documentation provided over the course of two years to now-retired Congressman George Miller — praised the GAO for raising awareness about what she called a “quiet epidemic.” To which I say: Speak for yourself, Congresswoman.
The February announcement said the National Center for Safe Sport would be guided by a seven-person advisory council “during its start-up phase through June 2015.” So July seems a good time to check in with the panel. Is their work done? What is the center? Whom does it employ? What is it doing? (The press release had quoted Malia Arrington, “USOC director of ethics and safe sport.”)
I tried contacting, by email or fax, the seven expert advisers, who are:
The composition of the advisory council reflects USOC’s spin of the problem of sex criminals in its ranks, and cover-ups by its administrators and boards. For the “Olympic brand,” this is not about accountability. It is about PR on the front end, therapy on the back end.
Perhaps the most bizarrely off-message advisory board member is the representative of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. NCFMAEC is a pet project of crusading parent and television personality John Walsh, whose own 6-year-old son’s 1981 kidnapping and murder helped lead to steps such as publicizing missing children on milk cartons. Though the title of the organization sounds bold, there isn’t the slightest evidence that youth club swimming (for example) has any cases, much less a cluster of them, involving kids who were abducted by strangers. The paradigmatic crime in kid sports is a 30-something coach (almost always male) who uses his power in the athletic world to groom a 13-, 14-, or 15-year-old athlete in his charge (almost always female), before either committing statutory rape on her or consummating their relationship after she is “legal.”
But it’s so much easier to issue academic studies from the trauma priesthood on how well we’re doing monitoring the unknown boogeymen prowling America’s pool decks.
One such report came out of the aforementioned Child Protection Training Center. It was a review, published in January 2014, of USA Swimming’s safe sport program. The program, in turn, had been initiated after the organization’s million-dollar-a-year CEO, Chuck Wielgus, came off like an idiot in 2010 interviews on ABC’s 20/20 and ESPN’s Outside the Lines. USA Swimming internal documents suggest that Gundersen Health System and its director emeritus, Victor Vieth, were paid in excess of $100,000 for their report. And — what a coincidence — this came about just when Congressman Miller was commissioning the GAO report. Vieth concluded that the safe sport program was doing just hunky-dory.
If the participation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is weird, that of Safe4Athletes’ Starr is simply a disgraceful sellout. Starr, née abused Olympic hopeful swimmer Annabelle Cripps, was a source of mine for several years, often dishing self-serving gossip I didn’t use. Today she’s a made woman in the sports establishment mafia. She refuses to respond to my messages asking how much she is now being paid by the USOC to consult for the safe sport center. (In fairness, none of the six others have gotten back to me, either.)
The smoke-and-mirrors website of Safe4Athletes has published zero news since a December 2, 2014, item, “written by Katherine Starr,” headlined “Founder Katherine Starr Joins the USOC Safe Sport Advisory Council.”