by Irvin Muchnick
For more than a year I’ve been tracking the story of what the hell happened with John Ruger, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s athlete ombudsman — or maybe we should officially insert scare quotes and hereafter refer to the position as “athlete ombudsman.”
You’ll recall that Ruger pulled a Harry Houdini last fall. Before being spirited away, there was the beginning of a paper trail about the timing: federal investigators had just asked to speak with him about sexual abuse cover-ups in USA Swimming, U.S. Speedskating, and other national sport governing bodies. However, the insider source who promised Concussion Inc. public documentation of all this never came through, having himself come down with a bad case of “I’m more effective behind the scenes.”
Some athletes complained that “ombudsman” Ruger was a lousy, USOC-friendly mouthpiece. Other sources offered the kind of surrogate defense commonly mounted on behalf of hapless bureaucrats — that he did the best he could and had helped once or twice with ugly situations. Such is the dynamic of the unaccountable amateur sports system that, with the merest feint toward actually doing one’s job more or less as written, the “ombudsman” gets overpraised. Yet with the slimiest retreat from doing the right thing, he gets excused. Without such low risk and high yield, why, who knows what could happen? Before you knew it, real oversight could get contagious.
Regardless of whether Ruger overperformed or underperformed in his role, it’s pretty clear at this point that he allowed himself to be bought off with a retirement package in the nick of time.
What I didn’t know until very recently is that Ruger didn’t stay “retired” for long. In February he was named senior director of USA Volleyball’s beach division. Ruger still doesn’t respond to my email queries. It’s fair to interpolate that he is a “double dipper,” drawing both a USOC pension of undetermined high five or six figures, and an annual salary from USA Volleyball of about $97,000.
So while John may or may not have lifted a finger in service of justice for Suzy after she was molested by Coach Mortimer, John has done very nicely, thank you, at taking care of John.
As a beach volleyball poohbah, Ruger has been involved in a dispute with a regional official who is demanding his resignation. The dispute doesn’t appear to be at all related to sexual abuse. I’ll report more if I find out anything.
Kacie Wallace, Ruger’s successor as USOC ombudsperson, seems to be carrying forward his legacy of being about as independent as an “if” clause. This summer I asked Wallace what was happening with the USOC’s papier-mache “National Center for Safe Sport,” whose $5.2 million start-up was announced in February. Boldly, Wallace forwarded my query to a USOC flack, who then told me everyone involved was “frustrated” by the difficulty of getting the center out of the starting blocks.
Now the calendar year is about to expire and the “frustration” (speak for yourself, senior director of communications Mark Jones) compounds.
But not for John Ruger and his fellow featherbedding Olympic bureaucrats.
Published October 5th, 2014
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Published December 18th, 2014
Published July 31st, 2015