Complete headline links to our Dick Shoulberg series are at https://concussioninc.net/?p=10736.
by Irvin Muchnick
In March, USA Swimming’s director of communications and public relations, Scott Leightman, told Concussion Inc. “there is no investigation” of Dick Shoulberg, the defrocked Germantown Academy swimming coach whose former school, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, is now defending a civil lawsuit by a victim alleging years of Shoulberg’s incitement of and enabling of brutal youth-athlete-on-youth-athlete physical attacks and other heinous behavior. There is also plenty of evidence, both in this scenario and historically, of coddled assistant coach sexual abuse in Shoulberg’s program, and of direct sadistic mistreatment of his kids, and inappropriate communications with them, by Shoulberg himself.
Leightman was lying. Nearly three weeks before this reporter exchanged emails with swimming’s spokesperson, the chief aide to Susan Woessner, the director of safe sport, had received an explicit complaint about Shoulberg, including a request to open a USA Swimming investigation, from the mother of the victim in the already highly publicized Germantown lawsuit.
The brazen willingness to lie of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s swimming affiliate — which oversees a slice of Americana involving 400,000 youth and 12,000 coaches, 365 days a year — tells us a good deal about the tawdriness and cowardice of the “safe sport” crowd. In terms of fundamental oversight and accountability, nothing has changed since Susan Woessner (and later, in a blatant piece of nepotism, her sister Geri Woessner, in marketing) was hired to give USA Swimming political and public relations cover in the wake of nationally televised reports in 2010 on the sport’s Catholic Church-scale sexual abuse issues.
All this is brought into high relief by this week’s news that legendary Harvard University coach Joe Bernal, most recently owner-operator of an age-group program in Massachusetts, has joined the 100-plus-and-growing list of coaches banned for sexual misconduct. Just because it is a tired cliche does not make it less true to reiterate that the creeps who happen to have gotten busted to date are the tip of a poisonous iceberg of a damaged cultural ocean that will not get detoxed absent still-missing Congressional intervention.
Reliable sources inside USA Swimming tell us that the action on Bernal actually was consummated some time ago — around the time he mysteriously sold his club and bolted abroad, and the whispers in the swimming community of something amiss rose to a low roar.
And here’s the point of all this: Since swimming’s safe sport apparatus (and soon that of all Olympic Committee umbrella organizations, using swimming’s hyped model) functions primarily as a butt-covering sex police — with prosecutions pegged to convenience, redundant and impossibly high-barred criminal investigations, and media coverage containment — we can’t believe a word anyone official is saying on this painful subject, while it both cancels out the positives of sports’ Title IX era and exacts an unacceptable toll on national mental health and basic decency.
Take swimmer X. As a young teenager, she was the victim of a rapist coach in a case that was featured in a national magazine. From sources at USA Swimming in Colorado Springs, I have in front of me, as I type this piece, three documents:
* The victim’s affidavit to police regarding the serial rapes of her by her coach.
* The victim’s statement to USA Swimming’s Nancy Fisher — one of the several former FBI agents who now front as the organization’s “independent investigators.” What the victim told Fisher is identical in substance to what she told the police.
* The victim’s mother’s summary of all this to staff for retired Congressman George Miller, who bragged that he was probing amateur sports abuse in the last term of a 40-year career that would end — surprise! — with a double-dipping education industry consultancy in his dotage.
The victim’s coach was dismissed by his employer but never criminally charged because of technicalities. USA Swimming did nothing. The coach remains at large and eligible. At the time all this was culminating, Victor Vieth was putting the finishing touches on a “review” of the safe sport program; this commission, whose full billings Vieth would not disclose, lay the groundwork for who knows how many hundreds of thousands, or millions, in prospective fees for his “National Child Protection Training Center” at Gundersen Health System.
Along the way, Vieth talked to the victim’s mother — who days later would receive a FedEx package from the USA Swimming safe sport office. Case closed. Go pound sand.
“The coach was not criminally charged because as with most rapes, it’s his word against hers. A rapist cannot be convicted without DNA evidence or an eyewitness,” the mother told me, and I agree. “USA Swimming is not following what schools and other youth organizations follow. A written affidavit by the victim should be enough for any youth organization. The incidence of false reports is about 2% according to the FBI. In addition, the ‘kangaroo court’ that USA Swimming uses requires that the victim be present at the hearing.”
And when the mother, like certain informants of abuses in U.S. Speedskating, asked Congressman Miller’s supposed successor on the amateur sports abuse beat to publicly release the information they had given Capitol Hill investigators, Congresswoman Jackie Speier blew her off, too.
The day of national reckoning for these crimes is at hand and getting closer.
But evidently, it isn’t here yet.