Media Tip-Toe Back Toward Coverage of Olympic Sport Sexual Abuse. Will They Get It Right This Time and Talk About Federal Oversight?

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SEE ALSO: Muchnick’s 2015 Denver Post op-ed piece, “Abuse in Youth Sports an Issue For Congress,” https://concussioninc.net/?p=10269

 

 

 

by Irvin Muchnick

Never, in the first place, a “blog of record” on the endless stories of coach sexual abuse in amateur sports, Concussion Inc. lately has found our coverage of the issue falling behind, thanks to a focus on newer stories — principally the cover-up and money scandals surrounding the 2014 death of University of California-Berkeley football player Ted Agu.

But the narrative of systematic and covered-up abuse in youth athletics is enjoying a resurgence in mainstream media. Coinciding with the Summer Olympics last month, an investigative team at the Indianapolis Star put together a devastating package on the history of this problem at USA Gymnastics. See http://www.indystar.com/story/news/investigations/2016/08/04/usa-gymnastics-sex-abuse-protected-coaches/85829732/.

There is no need for a competition on which U.S. Olympic Committee-sanctioned national governing body takes the gold medal in this sorry saga. For history and sheer volume — nearly half a million youth athletes and tens of thousands of coaches — nothing tops USA Swimming and its dog-wagging tail, the American Swimming Coaches Association. And the global resonance of swimming’s crimes could wind up exposed anew in revelations from my Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for the immigration files of fugitive disgraced Irish coach George Gibney, in a case expected to resolve soon.

Meanwhile, the word is that reporters from more than one major newspaper, all of them larger in both circulation and prestige than the Indianapolis Star, are homing in on new USA Swimming stories.

Last week, the Star itself tracked the latest development on the supposed imminent start-up of the Olympic Committee’s “independent” Center for Safe Sport. See http://www.indystar.com/story/news/investigations/2016/09/22/us-olympic-committee-announce-change-abuse-reporting-policy/90788968/.

Previously — for example, at https://concussioninc.net/?p=10216 — Concussion Inc. documented this group’s evolution from a press release announcing an intention to issue a press release, to a press release announcing an advisory council of bought-off consultants from the flourishing industry of Child Abuse Inc. We had missed the most recent step, whereby the Center for Safe Sport, in what was presumably its final pre-operational de-cocooning, announced a nine-person board of directors. One of them is the chief officer for ethics and compliance at Penn State. Good grief.

The Star’s report on the Center for Safe Sport was notable for one other important element: it’s the first by a major outlet to feature our view that real headway on this problem can be achieved only through Congressional hearings — and, in turn, an overhaul of the Amateur Sports Act to enact toothful federal government oversight. From the Star story:

 

“I see [the center] as a public relations Band-Aid,” [Muchnick] said. “It’s going to buy them time.”

Muchnick said the center is “too little, too late” to account for the systematic cover-ups and conflicts of interest within national governing bodies. What’s necessary, he said, is “an independent, congressionally sanctioned authority” to handle abuse complaints.

“We’re being asked to trust this same gang with a new agency paying a new group of bureaucrats hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.

 

The media have been down this road before. In 2010, both ABC’s 20/20 and ESPN’s Outside the Lines broadcast splashy investigations of sexual abuse in swimming. In 2012, the Washington Post cracked the quarter-century-old cover-up of celebrated and continent-hopping statutory rapist coach Rick Curl (who, by the way, was recently released from Maryland state prison). The Post even editorialized on the case. Ultimately, this was to no effect, when Congressman George Miller of California, after two-plus years of private staff investigations, wimped out on his call for Federal Bureau of Investigation intervention, and slunk off into retirement (and the usual double-dipping lobbying job) with only an astoundingly bland white paper by the Government Accountability Office to show for it.

(Today Miller’s self-designated Congressional successor on the sports abuse issue, fellow Californian Jackie Speier, won’t even independently release the voluminous testimony to Miller staffers by abuse victims and their advocates, or the record of how they were thwarted by USA Swimming’s multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign.)

We can only hope this round will be different. Different as in better; more persistent, with stronger voices, and more effective.

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