by Irvin Muchnick
Chuck Wielgus, USA Swimming’s chief executive since 1997, has announced his retirement, effective in August. It brings me no pleasure to record the following negative notes on someone who, by all accounts, also has bravely battled cancer.
But a legacy is a legacy, and Wielgus’s consists of a generation of cover-up of his organization’s widespread coach-athlete sexual abuse. The measures undertaken on his watch, following a couple of callous and idiotic national television interviews in 2010, have been halfway and have been oriented toward public relations — not true independent oversight and accountability.
In 2014 Wielgus was slated for induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. The honor was withdrawn by mutual agreement in the face of a petition campaign, outlining his disservice to abuse victims, for which the lead signatory was Diana Nyad, the legendary open water swimmer. Nyad has alleged, with credibility, that she was molested by her Florida high school coach, the late Hall of Famer Jack Nelson.
The brief against Wielgus includes multiple examples of his out-and-out perjury in sworn testimony in civil lawsuits against USA Swimming. My personal favorite among the million-dollar-a-year CEO’s many-splendored lies was his claim that controversial video wasn’t even “on the radar screen” prior to the viral cell phone images of Michael Phelps smoking marijuana from a bong in 2008. In fact, just a year into Wielgus’s USA Swimming tenure, in 1998, a Pennsylvania coach named John Trites — who remains on the lam — made the FBI’s Most Wanted list for fleeing from charges that he had secretly videotaped his swimmers as they dressed out. At the behest of the FBI, USA Swimming put out a national aquatics center alert for the fugitive Trites. And Peeping Tom coach video has emerged as a theme in at least two other cases of coach abuse during the Wielgus regime.
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