by Irvin Muchnick
In response to the story of the cover-up of Dr. Larry Nassar by both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, the bipartisan leadership of the House Energy and Commerce says there will be broad hearings on sexual abuse across various youth sports bodies. The committee put on notice the heads of the above two institutions, plus USA Swimming, USA Taekwondo, and the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Scott Blackmun.
On Twitter, I’ve promised to help readers of this site drill deep on the involvement of both Blackmun and Jack Swarbrick, the athletic director at Notre Dame, who has advised several USOC national sport governing bodies (NGBs). Today an alert reader tipped me to a third prominent figure worth scrutinizing. But first, Blackmun.
The USOC boss — who, like others in the Olympic movement bureaucracy, came from the Bryan Cave law firm, favorite pit-bull defender for some NGBs against abuse claims — was first sighted speaking publicly about this issue less than five years ago. USA Today noted, on July 29, 2013, that Blackmun’s announcement of a “SafeSport Working Group on Investigation, Adjudication and Sanctions” came “four days after U.S. Speedskating reached a settlement with a group of its athletes who claimed they were physically and emotionally abused by a former head coach.” That coach was Andy Gabel, a Hall of Famer. (Correction 2/3/18: US Speedskating whistleblower Eva Rodansky pointed out to me that the coach in question here was actually Jae Su Chun, who at that point had been boycotted by two-thirds of the team.) USA Today also observed, “Sexual abuse allegations have rocked swimming and other sports the last several years.”
Blackmun said, “One of the things that some of the larger NGBs have asked us to look at is creating a new entity to do some of these investigations and/or adjudications, like the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.” USA Swimming had set up its own SafeSport department in 2010, and Blackmun said he had “high regard” for their work.
On August 2, 2013, my Concussion Inc. partner at the time, Tim Joyce, wrote:
“Excuse me for being so cynical but … what took so long? And why now?
The answer will never be admitted by the USOC, but it goes like this: The announcement is timed to intercept any negative press that USA Swimming will surely encounter as Congressman George Miller’s office continues to investigate the decades of sexual abuse committed by coaches and the lack of accountability that has ruled the day.
USOC, just like USA Swimming, is only acting because their backs are against the wall.”
Four months earlier, Blackmun also had engaged for the first time the plaintiffs’ lawyers with the largest and deepest caseloads of youth sports abuse cases: Bob Allard in San Jose and Jon Little in Indianapolis. They were not impressed. On March 8, 2013, Allard published an open letter to Blackmun stating in part:
“Both USA Swimming as well as member coaches have been under investigation by the FBI. At least one high level executive (Chuck Wielgus) for USA Swimming has arguably committed perjury on multiple occasions. The cover up that we have exposed has been deep and vast. The new rules that USA Swimming has implemented are not being enforced, as we have seen on several occasions. The new ‘Safe Sport’ program … is a farce[….]”
Allard lambasted Blackmun for uttering “not a peep” about swimming’s problems for more than three years, prior to grandstanding with the national safe sport center initiative in the wake of Marie Claire magazine’s and the Chicago Tribune’s coverage of the speedskating scandals. Allard urged Blackmun to recuse himself from USA Swimming matters because of the conflict of interest of his past partnership at Bryan Cave, whose current partner Rich Young was directing swimming’s legal defenses and strategies.
Later in 2013, Concussion Inc. also amplified a sharp email exchange between Blackmun and Eva Rodansky, speedskating’s most vocal whistleblower. (Rodansky’s years of efforts struck paydirt earlier this month when the CBC in Canada reported on Michael Crowe’s suspension as national coach by Speed Skating Canada as a result of reports of his past abusive behavior. Rodansky’s American speedskating career had been ruined by Crowe’s favoritism toward athletes he was sleeping with, and US Speedskating had pushed him out of the national coach position here before he got hired in Canada.)
The group’s revised disciplinary procedures, Rodansky argued to Blackmun in 2013, “are still designed to tip the scales in favor of US Speedskating, and against athletes and others who wish to file grievances.” She told of threats of lawsuits against member complainants, and called the group’s Code of Conduct mechanism “the weapon of choice…. The former CEO threatened to, and in fact did, ‘hand out Code of Conducts like candy.’”
Please take it away, House Energy and Commerce chair Congressman Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, and ranking member Frank Pallone, Jr., a New Jersey Democrat.