by Irvin Muchnick
Former swimmer Ariana Kukors, now 28 years old, has alleged abuses by her old coach, Sean Hutchison, going back to when she was 13. This triggered both law enforcement and athletic administrative investigations.
The latter will be an early indicator of the effectiveness of the National Center for Safe Sport. I think anyone who knows the full history of l’affaire Hutchison should be sharing my concern that the end result could be confined to some (no doubt richly deserved) throwing under the bus of Hutchison. Will constructive deeper attention be focused on the institutions governing American youth sports programs? Or will that aspect just continue to be handled with a thick glove of words?
By email, I asked Susan Woessner, the founding director (since 2010) of USA Swimming’s Safe Sport department, to clarify whether the Hutchison investigation was in her inbox or that of the National Center for Safe Sport. Similar questions promise to follow around other national governing bodies with their own nascent Safe Sport operations. Obviously, the hope is that any overlapping internal affairs divisions will prove to be complementary in their vigilance. But the fear is that these duplicative tools will conveniently shift jurisdiction on a case-by-case basis so as to minimize embarrassment to the organizations.
In the instant matter, Woessner didn’t respond to my email; she never responds to me. After following up with USA Swimming’s new CEO, Tim Hinchey, and new media relations person, Beth McLemore, I did hear back from McLemore, which in itself constituted at least a “hell approaches 0 degrees Centigrade” moment.
McLemore forwarded the same canned statement they’re giving everyone. Let’s parse the key portions:
The “third party” here would have been the Washington Post, whose Amy Shipley was reporting on information from a private investigator’s report of the off-hours movements of a certain coach and swimmer at USA Swimming’s then new Fullerton professional training center. The person who had hired the spy was the Post’s leaker: Hutchison’s bureaucractic rival Mark Schubert, then the national team head coach.
Or — depending on how you slice and dice it — the “third party” could be said to have been Schubert himself. That gets a little tricky, however, since USA Swimming soon would be paying Schubert at least $650,000 to go away, and then organization boss Chuck Wielgus would be putting out a statement that Schubert had not given them dirt on Hutchison. So I guess it depends on what the meaning of “dirt” is. And for that matter, of “is.”
The 2010 USA Swimming investigation vaguely exonerated Hutchison, in the sense that there were no prohibitions against a relationship between a coach and an athlete of adult age. But the upshot was still that Hutchison resigned from the directorship of the Fullerton center. In typical corporate-speak, no one came out and said so, but the problem was not a Code of Conduct violation per se. Rather, it was an appearance of impropriety.
Now on to the recent Kukors allegations, taking the investigative narrative back in time another eight years.
As an outcome of the current investigation, will the National Center for Safe Sport transparently disclose both the findings and any potential conflicts of interest in the 2010 USA Swimming investigation? We’ll see.