by Irvin Muchnick
We have this much clarity regarding the state of things at USA Swimming: it’s wild. Yesterday both Safe Sport director Susan Woessner and club development director Pat Hogan turned in their resignations.
A day later we seek clarity on a deeper question: Are these developments impactful?
For the beginning of the answer there, it is wise to turn to the letter that the joint leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent to USA Swimming chief Tim Hinchey on January 26. Similar letters were dispatched the same day to U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun and to the head of USA Taekwondo — as well as to USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. Only the latter two were directly in the headlines at that time, during the media frenzy surrounding the powerful testimony of molester gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s many victims, some of them famous Olympic names, during the sentencing phase of his trial.
This batch of letters thus signaled consensus at Energy and Commerce that the abuse scandals were regarded as broader than those in gymnastics alone; they spread across a range of national sport governing bodies. In this assessment, the committee chairman, Congressman Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, and the ranking member, Congressman Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, were correct.
Their letter to swimming’s Hinchey is viewable at https://energycommerce.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/012618-USA-Swimming-Sexual-Abuse.pdf.
In the letter, the bipartisan leadership referenced “allegations in 2014, when 19 former swimmers said they were sexually abused by their coaches, [which] may raise concerns about whether your organization has sufficient mechanisms to protect your athletes from abuse and mistreatment. Accordingly, the Committee is seeking information from USA Swimming because of the role it plays in overseeing swimming and protecting all of its athletes.”
The 19 from 2014 would appear to refer to the petition that forced the backdown by the late USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus and the International Swimming Hall of Fame from his scheduled induction into the Hall.
Regarding the letter’s bulleted questions, Concussion Inc. will have a lot more to report and comment on:
But, for now, it’s significant alone that in addition to these questions, the Energy and Commerce Committee is asking whether USA Swimming is aware of any other “sexual abuse or misconduct allegations within the swimming community.”
So the net is broad. Again, properly so.
Asked whether USA Swimming’s Hinchey had fulfilled the request for a “briefing” by February 9, what form these communications have taken, and the current status of the investigation, a committee spokesperson told Concussion Inc.: “The committee is in the early stages of this extensive, ongoing investigation. All requested institutions have been cooperative so far. Our work continues and updates will be available as appropriate.”
By our deadline for this article, USA Swimming had not replied to a parallel emailed query. Of course, we’ll report anything they might say in updates.
Isabelle McLemore, USA Swimming’s spokesperson, also has not gotten back to me with answers to other questions — about the Safe Sport program and about Woessner — that were posed earlier this week: the handling by swimming Safe Sport of prospective complaints and investigations (which on their face are now under the jurisdiction of the National Center for Safe Sport); what was Woessner’s salary (prior to yesterday, obviously); and what is Hinchey’s position on the need for a firewall between policing and marketing operations — a concept seemingly not in place at the time of the group’s 2015 “SwimBiz” conference (in which both Susan Woessner and her sister, USA Swimming business development manager Geri Woessner, enjoyed featured roles).