by Irvin Muchnick
Concussion Inc. has learned that the U.S. Center for SafeSport is re-investigating the complaint to USA Swimming in 2010 by Sarah Ehekircher that she was groomed and abused by her coach in Colorado, Scott MacFarland, beginning in 1986 when she was 17.
Ehekircher told me that earlier this week she submitted a letter to Shellie Pfohl, CEO of the new SafeSport Center, requesting that the center “revisit” the 2010 USA Swimming investigation and National Board of Review (NBOR) hearing that cleared MacFarland of conduct code violations. Now going by the name James Scott MacFarland, he has continued coaching and is currently with Houston’s Magnolia Aquatic Club.
Within hours of the delivery of Ehekircher’s letter, she said she was contacted by a center investigator, who told her that the center had already asked USA Swimming to forward its 2010 MacFarland file. The investigator explained that notice from a third party had made it appropriate to take this information-gathering initiative.
On this site on March 6, at https://concussioninc.net/?p=12656, Ehekircher gave her account of her seven-year sexual relationship with MacFarland, which started on a trip to a meet in California. The next day, a SafeSport Center spokesperson told me that “when the Center receives a report, it is part of our investigative policy to gather any existing materials from the reporting party and/or any involved organizations.”
Sources inside USA Swimming headquarters in Colorado Springs said that, as of yesterday, the MacFarland investigator reports and NBOR hearing materials still had not been sent to the U.S. center.
The Sarah Ehekircher-James Scott MacFarland case is an important early test of the efficacy of the U.S. center. Indeed, the outcome of the center’s work here, in my view, will be more telling even than the better-publicized and somewhat parallel case of coach Sean Hutchison’s grooming and abuse of Olympic swimmer Ariana Kukors. Here’s why.
As the new sheriff in town on abuse allegations across all the national sport governing bodies, the U.S. center can be expected to rack up some early examples of a new-found aggressiveness in busting predatory coaches. Long-time elite figure skating coach Richard Callaghan, now on suspension and in the investigative pipeline, may be one. Hutchison, who is also being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement agencies, may be another. MacFarland may be yet another.
But Ehekircher’s complaint is different than Kukors’, because there are no new facts in evidence. Kukors came forward regarding her relationship with Hutchison, dating back to when she was 13, less than two months ago after being emboldened by the testimony of Dr. Larry Nassar’s molestation victims at USA Gymnastics. At the time of the original USA Swimming investigation, in 2010-11, of reports of an inappropriate relationship between Hutchison and one of his swimmers at the FAST training center in Fullerton, California, Kukors, who was then 21, did not discuss his earlier grooming and abuse; she did not even acknowledge the existence of their relationship.
The Ehekircher account, by contrast, has the same body of evidence in 2018 that it had in 2010. Her complaint to the U.S. center suggests the need only for a superior processing of known facts — a review of a disciplinary board hearing process that Ehekircher contends, with great justification, was skewed and biased against her.
In sum, the U.S. Center for SafeSport here is being challenged not just to reconsider MacFarland’s status, but also to comment explicitly on the calculated shortcomings of the nascent USA Swimming Safe Sport program — at the very moment swimming was promoting its new solution to the widespread and systematic abuse problems that had just been reported in image-damaging national television news investigations.
(Ehekircher’s NBOR hearing was in September 2010, the same month USA Swimming’s safe sport director, Susan Woessner, was hired. Woessner resigned earlier this month following reports that she earlier had had a relationship with Sean Hutchison, the investigation of whom she helped direct starting in December 2010. In her resignation, Woessner acknowledged having “engaged in kissing” with Hutchison “on a single occasion.” )
Justice for Ehekircher has been a long time coming, but if there is any potential satisfaction that she might derive out of her delay, it is that her case is on the map at a moment of great ferment, and therefore has more promise to impact the public’s perception of decades of Olympic sports youth coach abuse and cover-up. In recent weeks Ehekircher has spent substantial time in interviews with the staff of Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado. DeGette sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has announced investigations of USA Swimming and other governing bodies.