by Irvin Muchnick
A coach who died last year named Bob Gillett, who was inducted into the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2009, was best friends with James Scott MacFarland — the now Houston-based coach who stands accused of the grooming and statutory rape of Sarah Ehekircher when she was 17. As Concussion Inc. reported Friday, the U.S. Center for SafeSport has accepted Ehekircher’s request to review USA Swimming’s clearly flawed 2010 internal investigation and National Board of Review (NBOR) hearing of her allegations against MacFarland.
We’ll be following the ongoing process with keen interest and on general principle. At this fraught moment, no U.S. Olympic Committee sexual abuse investigation, in either its 1.0 or 2.0 form, should be allowed to carry on in darkness, with the danger that a bad outcome could get dumped at a point after the general public has stopped paying such close attention.
In the case of Ehekircher’s complaint, the role of a vigilant Fourth Estate is especially urgent. Over the next days and weeks I’ll be rolling out various ways in which the 2010 actions by USA Swimming’s nascent and farcical “Safe Sport” bureaucracy mocked both justice and child safety.
Bob Gillett is the first such illustration of swimming’s fraud to youth athletes and their families in Ehekircher v. MacFarland. But before laying out the Gillett aspect, I want to inquire into a basic element of jurisprudence: Does the U.S. Center have the administrative equivalent of “subpoena power” over the national sport governing bodies?
This is not a random query from Moot Court. Upon the first of the reports here chronicling Ehekircher’s account, the center immediately sought the old records from USA Swimming; as of late last week, however, those records had not been received. Which leads to two questions:
It does neither Ehekircher nor the public watching her case any good for swimming to forward a self-selected digest of the NBOR materials — for example, vaguely recorded “minutes” of the hearing in lieu of hard transcriptions of all the testimony therein, or at the very least highly detailed paraphrases.
On to Bob Gillett. In addition to being in the ASCA Hall of Fame, he is published in a 1999 article in ASCA News, with the text of a speech about the innovative business model of his facility and program. See “Entrepreneurial Coaching and the Arizona Sports Ranch,”https://swimmingcoach.org/entrepreneurial-coaching-and-the-arizona-sports-ranch-by-bob-gillett/.
(Somehow, all roads lead back to ASCA. As a dissident coach put it to me, “ASCA is nothing less than the open sewer right next to all of USA Swimming’s scandals.”)
References to MacFarland abound in Gillett’s ASCA article. Here’s the first: “I’ll talk about this person I have a person who’s been a friend of mine in coaching for years and years and years. His name is Scott MacFarland. I’m sure a lot of you know him. When Scott came with me, we bought this house.”
And: “[T]his is the house I was telling you about that Scott MacFarland lives in.”
And: “Then I met Scott MacFarland, and he’s the one that’s with me now. Scott had a situation where he inherited some money, and Scott writes me out a check for $150,000 and says I want to be a partner. So, this is why I have Scott’s picture up there. He wrote me out a check for $150,000, so I went out and I built a 25-yard pool, four tennis courts.”
On September 15, 2010, Bob Gillett testified at Scott MacFarland’s NBOR hearing. Sarah Ehekircher told me she knows this because, walking into the hearing room at a hotel in Dallas, she had to pass a gauntlet of pro-MacFarland witnesses — all former friends or acquaintances of hers, too. Sarah wasn’t able to hear their testimony, much less cross-examine them. She says USA Swimming also reneged on a promise to allow her to introduce witnesses of her own via speakerphone.
At the famous 1991 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, there was a jocular buzz phrase for the smears attached to his former staff member Anita Hill, who testified to his office sexual harassment: she was “a little nutty and a little slutty.” They were talking about Anita Hill — today the university professor of social policy, law, and women’s studies at Brandeis University.
I’m going to take a wild guess here and speculate that this was also the gist of the 2010 case for MacFarland. The straight story, of course, is different. In Ehekircher’s account, which I believe, MacFarland crawled into her bed for the first time in a motel room following a travel meet in Irvine, California. He was 34. She was 17.
Sarah was shortly removed from having been kicked out of the house by her father and stepmother, four years after the death of her mother. One of the supreme ironies of the abuse that unfolded after MacFarland took her in was that the culminating cause of Ehekircher’s banishment from her home was not violence, crime, or drug abuse, but simply her passion for swimming, whose long practice hours her stern German father thought distracted unacceptably from her school studies. What Dad didn’t get was how swimming had become a refuge at a painful juncture in a teenage girl’s life. Unfortunately, a predatory coach was there to fill the vacuum and exploit the vulnerability.
In the defense counter-narrative, Scott only wanted to “help” Sarah, with whom he was “in love.” Boy met girl. Their sex acts were “consensual.” Those of us who have slogged through the sleaze of USA Swimming abuse and cover-up have heard this one a couple of times. A couple of hundred times.
And when it comes to the corroboration of MacFarland’s NBOR witnesses, there’s a small problem if the judgment winds up turning on innuendo regarding the mental stability of a perfectly normal girl, now woman. For example, Bob Gillett couldn’t have thought so lowly of her; he had hired her as a counselor at his Arizona Sports Ranch — the same program Gillett had developed with the help of his buddy Scott’s $150,000 of seed money.
NEXT: Closely examined one by one, the entire slate of witnesses at the 2010 MacFarland hearing was a veritable rogue’s gallery of coaches with their own eminently impeachable back stories of relations with young athletes they had coached.