by Irvin Muchnick
The new U.S. Center for SafeSport has notified Sarah Ehekircher, victim of grooming and abuse by her swimming coach Scott MacFarland, that it will be interviewing her. But Ehekircher is saying the Center’s investigation is unsatisfactory because it involves the most narrow possible interpretation of her complaint.
Ehekircher gave Concussion Inc. a copy of the SafeSport Center’s April 20 letter to her, which is quoted in pertinent part below. In an interview, she revealed that she is taking additional public steps to bring transparency to her complaint against both MacFarland, for his abuse, and USA Swimming, for conducting a biased and failed investigation of the complaint in 2010, shortly after the organization set up its own safe sport program following negative publicity from nationally televised reports of widespread coach abuse and cover-up.
The SafeSport Center’s letter states:
“This letter is to inform you that the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s Response & Resolution Office has received information indicating that Scott MacFarland may have engaged in behavior which, if true, violates one or more of the following:
Specifically, it is alleged that, between 1987 and 1993, Mr. MacFarland engaged in a romantic and sexual relationship with you, and that at the relevant times there was an active—or recently concluded—coach-athlete relationship between the two of you, where there was a clear imbalance of power. The USA Swimming National Board of Review held a hearing to address two limited questions arising from this situation. However, by agreement of the parties, that panel specifically did not address whether Mr. MacFarland, ‘acted in a manner which brings disrepute upon the Corporation or upon the sport of swimming.’ Code of Conduct, Section 401.1.
The Response & Resolution Office will be contacting you shortly to schedule an interview.[…]”
Ehekircher’s additional steps include a meeting scheduled for May 1 with USA Swimming’s new CEO, Tim Hinchey, and ongoing conversations with the office of Congresswoman Diana DeGette. Ehekircher is a constituent of Colorado’s First Congressional District, which DeGette represents. DeGette, minority chief deputy whip in the House of Representatives, is ranking member of the Subcommittee of Oversight and Investigation of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which in the wake of the scandal of abusive USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar is investigating USA Swimming and other national sport governing bodies under the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Whether the SafeSport Center can operate effectively and with true independence is one of the key focuses of Congressional investigators — and Ehekircher made it clear that the center gets poor marks from her.
“I was initially encouraged when I filed my complaint about MacFarland and the center investigator told me they had already opened a preliminary investigation based on third-party reports,” Ehekircher told us. “Unfortunately, it has been downhill from there. Based on the things they are telling me, some of which are untrue and which show an unwillingness to investigate the root allegations of my case or to contradict USA Swimming’s corrupt handling of my case in 2010, youth athletes and their families should be very concerned that this is all more of the same bureaucratic manipulation to protect the image of the Olympic bodies.”
Why is the center’s new move inadequate? Ehekircher explained it in the full context of communications from investigator Kathleen Smith.
On April 11, Smith told Ehekircher than the center could not share with Ehekircher the materials it had received from swimming’s 2010 National Board of Review. The center said a confidentiality agreement between the parties prevented release of key items, such as the hearing transcript.
Ehekircher said this explanation was nonsense: “I never entered into a confidentiality agreement. I wouldn’t have and I didn’t.”
Lawyer Jonathan Little, who advised Ehekircher at the meeting, backed her up. Little said there was no confidentiality agreement and, furthermore, that ethics would have prevented him from entering into any kind of agreement that involved concealing information from his own client.
Pressed by Ehekircher and Little for documentation of a confidentiality agreement, the SafeSport Center produced a tiny excerpt of the 2010 hearing in which MacFarland’s lawyer unilaterally asserted that the hearing was confidential.
In our interview, Ehekircher said the center was using the same dodge in its new notice of investigation by claiming that an “agreement of the parties” prevented the 2010 panel from considering whether MacFarland had violated Code of Conduct, Section 401.1: acting “in a manner which brings disrepute upon the Corporation or upon the sport of swimming.”
“I’m not impressed by the SafeSport Center’s word play,” Ehekircher said. “There was no confidentiality agreement. There was no ‘agreement by the parties’ to eliminate a reduced charge that now is conveniently revived to make it appear that the center is doing ‘something.’ That something that doesn’t force them to confront MacFarland’s crimes of statutory rape of me when I was 17 years old and ongoing sexual abuse of me across a period of years. It appears that the center wants to avoid a core mission of my complaint, which is to rebuke USA Swimming for conducting its 2010 investigation on deliberately narrow grounds and not giving me a fair hearing.”
Ehekircher added one further point: “Bringing disrepute to ‘the Corporation’ is not at the forefront of the minds of athletes, their families, or I hope Congress. The reputational damage to USA Swimming is not the issue. What’s at stake is the safety of underage athletes under the supervision of adult coaches.”
Ehekircher said that she is telling both Congresswoman DeGette and House Energy and Commerce investigators she would like to tell her story in testimony at upcoming public hearings, adding: “Transparency is the key. So far, I’m not getting any.”