by Irvin Muchnick
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee held its hearing yesterday in which the leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Swimming, and others were called on the carpet. The hearing was a dud.
The CEO of the USOC, Susanne Lyons, walked back some previous positions on the limitations of its control over national sport governing bodies (NGBs). The immediate effect will be to stall, rather than spur, overhaul of the Amateur Sports Act with the suggestion that provisions for additional necessary measures might already be in existing law. They are not.
Lyons is the acting CEO, successor to the disgraced Scott Blackmun, and that was part of the problem yesterday. Just about every testifying official, including USA Swimming’s Tim Hinchey, is relatively new to the job. So to the extent that the members of Congress were seeking substance, they were thwarted. The testimony consisted of nothing more than unverifiable commitments that the NGBs would try to do better.
Congressional hearings are largely theater, with anticipated questions and answers, and to be sure, there can be value in having an omnibus receiving line of CEO’s giving rotating and mirrored five minutes of bland testimony. Think about that infamous scene of tobacco industry executives passing the microphone down the witness table, one to the other, with robotic assurances that they did not believe cigarettes were harmful to health.
But that must come at a later phase of investigation, when the public is better educated. There was little gained from Hinchey and other NGB chiefs spouting canned lines about their redoubled commitment to “SafeSport.” (And by the way, can we please drive that annoying focus-group marketing euphemism out of the public policy debate as soon as possible and replace it with real phrases with real meaning, such as “child sexual abuse”?)
The sooner the better for Congress to start hearing from victims instead of corporate handlers — in public, in numbers, and most importantly, including youth athletes who didn’t wind up as Olympians.
One positive outcome from yesterday is better information on how the U.S. Center for SafeSport is poorly funded, overwhelmed, and considerably less than “independent.” Hinchey admitted that swimming had kicked in only a few dozens of thousands of dollars to the new multimillion-dollar agency. Of course, the flip side is that the more generously these Olympic abuse enabler organizations contribute to the SafeSport budget, the more beholden SafeSport will be to them. This is why Energy and Commerce must do more to expose the inadequacies of this current phase of non-solutions, which I call “SafeSport 2.0,” and get on with a regime of true federal government oversight and accountability.
No sooner had the hearing ended when Sarah Ehekircher got word that her investigator from the SafeCenter Center would finally be meeting with her. The center is currently engaged in some kind of halfway do-over of USA Swimming’s kangaroo court 2010 National Board of Review decision that failed to discipline Ehekircher’s groomer-abuser, Scott MacFarland. Concussion Inc. will have more on the progress of this case as it develops.
For further reflections on yesterday in D.C., I recommend swimming coach Chris DeSantis, at http://chrisdcoach.com/blog/.