by Irvin Muchnick
A child safety organization that was scheduled to participate in a panel at next month’s International Swim Coaches Association (ISCA) Hall of Fame Coaches Summit backed out after a victim of coach abuse in swimming pointed out that one of the event’s featured speakers, Mark Schubert, is accused of enabling and covering up for decades of widespread abuse in the sport.
Schubert subsequently canceled his own attendance at the ISCA gathering in Clearwater Beach, Florida. But the organization’s president and CEO, Doug Fonder, said the reason for the change was a scheduling conflict — not the new crescendo of public controversies over how much knowledge Schubert, a one-time Olympic head coach, had of the abuses of Rick Curl, Sean Hutchison, and other prominent coaches, and whether Schubert has taken appropriate action to keep youth athletes safe from sexual predators.
The original published schedule of the Hall of Fame Coaches Summit listed Schubert — who is also a member of the ISCA board of directors — as part of the August 30 “Distance and open water swimming” panel discussion. The previous day, a representative of “Athlete Safety Matters,” a program of the Jacksonville-based Monique Burr Foundation for Children, was scheduled to participate in a convention presentation entitled “Preventing abuse, bullying and harassment: How can we make our sport safer?”
Concussion Inc. has learned that the Burr Foundation withdrew late last week after being contacted by a former swimmer who shared the story of her own abuse and her view on the impropriety of being associated with Schubert.
In an email to the swimming abuse victim, the foundation’s president and CEO, Lynn Layton, said, “We learned a valuable lesson and will be more careful as we try to reach out in the sports world to introduce [our program].” Layton added that her organization had informed ISCA of the withdrawal and the reason for it.
ISCA’s Fonder acknowledged this part of the account. He said that after the Coaches Hall of Fame Summit program was reprinted to reflect Schubert’s absence, ISCA asked the Burr Foundation to reconsider. In a statement to Concussion Inc., the foundation’s senior director and wellness coordinator, Shannon Colavecchio, said, “MBF receives hundreds of invitations to present, speak or participate in panel discussions throughout each year,” and among them was ISCA’s request “to send an MBF representative for a panel discussion during their upcoming event. Unfortunately, we are unable to honor all requests and will be unable to attend.”
(For more information on the Monique Burr Foundation, go to http://www.mbfpreventioneducation.org.)
Doug Fonder, who is regarded as a leader of a dissident faction of coaches who are critical of USA Swimming, is someone with whom I have talked for reporting on previous stories here about the sport’s culture of abuse. In a telephone conversation Thursday, I told Fonder I strongly disagreed with his judgment in retaining Schubert on the ISCA board.
Fonder shared with me a different perspective: He said that Schubert was a long-time friend in the industry. Fonder also said he had no first-hand knowledge of the stories now circulating about Schubert’s alleged indifference toward retaining coaches with abusive histories, and specifically had not read the recent high-profile coverage in the Orange County Register of allegations against Schubert. “I try to base my decisions on the facts as I know them first-hand,” Fonder said.