by Irvin Muchnick
The U.S. Center for SafeSport’s public relations coordinator Dan Hill, who owns a company in Arlington, Virginia, called Hill Impact, on Friday fabricated a telephone conversation with this reporter when asked to explain why he and a mixed martial arts fighter he is managing have been trolling a USA Swimming sexual abuse victim on Twitter.
The fighter, Heather Hardy, tweeted to Sarah Ehekircher — whose story of grooming and abuse by her teen swim coach Scott MacFarland we have been reporting and following — “Fuck you. Don’t tell me what i should and shouldn’t do, maybe you should stop trying to discourage victims from reporting!! Because that’s exactly what your angry rant is doing!” Hardy also wrote to Ehekircher, “You don’t get a free pass at being an asshole because you were sexually abused. I’ve been raped and last time i checked…. still not running around telling people they shouldn’t waste their time reporting misconduct.”
Earlier, Ehekircher had taken exception to Hill’s own interjection into her Twitter conversation after he had claimed that he never comments on pending cases and does not rebuke victims who speak their minds.
Concussion Inc. will have more shortly in our ongoing coverage of Ehekircher’s complaint to the SafeSport Center that USA Swimming conducted a biased and unfair hearing of her allegations against MacFarland in 2010, and refused to allow her to present her own witnesses and the totality of her evidence.
The part of our coverage that put this reporter into direct contact with Hill, in a telephone conversation that he initiated and now is lying about, was our development of information that Michael Henry, the erstwhile legal affairs director of the SafeSport Center, is a con man.
Henry ambushed Ehekircher at a May 24 meeting with her SafeSport investigator, Kathleen Smith, who had explained at the last minute that Henry was being added to the meeting so that the center could have someone to help her take notes. Smith did not disclose Henry’s title of director of legal affairs, and Smith and Henry proceeded to grill and cross-examine Ehekircher in a session that was tape-recorded and without the presence of her own lawyer. It remains the only meeting Ehekircher has had with SafeSport investigators, and Smith proceeded not to respond to Ehekircher’s follow-up emails for two months.
In the wake of reporting on Henry’s shady practices, by both Concussion Inc. and Deadspin, Henry changed his listing at the professional networking site LinkedIn to call himself the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s “Director, Investigations & Outcomes,” rather than “Director of Legal Affairs.” The center does not appear to have any staff information at its website, except for that of Shellie Pfohl, the CEO.
When I emailed Hill regarding the new controversy of his and Heather Hardy’s trolling of Ehekircher, he wrote back, “Irv, I’m not going to get into discussions since guy admitted that you don’t care about facts [sic].”
Hill added, “I was so discouraged by our conversation, especially your statement ‘the facts don’t matter to me because I’m going to do what I want to do no matter what’ — everyone on the team who heard the conversation on speaker phone was flabbergasted.”
I have had exactly one phone conversation with Dan Hill: on Friday, June 1, during coverage of the Michael Henry controversy. The conversation was long after office hours on the East Coast, and Hill said he was calling me on a precarious cell phone connection because he wanted the opportunity to clarify his position and role as we headed into the weekend. There was no indication that the call was from his office, much less on speaker phone, much less with his employees listening in.
The suggestion that I said — in this conversation or ever — that I “don’t care about facts” or anything remotely related is, of course, patently ridiculous.
On Friday I told Hill that his accusation “takes Hill Impact into ‘Gaslight’ territory.” The term “gaslighting,” taken from a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton, refers to psychological manipulation by someone who is trying to make someone else question his own reality or sanity. I decline any such invitation.
Hill doubled down in his contention that his employees Kate Brannen and Kira Wilson heard my confession of disinterest in facts during a speaker phone conversation whose alleged date and circumstances he would not specify. In a characteristic non sequitur, he called Brannen and Wilson “incredibly kind and honest people who would never lie for me or anyone.”
At the bottom of this article we are reproducing the full text of Hill’s background email to me on June 1.
Regarding his MMA fighter Hardy’s profane tweets to Ehekircher, Hill said: “Heather is a survivor and entitled to her voice. You can find her story as an advocate in many places including ESPN, WSJ, Sports Illustrated and a few documentaries — she’s one of the strongest champions for women in sport and is tireless in her pursuits to right the power imbalance. I work with her because of her story and advocacy — never received a dime — 5 years now. Same with many other survivors and credible advocacy organizations doing amazing work in this space.“
Since Hill has repeatedly, since his original May 29 communication with me, made the point that he works on abuse matters pro bono, I asked him to document that his company’s services for the U.S. Center for SafeSport are free or, alternatively, billed on a reduced-fee basis. In reply, he asserted, “Whatever SafeSport pays us doesn’t cover our costs; everyone on our team does this work because they want to make an impact.”
From: Daniel Hill
To: Irvin Muchnick
Sent: Friday, June 1, 2018 6:20 AM
Subject: Re: Media inquiry for U.S. Center for SafeSport
Irv, I don’t know you but let me tell you a little about me.
I dedicated much of my adult life to advocating for survivors of sexual assault. Whether it’s serving on the sexual assault advisory committee for the Peace Corps, volunteering at the Network for Victim Recovery, or helping individuals such as boxer/MMA fighter Heather Hardy, teen author Chessy Prout or victims of Harvey Weinstein tell their stories – my life is dedicated to giving survivors a voice. Most of my work in this area is pro bono. Why do I say this? Because many of the professionals at SafeSport have the same passion and heart for protecting individuals from abuse and for doing everything possible to address it when it unfortunately happens. My credentials in the space date back decades and they pale in comparison to my colleagues at the Center – it’s why when my own child was sexually assaulted I leaned on some of them for support and expertise.
The data: every day trust in the Center grows in the community, evidenced by the increasing number of report each month. What we previously saw in a month (which was still a lot), we are seeing each and every week — it’s growing. Keep in mind that more than 100 individuals have been banned by the Center in a little over a year. We are careful when we speak of the data that we remind people of the fact that there are boys, girls, men and women whose lives were permanently changed as a result of abuse – it’s heartbreaking.
Irv, I trust that your heart is in the right place – I would never question that. Early in my career in communications I worked in law enforcement and then child protective services. I remember then how hard it was to hear individuals publicly slam the work of investigators or social workers knowing that the whole story painted a much different picture. When the Center doesn’t respond to pointed attacks, it’s not because we agree, it’s because we believe in trauma informed approaches and would never want to care more about our own reputation than the lives of people who lean on the Center every single day. I developed best practices in this field personally and I believe strongly that the integrity of the process must supersede any desire to defend the Center’s brand.
All of this to say, I want you to know that there are kind, professional, hard-working experts in the field of sexual assault working around the clock at the Center. Irv, we want people to report any form of sexual misconduct to SafeSport so it can be addressed. The hardest part about biting our collective tongues when facts are misrepresented is that we would never want these negative posts to have a chilling effect on victims i.e. scaring them away from making a report out of fear that they won’t be heard.
Irv, I’m happy to send you the numbers on a quarterly basis so you can see for yourself. I’m not asking you to do anything with this email except know that some of how things are characterized in your posts are extremely hurtful to those who dedicate their lives to ending abuse.
Have a great weekend.
From: Irvin Muchnick <[email protected]>
Reply-To: Irvin Muchnick <[email protected]>
Date: Tuesday, May 29, 2018 at 9:28 AM
To: Kate Brannen, Kira Wilson, Dan Hill
Subject: Media inquiry for U.S. Center for SafeSport
Deadline noon Mountain Time today (Tuesday)
I am publishing an article with well-documented allegations by Sarah Ehekircher that the investigation of her complaint at the U.S. Center for SafeSport is corrupt and biased.
Specifically, Ms. Ehekircher was lured to a meeting last week with her investigator, Kathleen Smith, at the Zonies Law office, where Ms. Smith was accompanied by Michael Henry, the Center’s Director of Legal Affairs. Mr. Henry nonetheless represented that he was not there in a capacity as a lawyer. The Center then proceeded to conduct a hostile interrogation of Ms. Ehekircher, in defiance of best practices in investigation of a sexual abuse complaint, and created an audiotape of the session even though she did not have her own lawyer present.
In light of the seriousness of Ms. Ehekircher’s on-the-record account of having been mistreated by the Center, I do not believe a generic response that you do not comment on ongoing investigations is sufficient. I seek the comments of Mr. Henry and of CEO Shellie Pfohl.
Next: Complete chronological links to our coverage of Sarah Ehekircher’s case at the U.S. Center for SafeSport, and related coverage.