by Irvin Muchnick
Seven years ago we did a piece headlined “United States Masters Swimming: Where Old Perverts Make Soft Landings.” The on-the-record source was once editor of the Masters house magazines. See https://concussioninc.net/?p=7873.
Masters swimmer Sarah Kwon recently had an awful experience and was motivated to launch a petition campaign to force this Sarasota, Florida-based national group to bring their sexual misconduct practices out of the Stone Age. I’m pleased to be able to help publicize it. The petition home page is http://chng.it/YGRJKLxq.
“[B]ack in January, a man undid my suit from another lane and exposed me at practice. Is it the end of the world and will it leave me scarred for life? No. But is it acceptable? Not at all.
What has been incredibly distressing is the response and institutional betrayal from USMS starting with my team all the way up to the national level of the organization. If my coach had taken care of this when I reported it, this would have been a blip on the radar. The part that’s making me consider leaving USMS and asking others to not support them financially is the backlash I faced from the organization. Examples of this backlash ranged from, “He thought you were someone else and she’d be ok with it, plus he just soooo nice” from my teammates to Jessica Reilly, senior business director of USMS, offering me a refund to leave. My LMSC chair has been ordered not to communicate with me by USMS’s legal council after she told me that I couldn’t be believed until I had a police report. And the police said ‘since breasts aren’t genitals because breastfeeding’ that they don’t consider what happened sexual assault and won’t do anything. Almost all of these conversations have been via email and are archived.
I’ve been able to file a complaint with the USMS National Board of Review, which they’ve been sitting on since April with the excuse that they can’t get in touch with the man in question. My LMSC played the avoidant game, and now the National Board is as well.
In these times where sexual misconduct in sports is finally being brought to light, most sports participate in SafeSport (https://safesport.org/), a program for protecting athletes and reporting sexual misconduct. I’m trying to figure out why USMS is not a part of SafeSport. As far as I can figure, USMS is not part of the International Olympic Committee like USA Swimming or USA Triathlon. Considering the reckoning moment many sports, including swimming, are currently having for covering up sexual misconduct, I’m amazed this kind of behavior is as pervasive as it has been.
Reading the minutes from previous Local Masters Swimming Program (LMSC; the regional governing body) meetings, the Florida LMSC is currently drafting legislation for our bylaws that say that they are volunteers and need to make it so they’re not responsible for sexual harassment or misconduct and highlite that they need to protect themselves. This echoes of the excuses that USA Gymnastics made. This would also be in violation of Section 4 of the USMS handbook, and puts the board over the safety of swimmers. (See minutes here, specifically page 3; https://floridalmsc.org/wp-content/uploads/min_2020-05-21_and_reports.pdf)
Again, the implementation of SafeSport would take this out of the hands of volunteers and LMSC board members so they would not be responsible for handling these cases, but an accountable party would be available.
I don’t care what happens with the man who exposed me, but USMS needs to address how they handle situations of sexual harassment and misconduct this through clearer policies and by joining USA Swimming in their participation in SafeSport. I’m not looking for retaliation, I’m looking for change. My hope is that if we have enough voices in our swimming community, USMS will have to pay attention to this.
I still believe in the good that USMS and swimming can bring. This isn’t asking any more than USA Triathlon, USA Swimming, or any other sport does. While we sadly cannot prevent sexual misconduct from happening, we can prevent another athlete from going through what I went through and/or from being pressured out. Everyone receiving this is a swimmer, athlete or adjacent to a swimmer. You do NOT need to be a USMS swimmer to support and sign.
Please help me with this goal and share far and wide with your contacts and on social media.
If you have thoughts, I encourage you to attend the Florida LMSC meeting on October 14 (details forthcoming) and to write the following folks:
Jillian Wilkins, Florida LMSC Chair, FLChair@usmastersswimming.org
Peter Guadagni, USMS President, email@example.com
Dawson Hughes, Chief Executive Officer of USMS firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Brenner, Chief Operating Officer of USMS, email@example.com
Chair of the LMSC Development Committee, Lisa Brown, LMSCDevelopment@usms.org
LMSC Development, Linda Chapman, PNSanctions@usms.org
Vice-President of Local Operations, Ed Coates, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dixie Zone Chair, Ed Saltzman, Dixie@usms.org
Dixie Zone At-Large-Director, Maddie Sibilia, DixieDirector@usms.org
Questions are welcome. Threats, harassment, stalking, etc will be documented and/or reported to the police.”