by Irvin Muchnick
In 2015, Concussion Inc. began reporting on the cover-up and enabling actions that transformed George Gibney from an accused rapist when he was coach of the Irish Olympic team to a green card holder living in the United States — and at one early point even a coach here.
A year earlier, my collaborator Tim Joyce and I had uncovered one of the most shocking stories I have come across in nearly a decade of digging down the seemingly bottomless pit of youth coach sexual abuse in our Olympic sports system.
Our coverage of this story began on February 7, 2014, under the headline “Florida Coach Stayed on Pool Deck Nine Years After USA Swimming Investigation of Battery Complaint Against Him Also Revealed Secret Videotapes of Boys Living With Him,” https://concussioninc.net/?p=8621.
This story led, within a few months, to a cover article about our reporting in the South Florida alternative weekly chain New Times. In turn, the New Times coverage fueled a petition campaign by USA Swimming abuse survivors to derail the scheduled International Swimming Hall of Fame induction that year of the organization’s now deceased CEO, Chuck Wielgus.
However, for Alex Pussieldi, the core subject of our investigative journalism, there were no real consequences. By then he had already repaired to his native Brazil, where he would become a commentator in Olympic coverage on the national sports television network.
Now CNN Brasil has begun what is hinted to be a deeper dive into the world of Pussieldi. Our 2014 series showed more than just that, in 2004, he battered and sent to the hospital a Mexican swimmer during an argument on the deck of the Hall of Fame swimming complex in Fort Lauderdale, where he then coached under the late Jack Nelson.
That incident was documented in a vast compilation of USA Swimming records, which the California Supreme Court in 2012 had ordered the group to file under seal in a civil lawsuit by another, otherwise unrelated, victim of coach abuse. The documents were subpoenaed by a field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and came into the possession of Tim Joyce and myself.
What Concussion Inc. also found, through public records requests to the city of Fort Lauderdale and, ultimately, successful litigation for additional documents in Florida state court, was that the 2004 incident was covered up by not only Nelson’s team, but also the police, the parks and recreation department, and a woman named Sharon Robb, the swimming writer for the local newspaper, the Sun Sentinel. Robb didn’t publish the information in the police report, and even privately counseled Pussieldi on how to lie low until the episode blew over and he could resume his coaching career in the area.
And resume his career Pussieldi did. He became the swimming coach at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, where his teams garnered multiple state championships. Through the connections of Dale Neuburger — a USA Swimming and global swimming governance board member who parlayed those positions into a profitable consulting business — Pussieldi also became coach of the Kuwaiti national team.
At his Nadadaores age-group club under the auspices of USA Swimming, Pussieldi imported swimmers from the Middle East and Latin America. Some of them lived at his house. Others were housed on the Fort Lauderdale campus of Nova Southeastern University.
When Pussieldi finally abandoned the Nadadores and returned to Brazil, it was only because a rival coach had complained about the “ringer” swimmers the team deployed in regional competitions — prompting the local affiliate of USA Swimming to impose heavy fines.
The new CNN Brasil report, by producer José Brito, is under the headline “Swimming abuse: victims go to court against U.S. federation” (according to my crude translation via Google Translate). The link is https://www.cnnbrasil.com.br/esporte/2020/10/06/abusos-na-natacao-vitimas-vao-a-justica.
This article, which reads like a harbinger of additional online text articles and televised and streaming video reports, starts with a standard review of the current USA Swimming abuse litigation landscape, before pivoting to information about Pussieldi in a 2014 report by now-retired Congressman George Miller of California (at the time the ranking Democratic minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce). Most of that information can be found in the series at this site whose headline links are collected at https://concussioninc.net/?p=8652.
The links include a legal threat against this reporter by Pussieldi’s lawyer. I published the threatening letter in its entirety, and a defamation action never materialized, largely because everything reported here was based on primary-source documents, many of which were uploaded to supplement the coverage as it rolled out.