by Irvin Muchnick
Current goings-on at a courtroom in Raleigh, North Carolina, help explain why. Nathan Weddle, coach of USA Swimming’s Capital Swim Team in that city, was arrested in 2017 for serial molestations of a girl swimmer who was under 16 years of age. The next year, Weddle negotiated a guilty plea to ten counts of sex crimes that will keep him incarcerated until at least 2028.
(For a good overview, see the contemporaneous coverage by the swimming news site SwimSwam, at https://swimswam.com/teen-parents-sue-usa-swimming-banned-coach-over-sexual-abuse/.)
As Weddle headed to state prison, the victim’s family sued several entities, including USA Swimming for gross negligence, in Wake County District Court. There is now a jury trial in that case, which is expected to last most of this month.
And George Gibney is part of the ancillary narrative.
The plaintiffs’ claim of negligence on the part of swimming’s national sport governing body has multiple prongs of evidence. One of them is a 2013 internal memo, exposed at the time by Concussion Inc., which showed the public relations-only motive behind the commissioning of a six-figure “independent review” of swimming’s so-called SafeSport program by Gundersen Health System.
Another prong of evidence is knowledge the swimming organization has long held in secret: its “flagged” list of bad-actor coaches. These are figures, in the U.S. and the world over, who for one technical reason or another were never on the official list of those banned for findings of sexual abuse. Gibney – the two-time former Irish Olympic coach who fled to America on a diversity lottery visa shortly after a 1994 Irish Supreme Court’s statute of limitations ruling caused the dropping of the prosecution of dozens of abuse charges against him – is believed to be on the USA Swimming flagged list, which insiders say was kept under lock and key by Chuck Wielgus, the group’s late and disgraced chief executive.
Testifying at the Weddle trial last week was David Berkoff, the former gold medalist who, shortly after his election as a USA Swimming vice president in 2010, composed a compilation research paper on abusive coaches, which he circulated to the board. Berkoff titled his memo “The List,” and we published it here in 2012 (a facsimile is viewable at http://muchnick.net/berkofflist.pdf).
The Berkoff list is not the same as the actual flagged list in the possession of USA Swimming leadership, but the two documents undoubtedly have considerable overlap. Gibney is on Berkoff’s list, which contains certain mistakes (Gibney was mislabeled as British, and he was said to be “on the run” even though he was already settled – albeit in comparative seclusion – in Florida, the last of the at least three states in which he has resided).
Where does this revelation lead? It leads wherever the pressure of Irish and American swimming families and citizens will take it.
For starters, the criminal grand jury investigation of USA Swimming in the Southern District of New York, for insurance fraud, hiding assets, and covering up abuse, cannot be allowed to dribble into nothingness. Nor can the related Justice Department probe of Gibney’s immigration status, by a human trafficking finance specialist at the department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, be allowed to run aground.