A Talk With Title IX Titan Donna Lopiano About Sex Crimes Against Girls in Sports

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I had a long conversation yesterday with Donna Lopiano, the former University of Texas director of women’s athletics who is one of the genuine titans of the last generation of Title IX advancement, and now heads the consulting company Sports Management Resources (http://http://sportsmanagementresources.com). To say our chat was enlightening would be a little like saying a schmooze with Tom Jefferson offered some insights into the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

What I learned as a result prompts at least a reset of this blog’s purpose and objectives in investigating the national scandal of sex abuse in age-group swimming. Generally speaking, where there are variances between the institutional recommendations of Lopiano and of myself, smart readers are advised to give weight to the former. She is a proven policy tigress.

Before getting into all this in more depth, let me make clear what Lopiano and I did not talk about. Though she was in Austin at the same time former Rick Curl-coached club swimmer Kelley Davies was hospitalized with an eating disorder, and Davies did speak to a wide circle in Texas of the relationship between this problem and the years of molestation by her youth coach, Lopiano had no special recollections of the information passed around at the time. Lopiano added that, historically, many people in high positions inside particular sports had vast knowledge of such scenarios, which nevertheless and routinely flew under the sanctions radar. There is no reason to believe she was being coy in declining specific comment on Curl and Davies.

To review, Curl’s pedophile actions were exposed by The Washington Post last month, along with publication of the 1989 hush-money agreement, totaling $150,000, between Curl and the Davies family. A national team coach, developer of Olympians, and co-owner of one of the largest age-group swimming organizations in the country, Washington, D.C.’s Curl-Burke Club, Curl faces a disciplinary hearing on September 19 by USA Swimming’s national review board – part of a process many of us regard as beyond bankrupt.

The root problem with policing coach-on-athlete sex crime is intuitive, but Lopiano spelled it out. The one-on-one nature of the act produces the evidentiary shorthand “he said, she said.” A difficult threshold of proof is understandable for criminal prosecution, but sports organizations need to be pushed toward administrative review standards based on preponderance of the evidence. Otherwise, the very environment is unsafe for female athletes especially.

That is one of the key breakthroughs of Title IX, as important in its way as the basic expansion of resources and opportunities. (The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights published coach conduct guidelines in 2001.) And as with colleges and universities, which are subject to that law as a consequence of accepting federal funds, parallel leverage must be identified for the national sports governing bodies (NGB’s) authorized by the U.S. Olympic Committee under the Amateur Sports Act.

Last year Katherine Starr – another swimmer during Lopiano’s tenure at the University of Texas, and like Kelley Davies, a young-teen victim of rape by a club coach – began an organization called Safe4Athletes. The Starr group advocates changes in the Amateur Sports Act to track Title IX’s standards for coach conduct.

Previously, I have suggested the solution of congressional waivers to NGB’s under defamation and libel law, which would be combined with mandates to disseminate more freely information pertaining to allegations of sex abuse in their ranks. Lopiano, however, believes such an approach is unlikely to pass constitutional muster in the courts.

I urge readers to go to the Safe4Athletes site, http://safe4athletes.org, and study the recommendations there, which I will be publishing shortly as a dedicated post. Some 40 million kids under the age of 18 participate in “open amateur sports” – non-school sports programs ranging from coach-owned commercial businesses, to nonprofits run by parent boards of directors, to after-school and YMCA programs and the like. This is a huge and largely unregulated American industry.

Here are a couple of things I’m attempting to accomplish with the investigative reporting at ConcussionInc.

Hard cases drive new law – and new policy.

The Rick Curl case is heinous. The Andy King case was even more heinous. The Norm Havercroft case, now at the center of one of the many pending civil lawsuits against USA Swimming, has attracted the interest of the local FBI and U.S. attorney’s offices.

It may not be fair to judge the leadership of the swimming establishment of the past by the consciousness of the present. And Ray Essick, the predecessor of Chuck Wielgus as executive director of USA Swimming, was surely worse. But Wielgus and his cohorts have engaged in cover-ups, which include specific acts of perjury in my view, subsequent to the 2010 reports on 20/20 and Outside the Lines. Theoretical improvements in the safe-athlete environment have no teeth unless they are joined to accountability from the top.

Follow the money.

USA Swimming has a dirty trail of money, as well as a trail of dirty money. It runs a “captive” insurance operation out of a subsidiary in Barbados. Offshore captives, which are legal, have a perception of sleaziness, and they are sleazy. For example: United States Sports Insurance Company has paid back to parent USA Swimming an annual dividend of as much as $750,000; they call it a “safety rebate.”)

USSIC has assets of $30 million – a lot of dough but, intuitively, not enough capital to underwrite a vast liability landscape. The company contracts with American-registered entities, including bigfoot sponsor Mutual of Omaha. The sexual misconduct coverage limit of $100,000 lowballs the problem and creates a conflict between the parent national organization and its many affiliated clubs, which are run with wildly varying diligence and modes of governance.


Irv Muchnick

Concussion Inc.’s ebook PENN STATE IN THE POOL: The Cover-Up of the USA Swimming Youth Coach Sex Abuse Scandal is available on Amazon Kindle athttp://amzn.to/If3OFQ, or as a PDF file by sending $1.49 via PayPal to paypal@muchnick.net.

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick