David Berkoff and the Aquatic Sports Convention Play Around the Edges of USA Swimming’s Toxic Sex Abuse Culture

Matt Chaney, Dr. Bennet Omalu – Prophets Without Honor on Football Harm and Traumatic Brain Injury
September 12, 2012
USA Swimming Convention Weekend Special: Complete Links to ConcussionInc.’s Coverage of the Sex Abuse Scandal
September 14, 2012

According to swimmer-blogger Tony Austin, there’s a sleeper USA Swimming rule change under consideration at this week’s Aquatic Sports Convention in Greensboro, North Carolina – one that would make it nearly impossible to remove Chuck Wielgus, the executive director since 1997. See http://scaq.blogspot.com/2012/09/looks-like-chuck-wielgus-is-angling-to.html.

This is valuable insider lowdown, and so far I have nothing further on it. Speculation of a power grab by swimming’s executive leadership coincides with rumors at the other end of the spectrum: that Wielgus is about to retire.

Meanwhile, the Rules and Regulations Committee, on which USA Swimming vice president David Berkoff sits, also is reporting out a set of reforms that are being promoted as toughening up the organization’s “safe sport” program. One proposal prohibits “deck changing” (getting in and out of swim suits and street clothes near the pool rather than in the privacy of the locker room). Another bans sexual or romantic relationships between coaches and athletes, regardless of whether the latter have passed the legal age of consent.

It would be churlish not to acknowledge that the latter step, especially, would be an improvement. One of the key grey areas is “grooming” by coaches of underage charges. There are plenty of examples – such as Rick Curl, whose “emergency” hearing by USA Swimming’s review board is conveniently set for next Wednesday, after the convention – of coaches who blatantly and statutorily molest underage girls. But there are many more examples of coaches who abuse their authority, teaching, and childhood-development roles across a period of years while patiently waiting to consummate the “relationships” until they are clear of rape laws.

I’ll be listening carefully to analyses of USA Swimming’s moves by people like Katherine Starr of the new Safe4Athletes group. But considering the magnitude of the known files of sex abuse cover-up within USA Swimming, which are being documented on this blog, I’m also struck by the amount of energy that David (“flat-out lie,” “wow, perjury is still a crime”) Berkoff has put into lawyerly words and semicolons, while no longer speaking out truthfully.

Bureaucratic tinkering cannot fix a toxic culture or hold bad-faith leadership accountable. And as with the NCAA, it can get all the words right and foul up the music. You can make a rule that no coach ever touches an athlete except for a fist-bump, but we’re sending a joyless message if the goal is to bust people whenever a triumphant athlete jumps into her coach’s arms in jubilation.

The expanded opportunities for females in sports have presented a unique challenge. Sports, like public performance of all kinds, is tinged with eroticism, and bad outcomes happen. I don’t want to answer that with Victorianism.

But protection of youth athletes – our kids – doesn’t acquire “teeth” (to use the characterization in Swimming World magazine’s article on the rule changes) by committee. I see no evidence that Berkoff and the swimming convention will be coming to grips with a shameful, generation-long phenomenon.


Irv Muchnick

Comments are closed.

Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick