A reader who says she was coached by Rick Curl even longer ago than Kelley Davies Currin emailed that she is offended by my repeated references to him as a “rapist.” My short answer to the woman is that, while she finds the word offensive, I find the act offensive.
More than cheap rhetorical points, however, are at stake in the framing of the Curl story.
My correspondent says Curl coached her for more than 13 years, starting at age 5, both at the Curl-Burke Swim Club and on a summer country club team. She “spent some hours (alone!!) with Rick between ages 9 to 13 and didn’t have one single problem with him!”
To which I say, whoopee. The fight to detox open amateur sports is not about the majority of girls who aren’t abused. It’s about the unconscionably high minority of girls who are abused, brazenly, systematically, with consequences only for the victims and their rippling networks of families and loved ones. Further, the national odds against Kelley Davies having been Curl’s only victim are high.
More from the Curl apologist: “As far as I know the relationship was not ‘rape’ but somewhat consensual (though of course she was 13 and he was 30 — allegedly — which makes consensual a suspect term but there was certainly no rape involved!!!).”
This reminds me of Whoopi Goldberg’s comment on the charges against fugitive filmmaker Roman Polanski: “It wasn’t rape-rape.” But even Polanski was a renegade artist and flaunting figure of the Hollywood cocaine party scene, to which his underage partner may have aspired. Curl was a coach, a teacher with specific levers of power and influence over his underage sex partner, and his molestations were premeditated and recurred across all the years of his swimmer’s stunted adolescence.
The law does not validate any measure of consent in such a “relationship.” Nor should we morally. The behavior acknowledged by Curl in his $150,000 “non-disclosure agreement” in 1989 stamps him as a rapist. When space permits and the delicate senses of his defenders are indulged, feel free to amend that to “statutory rapist” if it makes you feel better.
In the end — and I don’t mean to sound callous toward the abuse survivors who have had the courage to come forward — this is not even about them. I am not a victimologist. The Curl case needs to be pursued to the fullest extent of the law, both in Maryland, where he has been arrested, and in Virginia, where a parallel felony investigation is pending. So does the Murray Stephens case at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, home of Michael Phelps. The reason is that the persistence of a culture of abuse and denial at USA Swimming is a generation-long saga.
Draining this national swamp and disgrace will require the open recitation of hard facts in high-profile cases — which in turn, as in any profound scandal, will move the chain of responsibility and accountability upward, to the top of our Olympic swimming program. Only through such a process, which includes reflecting on the role of all of us rank-and-file parents in protecting our children, will meaningful reforms be possible.