EXCLUSIVE: Notre Dame Athletic Director Appears to Admit Advising USA Swimming in Sex Abuse Cases

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ConcussionInc.net has learned that the athletic director at the University of Notre Dame — currently embroiled in controversy over an alleged 2010 rape by a football player who is still on the nation’s top-ranked college team — advised USA Swimming on how to handle allegations of coach sex abuse in his previous capacity as a well-connected sports industry lawyer.

This information about athletic director Jack Swarbrick surfaces just as the new issue of Sports Illustrated, in an article by writer Tim Layden, revisits the story of 19-year-old Lizzy Seeberg, who committed suicide in Indiana in September 2010, a little more than a week after she said she was raped by the Notre Dame player; the alleged perpetrator escaped both criminal charges and campus disciplinary measures.

The Sports Illustrated story expands coverage initiated in the fall of 2010 by the Chicago Tribune and broadened this year by the National Catholic Reporter (the latter through the work of a prominent Washington Post reporter). The full background is in our post yesterday.

One of the clear implications of the Seeberg suicide and aftermath is that the administration of Notre Dame caters to the football program by downplaying and passively investigating allegations of sexual and other misconduct under review by campus safety and disciplinary administrators. The same football-first culture was central to the narrative of Penn State’s decades-long cover-up of the serial pedophile acts of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

In a statement issued through Notre Dame’s sports information director, Swarbrick did not deny that he had counseled USA Swimming on sex abuse in the late 1990s. Though I asked him a range of questions regarding his long-time friendship and business associations with USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus, the response in its entirety read: “Mr. Swarbrick is not available to discuss matters performed in his capacity as an attorney and thus subject to attorney-client privilege.”

When Swarbrick was named Notre Dame athletic director in 2008, the school highlighted Wielgus’s testimonial. “Jack Swarbrick is both a visionary and a pragmatist,” Wielgus said. “He is a thoughtful leader who will challenge others to change, while simultaneously exhibiting an appreciation for Notre Dame’s rich history and traditions. In so many ways, Jack is the perfect choice to lead Notre Dame athletics into the future.”

A decade earlier, sources in the swimming world say, Swarbrick sat down with Wielgus and other top swimming officials as Wielgus was undertaking the direction of USA Swimming, which is sanctioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee as the official national sports governing body under provisions of the Amateur Sports Act of 1979.

In that meeting, according to our sources, Swarbrick warned Wielgus that the issue of sexual molestation by swimming coaches of youth athletes under their tutelage posed a grave threat to the organization. The sources say Swarbrick’s advice was instrumental in the formation by USA Swimming of a task force on sex abuse in the early 2000s.

In internal documents later surfacing in civil sex abuse lawsuits by former swimmers against coaches and USA Swimming, a prominent coach, Dick Shoulberg, would lament the organization’s failure to adopt a “zero-tolerance policy.” Shoulberg analogized USA Swiming’s posture to that of the Catholic Church in defending sex abuse by priests: more interested in preserving the image of the institution than in protecting young and defenseless constituents.

My sources question whether Swarbrick ever truly had a formal attorney-client relationship with USA Swimming in sex abuse-related matters. I will have more on that aspect of the story in due course.

For now, what is known is that Swarbrick, as chairman of the Indiana Sports Corporation, helped land the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis as the site of the 2004 World Short-Course Swimming Championships. Before becoming athletic director at Notre Dame, Swarbrick was a partner in the Indianapolis law firm Baker & Daniels.

Also in 2004, Swarbrick chaired a joint Olympic Committee / National Collegiate Athletic Association task force seeking to halt the erosion of college sports programs due to the resources devoted to the high-revenue sports of football and men’s basketball.

In addition, Swarbrick facilitated the hiring by USA Swimming, USA Gymnastics, and USA Track and Field of the Wasserman Media Group to form a a consortium for sponsors, events, broadcast rights fees, and other marketing opportunities.

The Notre Dame football player rape scandal, during this fabled football school’s return to No. 1 ranking and preparation for the national championship game in January, illustrates the connections between particular criminal acts by and allegations against prominent athletes and coaches, and the larger culture of denial and cover-up of abuse of children in open amateur sports.

A record 20 women United States senators — a full fifth of the membership of the upper legislative body — will take office with the 113th Congress. This blog will continue to advocate for their constructive intervention in curtailing the national disgrace of ongoing, widespread, unchecked abuse of our daughters and sons in athletic activities and by those in charge of them.


Irv Muchnick

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick