In His First Column As Concussion Inc. Collaborator on Swimming Scandals, Tim Joyce Reviews the WBAL Fiasco and the Media’s Endlessly Trivial Michael Phelps Coverage

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February 19, 2013

With this piece, Tim Joyce regularly joins’s investigations of the sexual abuse and death scandals inside USA Swimming. Look for a formal announcement and some format changes here shortly.


by Tim Joyce

“Sooner or later one has to take sides – if one is to remain human.” Graham Greene, The Quiet American

I am pleased to be joining Irv Muchnick in reporting and commentary on the multitudinous USA Swimming scandals. While I will accept a significant degree of credit for reporting on this story for a bit longer than Irv, the fact is that his tenacious and accurate reporting – particularly over the last five months – has been nothing short of remarkable. After I broke the story of past sexual impropriety, involving multiple victims at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC), Irv proceeded to uncover other episodes of abuse and negligence at NBAC – the country’s most famous swim club – that will surely become even more disturbing as more details emerge.

When I embarked on these investigations 15 months ago, beginning with the tragic suicidal death of Sarah Burt, I never thought I’d stumble into such a morass of institutional failure; from the cover-ups in Colorado Springs to the abuse history of legendary coach Rick Curl; from USA Swimming’s retaliation against whistle blowers to new cases of coach abuse in Alaska, Missouri, and elsewhere.
Indeed, as my queries into the history of past – and present – abuse continued, I realized that this story is perhaps too big for just one concerned journalist to investigate. Which is why I decided to partner with Irv; as, combined, we will be able to shed light on this grossly underreported story and, hopefully, also foster change in the way the sport is run in the United States.

As I noted in a guest column for this site back in December, this is a cautionary tale, an object lesson if you will, in how utterly negligent the media have been in holding USA Swimming and its clubs accountable for what has transpired. To again focus on NBAC for a moment, the refusal of the local media in Baltimore to ask the tough questions of Murray Stephens, Bob Bowman, John Cadigan, and, yes, Michael Phelps about what has occurred at their lauded club has been an abject abdication of journalistic responsibility.

The most egregious actions were at WBAL radio, a historic and influential outlet in Baltimore. After I provided WBAL with numerous articles and appeared on air more than a dozen times, talking about the USA Swimming scandal – at no financial cost to them – the station abruptly removed all my stories and interviews after the first one on NBAC appeared. Even after confirming, via conversations and voicemails, that my reporting was “entirely accurate.” Why? If the rumors I’ve heard were correct, the reason was pressure from both NBAC and the U.S. Olympic Committee’s broadcast partner, NBC. WBAL is an NBC affiliate. The thought of tainting Phelps’ name by association was perhaps more than the corporate entities cared to handle.

It is dangerous for the media of any town or city, no matter how big or small, to be more concerned with protecting the powerful interests in their community rather than with the citizens they are supposed to serve. After all, we’re talking about sports here — a trivial pursuit in relation to the societal issue of child sex abuse.

In recent days, coverage of Michael Phelps has served up such gems as the all-important identity of his latest girlfriend and promotion of his stint of golf instruction on the NBC-owned Golf Channel’s program The Haney Project.

Here are just a few questions the beholden media should ask Mr. Phelps, who also happens to be the co-owner of NBAC: Are you aware of why founder Murray Stephens resigned form NBAC? If so, have you spoken to your sisters about him? And if you have, what are you feelings about Stephens? Have you spoken to the members of NBAC about why he’s no longer at the club? What are the latest updates on the investigation into the death of Louis Lowenthal? And what of the reported incident and ongoing police and USA Swimming investigations of last year’s swimmer-on-swimmer sex assault?

I’m under no illusion that Phelps or his coach, Bob Bowman (now in the employ of a very powerful Olympic consulting group, TSE) will be forced to answer such questions in the immediate future.

And lest anyone at USA Swimming headquarters in Colorado Springs or at any of the member clubs around the country get the wrong impression, this site is dedicated to covering every story related to the USA Swimming scandal, not just at NBAC.

Whether the grim subject matter is Penn State’s negligence while children are raped, or Lance Armstrong’s decade of vicious mendacity, or the hero-turned-alleged-murderer Oscar Pistorius, or USA Swimming’s ethos of profits over child safety — it’s never fun to face the dark side of an icon. But Muchnick and I are determined to see the task through on the ugly stories behind the successes of our national swimming program.

Tim Joyce, Concussion Inc.’s new collaborator on the USA Swimming story, is a contributing writer for Forbes‘ Real Clear Sports and a widely published journalist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick