by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
Former University of Utah swimmer Austin Fiascone came forward today to forcefully refute the university’s statement that the impending criminal charges of sexual abuse in Arizona by coach Greg Winslow caught it by surprise.
After our story was published early this morning, Utah pulled Winslow off the deck at the Pac-12 championships in Federal Way, Washington, and announced that he had been suspended pending resolution of the Arizona allegations.
But Fiascone says Utah has known, since November 2012 at the very latest, of a long bill of particulars against Winslow for inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. That was also the month Winslow kicked Fiascone off the team — because, the swimmer maintains, he was pressing too aggressively his revulsion with the abusive atmosphere created by the coach.
By Fiascone’s count, a total of 17 athletes have departed the Utah swim program since last spring, voluntarily or otherwise. After Fiascone and his father complained in emails to university president David W. Pershing, the institution’s Office of Equal Opportunity investigated.
Though Utah touts this “outside investigation,” anyone familiar with the dynamics of such probes is wisely skeptical. The university says the process involved 50 interviews — but bear in mind that most (almost all? all?) of them were of athletes on scholarship. Their dependence might have made them fearful of contradicting Winslow’s denials. When all this ugliness came to a climax last fall, Fiascone was in the middle of his fourth year of swimming at Utah; significantly, however, he was never on scholarship and therefore had nothing to lose.
“What I had been observing for three and a half years was weighing heavily on my conscience. I finally decided to speak up,” Fiascone told us.
Perhaps the most sensational of the allegations against Winslow was making the rounds today. According to Fiascone, an African-American swimmer joked to the coach on Martin Luther King Day in 2010 that he deserved to have the day off. Winslow retaliated by taping the swimmer to a PVC pipe and forcing him to do underwater drills, until he blacked out.
But there’s a lot more in Fiascone’s on-the-record account of abuses by Winslow in a variety of areas.
Admittedly, sexual misconduct per se is not part of it. That is largely because Fiascone chose to write down — as he put it — “only things I personally witnessed, not things I just heard rumors about.” And Concussion Inc. will be publishing much more about sex allegations against Winslow, and not only in his Arizona club coaching days, in the coming days and weeks.
We have uploaded Fiascone’s timeline at http://muchnick.net/fiasconetimeline.pdf. The bullet points include alcohol abuse, which manifested itself in showing up for practice hung over or inebriated; disturbing phone calls to athletes; mood swings and anger management issues; and an overlay of scare tactics and intimidation. In the summer of 2011, an assistant coach sported a black eye after being punched by Winslow, according to Fiascone; in December, the team learned that the university had not punished Winslow for the incident, though it required him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous.
In light of Fiascone’s specificity, vividness, context, and absence of an apparent “agenda,” we tend to give his allegations considerably more credence than the University of Utah’s “outside investigators” did.
Liz Abel, Utah’s associate athletics director, said the athletic department was standing by the statement of director Chris Hill: “The Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action conducted an extensive investigation into some serious allegations against our swim coach. After interviewing more than 50 witnesses, the OEO advised that no disciplinary action is recommended.”
Abel suggested that we seek further comment from the university’s central communications office. As this article was being published, we had not received a response to our message there.
Meanwhile back at Arizona State University, where the alleged crimes took place, there is deafening silence. We made five phone calls and seven email inquiries to various officials there within the athletic and marketing departments. Not one person offered a word of explanation of the university’s position as it fights off a crisis not likely to be going away any time soon.