by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
A MILITARY BACKGROUND, A “GROOMED” MARRIAGE
Greg Winslow’s two children are victims of his public downfall. So, perhaps, is his wife. The following was written in the hope that understanding a tragic situation is better assisted by telling stories than by suppressing them. We also believe that the public interest in cleaning up swimming and all of American open amateur sports takes precedence over the discomfort caused by these reports. That said, we are mindful of collateral damage and we will strive to minimize it.
In her teens, Winslow wife Jessica swam for the Falfins club at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Her head coach there was Greg Winslow.
In the summer of 2000, Winslow told friends he was secretly dating Jessica, when she was around 17 and he, 25. According to several sources, they began dating formally the day she graduated high school. They were married in 2002.
In the swimming world, there is a widespread practice, called “grooming,” which describes borderline relationships between coaches and their athletes. In grooming, a coach fostering a swimmer-turned-sex-partner, or even a potential serious girlfriend or wife, might or might not violate statutory rape laws by having sex with or inappropriately touching an underage female. Regardless, his superior experience and authority are leveraged as aphrodisiacs — especially when joined to favored attention and other manipulative tactics. Often immature interactions on pool decks can be easily confused or contorted into boy-girl — or adult man-young adult woman — rituals and repartee, which the world at large recognizes under the category of “flirting.”
The Winslows are arguably a classic example of a marriage preceded by grooming. Other examples abound in swimming, even in, especially in, the upper echelons. The first wife of Pat Hogan, the managing director of club development at USA Swimming, was a woman he coached. (They divorced and he remarried.)
Greg Winslow’s boss at Arizona State University and Sun Devil Aquatics was Mike Chasson; his wife, Jill Johnson Chasson, swam for him when he was an assistant coach at Stanford University. (Jill Chasson also chairs USA Swimming’s National Board of Review, and she says she would recuse herself in any forthcoming investigation of Winslow over the Arizona incident.)
Anti-sex abuse activists believe grooming and outright sexual molestation are intertwined phenomena. Aside from the abuse argument, many in and out of swimming believe that coach-athlete relationships at any age are inappropriate and unprofessional, and warp sports’ goal of competitive meritocracy. But measures to thwart grooming meet resistance. Last year a proposal to ban coach-athlete relationships failed in a floor vote at the post-Olympics Aquatic Sports Convention, after having been favorably reported out by the USA Swimming rules committee.
The man Jessica Winslow married had been bred for athletic elitism; in his own career, he was an All-American and led a conference championship team at the University of North Dakota.
Greg Winslow also came from a military background, and the discipline from that enriched his athletic pursuits. His father, a Marine pilot, served in Vietnam. His younger brother is a Marine. His sister is married to a Marine.
Dad wanted Greg to become a Marine too, and the expectations might have weighed heavily on him. At North Dakota, Greg switched majors from aviation to English.
Friends described him as capable of being gregarious, emotional in all ways, and challenged by impulse control and alcohol.
A TROUBLED TENURE AT UTAH, INCLUDING AN AFFAIR WITH ANOTHER COACH
Since our report that the Arizona State University police recommended two felony charges against Greg Winslow for sexual abuse of a minor, prompting the University of Utah to sever ties with him, we have been inundated with new information from sources — almost all of them from the Utah community, some on the record — documenting alleged misconduct during Winslow’s six years there.
The outpouring of lack of support for Winslow is unprecedented in our experience as journalists. By the nature of their work, coaches accrue some enemies: they are forced daily to make difficult personal and sports choices. Still, the vehemence and unanimity of the antipathy toward Winslow is striking. It comes both from athletes who left his program of their own volition and from those who got thrown off the team after clashing with him.
What is most extraordinary, perhaps, was observing the unmistakable private celebration of Winslow’s downfall in some quarters, among the current Utah roster, after athletic director Chris Hill ordered Winslow abruptly pulled off the deck at the Pac-12 Championships in Federal Way, Washington.
And there is yet another population of bitter denigrators of Winslow: parents of student-athletes who felt their sons were, at minimum, badly mistreated, and their own trust in the coach hurtfully breached. We will get to these allegations one by one; all are consistent with the alcoholism, violence, and culture of fear and harassment chronicled by former Utah swimmer Austin Fiascone (whose timeline is viewable at http://muchnick.net/fiasconetimeline.pdf).
“He’s a slimebag type of guy — the lowest of the low as far as I’m concerned,” Fiascone said. As for rumors of sexual misconduct, they were “rampant since I got here” in 2009.
For this installment, we relate a specific act of sexual impropriety by Winslow that we can confirm in Utah. That is his extramarital affair with a female assistant on his staff, who coached the divers.
Her name was Kelsey Patterson. She was terminated at Utah — it is not clear whether her affair with Winslow was the reason — and she is now the swimming and diving coach at a high school in Colorado, where she uses a different last name. Her bio at the high school website states only that she “has coached in a variety of age groups, ranging from young children, to NCAA Division I.”
BREATH DRILL ON MEXICO TRAINING TRIP CAUSED SWIMMER’S SEIZURE; INCIDENT COVERED UP
The most psychologically heinous Greg Winslow anecdote is the one about his hazing the only African-American swimmer on his team by making him do underwater drills with a PVC pipe taped to his body, on Martin Luther King Day, until he passed out. We’ll have more on that.
But by far the most physically harrowing story we’ve heard is from the University of Utah team’s vacation and training trip in Mexico, late December 2008 and early January 2009.
In a nutshell, Coach Winslow came close to killing a kid in a dangerous hypoxic event. As he fell unconscious on the pool deck, the swimmer knocked out half a tooth, which needed an expensive crown and may eventually require root canal work.
It is astonishing that the university has managed to keep this one covered up for so long.
The mother of the swimmer shared with us her extensive documentation to Utah officials and others.
It begins with her recounting a series of emails she received from her son in Mexico, repeatedly complaining of physical and emotional exhaustion and how he did not think he could make it through the week. One email mentioned that he had chipped a tooth and needed to see a dentist, nothing more.
As the team swung back toward Utah, with two meets in Texas, the mother and her husband got daily multiple calls from their son, sounding in distress if not in crisis. (The son also noted that he was taking Ibuprofen for the pain of his “chipped tooth.”)
During this period, the mother also spoke on the phone with Winslow’s assistant Charlie King (now head swim coach at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse). She questioned King about the chipped tooth but got no direct answer.
On January 20 — three weeks after the incident — the swimmer reported to his parents that he had gone to a dentist for a crown for the chipped tooth.
It was yet another six weeks before the mother learned the full extent of what had happened. She was lunching with her son and teammates during a break at the Mountain West Conference Championships in Oklahoma City (This was prior to Utah’s switch to the Pac-12.) One of the teammates said to the son, “Tell your mom the real story about the tooth.” And he and the other teammate proceeded:
In Utah, the team had a drill in which Winslow expected the swimmers to hold their breath underwater the full 25-yard length of the pool. Some had difficulty with that. In Mexico, they were training in a long-course pool, 50 meters in length — more than twice as long as the short course pool. But the swimmer expectation was not to come up for air, wall to wall.
This woman’s son somehow made it. But at the far end, she reports from the second-hand accounts, “something was not right.” According to one teammate, the son was “convulsing in the water.” As another was pulling him out of the water, Charlie King was quoted as saying, “He’s OK, he’s OK. Don’t baby him. Let him go.” (King was coaching the long-distance group; Winslow was elsewhere on the pool deck with another group.)
The swimmer who was holding up the son let go. The son fell face down by the side of the pool, knocking out the half of a tooth.
Over the course of the week in Oklahoma, the mother heard other stories from other parents of disregard for safety in the Utah swim program.
“I became increasingly concerned,” she told us. “I also felt that Charlie had lied to me in our earlier conversations about the tooth.”
The mother began interviewing teammates about the incident. In one version, her son started “shaking” at the 35-meter mark and was in full convulsions by the end. His nose and mouth were blue.
According to one account, coach King attended to the son and asked if they needed to call an ambulance.
Once the crisis passed, one swimmer told the mom, “it was never talked about again.”
In communications with the university, the mother was given an incident report, which was clearly incomplete. “The trainer was nowhere nearby when the accident occurred and did not see it first-hand,” she wrote to one administrator.
The mother researched the dangers of underwater hypoxic training. She concluded (and many experts agree) that the episode involved a hypoxic seizure — a serious neurological event caused by deprivation of oxygen to the brain.
Quoting again from the mother’s email to a university administrator:
“I am concerned that this incident report does not adequately document what truly happened. I am quite concerned that the coaches either covered up, or did not perceive the inherent dangers in what actually took place that day and dangers in this kind of training. My research (and you have all the links) certainly documents the dangers of shallow water blackouts, drowning and seizures as a consequence of such hypoxic challenges.
“I hope this allows you to better understand my position and my concerns with regards to this incident. Also my concern that the next practice day after I asked for a copy of this incident report, that Greg started quizzing [my son] about the accident in practice.
“Also my concern that once I talked with Pete [Oliczcsak, associate athletic director] about this incident and concerns in general by phone, [my son] suffered the repercussions last week from Greg making a statement to [my son] in front of his peers talking about a specific dry land exercise ‘Be careful not to hurt yourself doing this, especially you, [name of son]‘ and ‘Don’t go crying to your Mommy.’”
Utah’s associate athletics director, Liz Abel, referred us to the latest press release, announcing that Winslow’s contract is not being renewed; the full text is viewable at http://muchnick.net/utahpr.pdf. “We will not have any further statements at this time,” Abel said.
We have not heard back from an email sent to King in Wisconsin.
TIMING OF TWO FEMALE SWIMMERS’ INTERVIEWS IN TWO INVESTIGATIONS IS KEY TO POSSIBLE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH COVER-UP
In an earlier installment, we remarked on the striking “vehemence and unanimity of the antipathy” toward swim coach Greg Winslow among his athletes at the University of Utah when they learned he was being relieved of his duties. We should have said “near-unanimity.” There are two holdout supporters of Winslow: Traycie Swartz and Danielle Caldwell. Campus sources say Swartz and Caldwell are telling teammates that Winslow was unfairly railroaded out of his job, and that his accuser in Arizona in two pending charges of sex abuse of a minor is lying.
But the significance of the roles of Swartz and Caldwell in two separate investigations of Winslow’s alleged sexual misconduct — the one in Arizona and another by the University of Utah’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (OEO) — goes beyond coach-swimmer loyalty. Depending on what is still not known about the exact timing of the interviews of these women in the Utah probe, their roles also could go a long way toward answering questions about whether the university has been engaged in a cover-up of Winslow’s widely discussed violent and abusive behavior in a number of areas.
Like the accuser in the Arizona case (in which the prosecutor is expected to decide soon on the campus police recommendation to indict on two felony counts), both Swartz and Caldwell followed Winslow to Utah from Sun Devil Aquatics, the youth club program at ASU. Swartz came out of Dobson High School in Chandler, Arizona. Caldwell is from Mountain Point High School in Glendale.
Last December 18, both women were interviewed in the criminal probe by detectives at ASU police headquarters in Tempe.
During roughly the same period, Utah’s OEO was conducting a parallel investigation of Winslow, which had been prompted by complaints to the university’s president by the father of former swimmer Austin Fiascone. One of the most explosive of Fiascone’s revelations was an anecdote about the mistreatment of the team’s only African American — and on Martin Luther King’s birthday. But as we’ve reported, Fiascone letters and emails to administrators covered a range of inappropriate and unprofessional behavior, including alcohol abuse, punching an assistant, and an atmosphere of harassment and chaos.
Given the level of rumors of Winslow’s sexual misconduct, and the fact of his past extramarital affair with a diving coach, with whom the university severed ties, it is extremely unlikely that questions of sexual misconduct were not within the scope of OEO’s mandate. Utah says the OEO investigator talked to more than 50 witnesses.
In addition, the university says the OEO report — timed to coincide with a campus visit by Jesse Jackson — concluded with a recommendation that no disciplinary action be taken against Winslow. However, there has been no release of detailed findings or lists of interviewees. It stands to reason that those 50-plus persons included all the swimmers, Traycie Swartz and Danielle Caldwell among them.
Fiascone told us that the interviews were conducted over an approximately six-week period, from late November through early January. So here are the money questions:
* Were Swartz and Caldwell interviewed in Salt Lake City before or after they talked to ASU police on December 18?
* If after, could they have plausibly answered “no” to the OEO to the question of whether they were aware of allegations of sexual misconduct by Winslow?
* And if they answered “yes” to that question, and why, then could Utah officials credibly claim that the sex-abuse charges against Winslow hit them from out of the blue?
We’ll answer that last one: no. Indeed, in such an event, the rest of us could conclude that the university was engaged in a cover-up.
One of us (Muchnick) reached Swartz by phone; she refused to talk with us, so we followed up with an email asking her about questions and answers in the Utah investigation, in relation to her interview with police in the Arizona matter. We left similar voice and email messages with Caldwell.
We also emailed Krista Pickens, the director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, and invited her to share more information with Concussion Inc. readers.
UTAH RESPONDS: OUR GREG WINSLOW INVESTIGATOR IS A SEX-CRIMES SPECIALIST
University of Utah spokesman Keith Sterling has emailed this statement:
“We do not disclose the individual names of those interviewed during investigations, but we did talk with more than 50 people including members of the team and were thorough in our questioning. Ms. Pickens is a former sex crimes investigator with the Salt Lake City PD and is well trained in this area.”
Our comment: University of Utah officials come perilously closer here to admitting that they covered up known information about Winslow’s sexual misconduct before we “surprised” them last Wednesday night with the news that ASU police were recommending two felony charges against Winslow in Maricopa County for sexual abuse of a minor. The well-trained Pickens surely would have asked interviewees — including Utah swimmers and Arizonans Traycie Swartz and Danielle Caldwell, who were also interviewed during the same period by ASU police — about Winslow’s well-known brushes, at a minimum, with sexual impropriety.
PREDECESSOR SWIM COACH AT UTAH, MIKE LITZINGER, LEFT UNDER A SIMILAR CLOUD OF ALLEGATIONS
Greg Winslow, facing two felony charges of sexual abuse of a minor at the club program at Arizona State University, is out as head swim coach at the University of Utah. You may be wondering what happened to Winslow’s predecessor. We did, too. What we are finding paints a few more ugly brushstrokes on an already very bad picture.
The coach before Winslow was Mike Litzinger. This is not a chapter-and-verse on Litzinger’s career, though we’ll probably get to it. Rather, it’s a head-scratcher about why a head coach for a Division 1 program would go next to an assistant coach job. Litzinger took such a post at the University of North Carolina, where he is completing his sixth year. (The Tarheels have promoted him to associate head coach — the top aide to Rich DeSelm.)
It turns out that Mike Litzinger had all kinds of problems at Utah, too. Problems that sound very much like Greg Winslow’s.
“Charges of sexual harassment, underage drinking, verbal abuse and improper training have been leveled at the University of Utah swim team and coach Mike Litzinger,” reported the Daily Utah Chronicle on October 8, 2001. See http://www.dailyutahchronicle.com/?p=13160.
The allegations were made on the record by swimmer Brendon Bray, who transferred to the University of Washington, and Konrad Thiel, who quit the team. According to the Chronicle, Timothy J. Bray, Brendon’s father, wrote to athletic director Chris Hill that “Litzinger is detrimental to your athletes, your swim program and the integrity of the University of Utah,” and suggested action be taken against the coach.
Spokeswoman Liz Abel said, “In any case where an NCAA violation is implied, we research it when someone calls it to our attention. If these allegations are reported to us, the department and the university will take them seriously.”
UNC emailed us two statements.
Statement From University of North Carolina Associate Head Swimming Coach Mike Litzinger:
“I was offered a great opportunity by Rich DeSelm and the University of North Carolina in 2007. While I was very satisfied with my situation at Utah, I thought the move to UNC was important for my career enhancement and my family had a desire to return to the East Coast. The offer gave me the opportunity to be an assistant coach in an ACC program that was headed in a positive direction.
“When I went to Utah in 2000, my responsibility was to the run the program in a first-class manner and help lead Utah to improved success in the pool and classroom. I am fully aware of the allegations that were brought against the coaching staff in 2001. The athletic department conducted a thorough review and took all the allegations seriously. The review resulted in a directive to my staff to continue building on the successes of our first two years. I remained there six more years, the program enjoyed sustained success and I left the University on great terms. In 2007, I received an opportunity from UNC I simply couldn’t pass up.”
Statement From UNC Department of Athletics:
“During Mike Litzinger’s hiring process in 2007, both the University and the athletic department conducted a background check in accordance with UNC human resources’ policies. The University was satisfied in the results of the background search. From the start, Coach Rich DeSelm was impressed with Mike’s coaching credentials and the record he had enjoyed rebuilding Utah’s program. Since his arrival at Carolina, Coach Litzinger has proven to be a valuable member of the staff and has made significant contributions to our success in both NCAA and ACC competitions.”
ALLEGED VICTIM OF UTAH SWIM COACH IN ARIZONA IS NO ISOLATED CASE
With this installment, we conclude the series of articles we’ve called the “Greg Winslow Files.” We do not end our coverage of the Greg Winslow story. Anecdotes and documents about his on-the-job abuses at Utah, and their cover-up by university officials, continue to pour in. They will take time to sift and verify and tell in a way that apportions accountability where it belongs. Our take: that accountability will go straight to the top of the University of Utah and Arizona State University administrations.
Meanwhile, at some point this month or next, the prosecutor in Maricopa County will be acting on the recommendation of the ASU police that Winslow be charged with two counts of sexual abuse of a minor in the allegations of a 22-year-old woman, who says he molested her over a period of years, starting at age 15, on the Sun Devil Aquatics youth club there. The Utah story exploded in part because the accuser was recruited by Winslow when he moved on to coach the Utes, for whom she swam for a year before her life fell apart.
If readers take away one thought from the Winslow Files, it should be that there is not a chance in the world that the Arizona accuser is the only victim of sex abuse on the Utah swim team. We make this fiery statement not only because the smoke is so intense; we make it because the facts about the phenomenon of sex abuse of girls are so plain. They are plain in society at large, and they are even more stark in swimming, as a consequence of a criminal element that controls and exploits a great sport for Olympic glory and profits.
In today’s headlines, Salt Lake City is the capital of the chickens coming home to roost. Another is Tempe. Another is Baltimore. The biggest of them all is Colorado Springs.
This is not to say that Greg Winslow himself — who will be accorded the presumption of innocence in a court of law — personally victimized every abused swimmer on his team. But our information shows that in the hornet’s nest of the sport’s elite levels, many, many girls are damaged by their coaches at youth clubs before they make it to college programs … if they make it to college programs. The overwhelming majority of the nation’s 12,000 club coaches do right by their 300,000 athletes. An unconscionably high and unchecked minority, abetted by the absurd cult of the coach and the star-struck ambitions of parents, uses Svengali powers to collect harems, skip from program to program, and from region to region, and in the process walk away from the damage and remain two long-course laps ahead of the law.
Last year Kelley Davies-Currin, a victim of the famous coach Rick Curl in Washington, D.C., came forward with the story of his molestations of her, which had begun 30 years earlier. Curl is about to be sentenced for these statutory rapes. Last summer we talked about Davies-Currin and Curl with Katherine Starr, who competed in the Olympics and survived abuse under another name, and like Davies-Currin, swam at the University of Texas. Starr founded the organization Safe4Athletes.
Starr told us:
“Open amateur sports need a voice for the athletes. They also need an injection from the outside of ethics and morality.
“I know now that four women on that team during my time who were abused by their youth coaches. It was speculated about Kelley and no one took investigative action to look into it.
“That is the main problem, there is gossip without action. Safe4Athletes want to change that dynamic and give a voice to the athlete that would start that process in place and require deliberate action to investigate and determine if it is fact or fiction. We owe that to every young athlete — to pursue the truth.”