by Tim Joyce
Embattled University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill finally spoke this weekend about the growing storm overtaking his and the university’s handling of the swimming program and the recent charges against now-former coach Greg Winslow.
In answering queries from the Deseret News regarding his response to the Winslow allegations, Hill maintains that he followed university protocol and is now seeking to find out what, if anything, went wrong:
“I talked to President [David] Pershing today and I assured him that we’d find out what the athletic department knew, when we knew it and see what we need to do to take corrective measures. This is important, for sure, and we want to make sure we do our due diligence on all this going backwards and forward. We don’t want any stone unturned and that’s what we’re determined to do.”
When asked how long he’d known about complaints regarding the swimming program Hill replied, “What I don’t want to do is not cover all the bases. We know a lot, but we want to make sure we know everything. That’s what I can tell you today. A lot of things are out there and I want to make sure I cover everything. We’re going to look into everything. And everything means everything.”
According to voluminous documentation given to Concussion Inc. by many former swimmers and their families, it is clear that Hill has known since at least early 2009 – a period of more than four years – of complaints pouring in regarding Winslow.
The most publicly vocal family has been the Fiascones – former Utah swimmer Austin Fiascone and his father Matt. In the only specific instance alluded to by Hill in the interview, the athletic director said he followed proper protocol with them: “As soon as Mr. Fiascone sent me a letter [last fall], I immediately sent it down to the legal counsel and gave it to President Pershing. I said, ‘Could you find people to look into it because it needs to be independent of athletics?’ I wanted to make sure I gave it the respect and seriousness I needed to.”
This is actually a damming statement, for if Mr. Hill underscored the “seriousness” of the stories that Mr. Fiascone was relaying to President Pershing, then he surely understood the gravity of all of the other complaints of swimmers and parents. And if these other, multiple complaints were indeed relayed to President Pershing as well, then Pershing must also be questioned as to what he knew and when.
In addition to the Fiascone correspondence Hill has acknowledged receiving, there are multiple instances of his having been contacted by other swimmers and their respective families. We’ll highlight just a few of them:
— A three-page letter from Suzanne Jurgens in May of 2009, mother of swimmer Lauren Hewson, pleaded with Hill to act. Jurgens never heard personally from Hill, only from Pete Oliszczak, Hill’s associate. Oliszczak recently and mysteriously departed Utah.
–In late May of 2009, Hill met with a mother and her daughter, a swimmer on the team, to discuss all their complaints about the program and the swimmer’s request to be released from her scholarship at Utah. (The request was granted.)
–In March of 2009, Dr. Alan Eckert, the grandfather of swimmer Rick Mason and himself a swmmer, emailed Hill and others at the university regarding Winslow’s dangerous training techniques. Hill never contacted the family, but handed off the correspondence to Oliszczak. The athletic department either did or didn’t get back to the family, and the university certainly took no effective action against Winslow.
— Later today, this site is publishing the account of Vlas Lezin, a swimmer from Russia who got capriously kicked off the team, and had his scholarship summarily stripped, by Winslow. Lezin heard from others in the Utah administration, but never from Hill.
What transpired at Utah during Winslow’s tenure was, at worst, an orchestrated cover-up to keep quiet the irregularities and misconduct in the swimming program; at best, a dangerous pattern of neglect from the leader of the athletic department.
It bears repeating that the athletic department supposedly conducted a “thorough” investgation this past fall by an “outside” agency, the campus Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, which resulted in nary a slap on the wrist for Winslow. That malfeasance is public now only because of the news that Winslow is on the precipice of an arrest warrant on two counts of sexual abuse of a minor during his previous job at Arizona State University and Sun Devil Aquatics.
Follow our coverage for more updates. Today columnist Gordon Monson of the Salt Lake Tribune asks, “Has Utah A.D. Chris Hill met his Waterloo?”, http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/utes/55978065-89/winslow-swimmer-utah-hill.html.csp.