Families of athletes who were mistreated in various and heinous ways by swimming coach Greg Winslow are demanding that the University of Utah make decisive moves this week in terms of reparations. The futures of hitherto highly respected athletic director Chris Hill, and perhaps university president David Pershing himself, hang in the balance.
As that drama unfolds, my colleague Tim Joyce and I spend a lot of time speculating about the why? There’s no obvious reason Hill and Utah should have allowed the scandal of the sex-abusing head of a “non-revenue” sports program to come to this. Greg Winslow was no Joe Paterno. Standard models of institutional arrogance and quasi-religious sports zealotry take the explanation only so far.
The clincher should have been Winslow’s extramarital affair, early in his regime, with the diving coach. Forget about the anecdotes of abusive behavior toward his athletes, weird and dangerous training drills, scholarship power-tripping … all that stuff, sadly, is much more common than you’d think. But it’s an automatic firing offense when word gets out that you were sleeping with an employee under your direct supervision. If Utah had quietly jettisoned the odious Winslow at that point, no one would have been the wiser.
Tim Joyce notes that the first serious rumblings by swimmers and parents bubbled up around 2009-10, at the same time athletic director Hill was deep into the final negotiations to transfer Utah from the Mountain West Conference to the TV-richer Pac-12. This was widely regarded as a coup, and Hill withstood the heat for its downside — notably, complaints by many alums and fans that the Utes’ new conference arrangement undercut at least the regularity of their traditional rivalry football game against Brigham Young University.
The theory that Greg Winslow was allowed to continue terrorizing defenseless athletes because his institution was hunting bigger game is just that, but it’s open season on theories as the Winslow denouement devolves into a turkey shoot. On February 28, after Concussion Inc. broke the news of impending criminal child sex abuse charges against Winslow in Arizona, he was off the pool deck within hours. He was out of a job within days.
Since then, the focus has turned on Hill for literally years of inaction on a second-tier employee who was private bad news from the beginning.
In the voice of the leather-lunged fan, the question in Salt Lake City this week is, “What was he thinking?”