My friend Matt Chaney (http://fourwallspublishing.com), author of the book Spiral of Denial and the Cassandra of football harm, blasts a kind of one-man wire service of pertinent articles to a list of sports journalists and opinion-makers. Today he highlighted a report on how the expansion of opportunities in sports under Title IX has also empowered women more generally.
Below is what I wrote back to Matt. It is a timely set-up of a series of posts prompted by the scandals of former University of Utah swimming coach Greg Winslow, and the inevitable wider net of speculation that will be cast by our investigations into the cover-ups of monster coaches in Olympic feeder sports programs by USA Swimming, the American Swimming Coaches Association, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The viewpoint reflected in this report fails to address the contradiction embedded in the empowerment of women through sports in the Title IX era: the fact that athletes, especially underage female athletes, experience sexual exploitation and sexual violence from their coaches.
This is a paradox that only women themselves, individually and collectively, hold the power to resolve. In reporting the youth coach sex abuse scandal in American swimming, I’m aware that last summer’s effort to change the conduct code to ban coach-athlete sexual or romantic relationships, regardless of age, failed on the Aquatic Sports Convention floor after being reported out by the USA Swimming rules committee — and the most solid constituency against the measure was the population of women married or attached to coaches.
These women do not wish to see their own adult life choices systematically invalidated, and they do not accept the analysis that many (most? almost all?) were shaped by the hideous practice of “grooming,” which begins for the girls under the spell of Svengali coaches at a very young age. Grooming may or may not include the kinds of acts of statutory rape, for which the famous coach Rick Curl now faces sentencing in Maryland for his molestations of swimmer Kelley Davies in the 1980s, beginning when she was 13. What Curl did was one of many examples of open secrets in the swimming world.
As I said, I can’t answer all the second-tier questions raised by the generally healthy rise of female sports. I can only urge abuse victims to come forward — to my collaborator Tim Joyce and me; to swimming abuse survivor Katherine Starr of the new organization Safe4Athletes; or to the FBI (which is now investigating USA Swimming for its generation-long Catholic Church-level cover-up). Just as every murder affects a wide circle of loved ones and friends, so does every instance of abuse, clear-cut or borderline, ripple out to a larger circle of victims — whether or not the woman believes she emerged from the experience unscathed herself.