We saw it with priests in the Catholic Church, and we’re seeing it with coaches in USA Swimming and collegiate swim programs: When it comes to shuffling from parish to parish, or aquatic center to aquatic center, the track record doesn’t matter. A new place of work is de novo. Tabula rasa. The past is the past. Even when the counter-value is protecting children from abuse, our institutions, by policy and force of will, have no institutional memory.
In our series of articles on the history of Greg Winslow — the University of Utah swim coach who was fired after release of an Arizona State University police report recommending felony charges against him for sexual abuse of a minor at the Sun Devil Aquatics campus youth club — we’re finding that neither Utah nor ASU shared any of their information about Winslow with past employers, so that other families that had been in contact with him could be alerted.
And if Winslow, even as you read this, is firing off job applications for new positions in which he again would be supervising young people for hours a day, those prospective employers will be none the wiser, so far as Utah is concerned.
University spokesman Keith Sterling told me: “We only confirm current or former employment, dates of employment, job title, and full or part time status. We do not provide a reason for termination.”
My fellow citizens, this is a problem. Somewhere in the middle of the long and now disgraced coaching tenure of Rick Curl was a brief term at the University of Maryland. Somewhere else was a stint coaching in Australia. Now that Curl faces sentencing in Maryland on his guilty plea in the serial statutory rapes of his youth club swimmer Kelley Davies, beginning when she was 13, we can fairly speculate that he might have been terminated by the university for related reasons. We can also ponder that he might have fled the country because he was hot.
But it’s all speculation after the fact. And in all too many cases, after the damage is done, again and again.
Let’s reemphasize that the cover-up artists at USA Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee are not alone here. They need the helpful lookaway passes and outright collusion of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the American Swimming Coaches Association, as well as centers of higher learning.
Kirksville, Missouri, early 1990s: A creep by the name of Charles Arabas is coaching women’s swimming and diving at Northeast Missouri State University (since renamed Truman State). He is put on probation for numerous documented instances of administering unwanted “massages” to his athletes.
Arabas quits. He applies for a similar job at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. In settlement of the appeal of his discipline at Missouri, administrators there agreed to supply the following reference in his Northern Arizona application: “Chuck … has been sensitized to the power of sexual harassment complaints. Therefore, it is believed he will hereafter avoid any ambiguous behavior in which his motives can be questioned.”
Flash forward to April 2012. Arabas is released from state prison after nearly a decade following his conviction on seven sex abuse counts at Northern Arizona.
I reviewed the Arabas story with Utah’s Sterling and asked him if disclosing only “name, rank, and serial number” of an ex-employee might present public-interest … loopholes. (Even the Northern Arizona example is flawed — in that case, the Missouri administrators at least fudged a variation of constructive notice.)
“That is an unfortunate story,” Sterling said. “Not much I can add other than to say this policy is similar to many public organizations. As you know, employees also have privacy rights that prohibit organizations from commenting further.”
Inevitably, Congress will be probing the abuse scandals in swimming and the overdue overhaul of the 1978 Amateur Sports Act. The first task will be recalibrating the “privacy rights” of coaches and others in supervisory capacities in youth sports programs.
FURTHER READING: “Rick Curl Sex Abuse Case Raises New Concerns,” http://www.momsteam.com/rick-curl/rick-curl-sex-abuse-case-raises-new-concerns#ixzz22yW8rtSM