JOYCE: North Baltimore Aquatic Club … Back to Where This All Started

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“You may think you know what you’re dealing with, but believe me, you don’t” — Noah Cross speaking to Jake Gittes in Chinatown


by Tim Joyce

As reported on this site yesterday, the journalist who runs, Irv Muchnick, was hit with a lawsuit on Monday regarding his comprehensive coverage of the ongoing scandals at the famed North Baltimore Aquatic Club. I’ll leave it to Irv to make any comment on the legal matter. I won’t speak on his behalf, as he obviously has a distinct and clear way of expressing himself.

But what I will attempt to do below is to redirect the attention of our readers to the original story out of Baltimore – that of abuse perpetrated by the founder of NBAC and the resulting media censorship that ensued after the story became public.

What cannot be forgotten here are the far-reaching aspect of the USA Swimming scandal and the fact that so many top names in the sport have been involved. I’ve discussed much of this previously, but it bears reminding readers again, for the purpose of anchoring the story and providing continued context to how deep a scandal this is.

And it also bears reminding everyone that the root facts of my reporting about Murray Stephens have never been questioned.

Is it all about protecting the Olympic brand and the billions of dollars that spew forth from the morally challenged Olympic machine at any cost; even when the abuse of young women is concerned? This is the first question I asked myself last autumn after what I thought was the unthinkable occurred: a media outlet removing my fact-checked and comprehensively researched work because of pressure from outside sources. A story that seemingly few cared about suddenly erupted on an early October day into a mini-crisis at the foremost news organization in the all-too-small city of Baltimore, Maryland.

To review: Starting in July of 2012, and continuing for more than three months, I provided WBAL radio with a dozen articles related to the USA Swimming scandals. (I had first been asked to provide commentary for WBAL radio discussing the Penn State crisis in November 2011.) The series covered everything from Sarah Burt’s tragic suicide to coach Rick Curl’s rape of a young teen and coach Mark Schubert’s shady dealings, to other abuse cases from California to Missouri, Alaska to Maryland. These articles provided many readers with their first knowledge of the expansive USA Swimming scandal.

In addition to the articles appearing on the WBAL website, I was also a guest on host C4’s radio program at least 10 times that summer to discuss the USA Swimming stories.

But after I wrote an article regarding NBAC founder Murray Stephens and his abuse of a young swimmer and his subsequent “silent” dismissal from the pool by the management of NBAC, suddenly the story became too-hot-to-handle for the most trusted name in Baltimore news. (I didn’t name Stephens at the time but he has since been outed. I also did not – and will not – disclose the name of the victim unless expressly authorized by her to do so.)

The Stephens article was quickly taken off the station website.

In swept the station manager into the mix, leaving voicemails for me – which I still have – stating first that “we need to do our due diligence and fact check this matter.” Next, “our sources confirmed your sources and we’ll put the article back online.”

But 48 hours after that, WBAL management decided – or should I say NBC (WBAL is an affiliate) or parent company Hearst decided, according to a source at WBAL – that the article should be removed altogether. Oh, and in addition, all of my articles that I had written for WBAL were removed from the site, forever vanished into the ether of the Internet. Orwellian indeed.

Let me get this straight, I said to myself at the time: an accusation of an act of sexual abuse by a coach was suddenly taboo, even though WBAL had published my prior articles, regarding a girl’s suicide because of abuse by her swim coach and countless other serious matters.

Ah, but this was NBAC, the holy grail, the pride of Maryland, the shrine where all young swimmers go to worship at the altar of the almighty Michael Phelps. How dare I have the temerity to impugn St. Michael?

But could I get a comment from Phelps? Of course not. And neither club manager John Cadigan nor Phelps coach Bob Bowman would return my calls. But not to worry, Cadigan and Bowman dispatched Steve Allen, the attorney for NBAC, to handle things and talk to me. Allen confirmed my reporting was accurate but also said, “Leave Michael out of this. He didn’t know what was going on.” Which is a funny statement in itself considering that Phelps was co-owner of the club.

The most extraordinary aspect of all this is that the local Baltimore media still have not looked into the story of NBAC or even contacted Phelps. Nor have they looked into incidents of further abuse by Stephens – several sources have confirmed to me there were other victims. It’s staggering. Maybe it’s too late to save face and they’re just hoping the story finally goes away. Or is NBAC and the feeder system via Loyola College just untouchable in Baltimore?­­­­­­­­­

This abdication of journalistic responsibility brings us full circle to Irv’s situation. Irv’s tenacity with getting to the bottom of all of the NBAC stories has obviously rankled many. Once again there are those who wish to silence the reporting on NBAC and USA Swimming. In my case it was censorship. With Irv, it’s a lawsuit. But whatever the case, the truth on this whole sordid mess regarding NBAC. USA Swimming, and the Olympics will come to light.

And all the peripheral noise doesn’t change the facts that have been presented: Murray Stephens was banned from the deck for prior incidents of abuse; a young swimmer tragically drowned at NBAC without a lifeguard present; there were formal complaints made by a family pertaining to the sex assault by two teen swimmers of a teammate; and now there is cyberbullying via Instagram.

Of course, the most important point is that nothing has changed at USA Swimming with respect to their incomplete internal investigations. Armed with all the facts about Stephens’s prior abuse, the sport’s national governing body has done nothing to further look into the matter or any other situation developing at NBAC.

This is all about journalism – finding the truth and not feeling the pressure of outside influence. In my opinion Irv has done a Herculean job of dissecting all that has happened at NBAC. I will refrain from further comment until the lawsuit plays out. But I know this much – the truth is most definitely on his side.
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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick