by Katherine Starr
Reprinted with permission from http://safe4athletes.org/blog/item/55-when-did-the-system-fail-kelley-davies-currin-and-the-rest-of-us?
Today Rick Curl was sentenced to seven years for the sexual abuse of Kelley Currin that happened almost 30 years ago. Rick has been a free man and participating in life like the rest of us for the past 30 years without any consequence for his actions of sexually abusing this minor swimmer at the time in question.
Why didn’t something happen sooner? Something did happen. The family settled a confidential case with an undisclosed amount and a gag order was imposed to prevent anyone from discussing the case. Life was meant to go on as normal and all is good. After all Rick Curl was a good coach. He produced Olympians and successful swimmers throughout the collegiate system.
Another reason why this didn’t happen earlier is that the type of sexual abuse Rick Curl specialized in orchestrating is considered to be a consensual relationship. There is nothing consensual about a minor athlete falling in love with their coach, a significant power figure whose coaching attention can make the difference between an Olympic medal or national record and failure. The notion of an acceptable consensual romantic relationship between a teacher and student, or coach and athlete, violates every legal, moral. and ethical principle in our society. Yet these relationships and their acceptance are commonplace in our competitive sports environment especially with our female athletes.
This is something that everyone would openly say is appalling and should be stopped at all costs especially when it the relationship begins with an athlete under the age of 18. Yet there are such famous athletes as Lindsay Vonn who started dating her coach at the age of 16. She went on to marry him and now, recently divorced, is in a relationship with Tiger Woods.
When the emotionally immature athlete does not cry “foul” and is being a successful performer, and the coach is winning, the rule appears to be “all good; no harm, no foul.” A sexually abused athlete may not be able to deal with the reality of such a relationship until 20 years after the fact. During that period, only that athlete suffers a pain that is so great, they cannot discuss it with anyone. When the dust settles and the truth of the destruction of the athlete’s life is revealed, the artful acquaintance pedophile still receives sympathy from those who respect his success as a coach. Worse yet, there are those who believe there is such a circumstance as “consensual” and see no “victim.”
What is more troubling is that the amateur sport system has failed to clearly state the absolute impermissibility of any romantic relationship between a coach and his athlete. This coach-athlete relationship issue and other sexual abuse issues are rampant in sports and considered to be the worst-kept secret.
When the next big story hits, and there will be one, and when everyone says, “How could this have happened? Why didn’t someone say something?” … someone did say something. We just haven’t been listening. Many athletes have said something. USA Swimming and other open amateur sports governing bodies just haven’t been listening. Worse yet, turning a blind eye — as the management of USA Swimming has been doing for years. The 30-year time lapse in the Curl case is clearly proof of that.
Since starting Safe4Athletes, I have continued to witness this failure in the system, where speaking up is fought against with public and administrative disbelief, blaming of the victim and victims seeking justice encountering extreme difficulty at every turn. Parents of these young athletes that have been victims of sexual abuse, come to me, and share their stories and all of the extreme efforts that they have gone to protect their child and attempt to “right” the system that has harmed them in unspeakable ways. The efforts of these parents and children are the most heroic displays of courage that I have ever witnessed, while the response of those with the power to fix the system simply adds to their heartache, allows ridicule, and fails to deliver justice.
The system is broken. Cases of sexual abuse and coach misconduct break our athlete heroes and reward coach perpetrators. Sport governing bodies care more about producing winning athletes than their obligation to enforce legal, moral, and ethical guidelines established by our society.
We talk about “not doing enough” to protect our young athletes, yet everyone around the situation makes it very difficult to do “anything” — let alone enough.
No coach at any age should be sexually engaged with an athlete. No Olympic dream is worth the lifetime of pain, destruction that sexual abuse brings. An athlete’s hope and dreams is all it takes to be vulnerable to the coach pedophile and the failures in this system.
When enough is really enough, when sexual abuse is clearly defined and unacceptable under any circumstance between a coach and an athlete, only then will our sports training environments be safe for children and adult athletes. Nothing can be more important than our humanity. We cannot allow the system to continue to fail us.