The Damage Done: The OTHER ‘Other Woman’ Talks About Rapist Coach Rick Curl and the University of Maryland’s Wider Circle of Harm

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by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce

 

Previously we’ve quoted the line of the Omar Sharif character to the Rod Steiger character in the movie Dr. Zhivago: “What happens to a girl like that, when a man like you is finished with her?”

The shoe certainly fits in the case of Rick Curl, who molested his swimmer Kelley Davies for years beginning when she was 13, paid $150,000 in hush money to her family, and went on to a celebrated coaching career while his victim descended into an eating disorder, alcoholism, and a permanently scarred adult life.

But the story of Kelley’s prep teammate and Curl’s only female recruit at the University of Maryland — we’ll call her Peggy N. — both corroborates the Washington Post account of the university’s cover-up of the crime and illuminates how such silent “parish-hopping” by abusive priest-coaches victimizes more than just the single young woman who was literally raped.

First, the corroboration. “I knew Rick and Kelley were close,” Peggy N. told us. “She was his girl, his protege, his big swimmer. I was a year behind her, and what I remember most vividly was that after practice she was always the first one dressed and out the door of the locker room. Yet when the rest of us left, her car or the one taking her home was always still parked in the lot.”

Kelley’s collegiate swimming, accompanied by psychological collapse, proceeded at the University of Texas in 1988. Meanwhile, as a high school senior, Peggy was a Prep All-American, Washington Post All-Met, and nationally ranked in backstroke. She qualified for U.S. Nationals and was on the cusp of making the Olympic Trials.

“I followed Rick when he took the Maryland job because I wanted to stay with him as a coach,” Peggy said. “My ‘verbal’ decision to sign with Maryland prevented coaches at the University of Tennessee and elsewhere from talking to me at the Spring Junior Nationals. As an aside, I believe Rick was in violation of NCAA rules regarding high school recruitments training with prospective college programs. I swam at the U of MD’s Cole Field House pool for some of my high school junior year and most of my senior year, as Rick was by then coaching the Terps.”

On August 25, 1988, according to Peggy, Curl told her he was leaving Maryland “due to family conflicts — something about his not spending enough time with his family.”

Peggy essentially was stuck at Maryland: “I received zero support from the team, the new coach, and the athletic department. I guess after Len Bias [the basketball player who died of a cocaine overdose], Maryland wanted to prevent another scandal, so it was swept under the rug. Most were in the know of what Rick had done.

“I was ultimately told by one of the UM male swimmers in the spring of 1989 that the Davies family had gone to [athletic director] Lew Perkins about it. Until now, I had only heard that account as a rumor; now it’s all been confirmed, much to my surprise, after all these years. But also to my disappointment — because my life’s plans were railroaded by the heinous crime of someone I trusted with my dreams and goals and all the people that did nothing about it once they knew. It’s a travesty.”

In case you don’t already know — college sports scholarships are not really scholarships but sports-performance contracts; the institutions have the discretion to renew them, or not, on an annual basis. Depressed by the turn of events, Peggy fell off as a swimmer and was canned. Then she flunked out of Maryland. The bad transcript stuck to her academic record like a barnacle, the extenuating circumstances disregarded, and her goal of going to medical school was dead.

We often observe that in the warped values of the American sports system, there is no such thing as “revenue” sports and “non-revenue” sports; there are only mega-revenue sports (football and men’s basketball) and wannabe mega-revenue sports (the rest). How grand is it to contemplate that Rick Curl’s sudden and unexplained departure left Peggy N. just as high and dry as a football coach who dumps his recruits for a higher-paying job, or a basketball coach who saddles innocent players with NCAA sanctions that keep them off television or postseason tournaments?

There should be hell to pay for the Curl cover-up — not only at USA Swimming but also at the University of Maryland.

 

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joyce.timothy@gmail.com

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick