by Irvin Muchnick
Three weeks ago I reported on Virginia coach Michael Pliuskaitis, who was banned by USA Swimming for sexual misconduct, yet forges on, unauthorized, with his private club. He is appealing to the U.S. Olympic Committee the findings of swimming’s National Board of Review.
See “EXCLUSIVE: Banned Virginia Swim Coach Michael Pliuskaitis Continues Private Instruction for Kids in ‘Swim Club’ and ‘Summer League’,” June 26, https://concussioninc.net/?p=7752, and “Detractors and Defenders of Banned USA Swimming Coach Mike Pluitsaikis Speak Out,” June 27, https://concussioninc.net/?p=7757.
Pliuskaitis is continuing under the auspices of U.S. Masters Swimming, which we identified in the previous post as a safe haven for outlawed or disgraced coaches. But according to Virginia sources, Pliuskaitis’s scheme for re-legitimizing himself as a coach of elite athletes is also much more innovative and convoluted than resting on an alternative USMS seal of approval.
The USOC directed Pliuskaitis to file papers for arbitration. It appears that he is contemplating, as a key argument, that the USA Swimming ban illegally cuts off access to him for swimmers who seek to compete at the Olympic Trials and the Olympics. Olympic Committee code Section 9.1 states that “No member of the corporation may deny or threaten to deny any amateur athlete the opportunity to participate in the Olympic Games.”
So far as I can tell, this gambit would get around appealing the merits of the findings against Pliuskaitis, which revolve around his relationship with a swimmer he either was coaching or had formerly coached, and which relationship was consummated either before or after she became of legal age.
Well aware of the widespread practice of “grooming” swimmers from young ages, few of us sympathize with the accused in such disputes. But in noting this, I reiterate that it is not beyond comprehension for the extraordinarily craven and benighted USA Swimming to be eager to throw a few token borderline offenders under the bus, while also fortifying its hairsplitting “safe sport” PR firewalls around long-term and prominent bad guys such as Paul Bergen and Mitch Ivey.
In the end, I seriously doubt that either the Olympic Committee or a court of law will agree that an aspiring swimmer has some sort of constitutional right to drag a banned coach on deck with him. And I would think the principle applies to sexual misconduct or any other bannable offense.
I recognize Pliuskaitis’s reluctance to stick to a rebuttal of the facts entered against him as a byproduct of his insistence that he was railroaded in his original review board hearing. But really, folks — he is just as opaque as USA Swimming when it comes to releasing details of the hearing (rather than just his own conclusive characterization of it).
As a closing thought, I’m struck by the irony of the Pliuskaitis argument that some swimmer or other somewhere, either right now or down the road, could believe that this particular coach’s presence is indispensable. After all, the Rick Curl story began unraveling last summer precisely after Kelley Davies Currin was outraged to find her old molester prowling the premises at the Olympic Trials. Curl is currently in the clinker, 30 years late but better than never. USA Swimming vice president David Berkoff, who likes to dress up as an anti-abuse activist until it gets in the way of fitting him for his own Olympic blazer, claims that he turned to his wife at the Trials in Omaha and told her he was dumbfounded by the presence of Curl; Berkoff says he assumed that Curl was still on the lam in Australia. Not that there was anything wrong with that!
Pliuskaitis was invited to comment for this article. Last month he was interviewed for our coverage and even signed off on how I worded my original report. Later, however, he called to complain about a follow-up report that restated and reinforced the bill of particulars against him. I have no idea which portion of his reading of this years-old blog had given him the impression that I had a practice of presenting only the rambling defenses of accused pedophiles.
(Incidentally, according to our Virginia sources, the swimmer at the heart of the allegations against Pliuskaitis may no longer be his girlfriend or fiancée or whatever she was. I do not mean to imply that she has turned on him in the investigation.)
Another Pliuskaitis-inspired contact with me, which I have not previously reported, was by a mother of one of his swimmers. (I already quoted here a defense of the coach by a father of a swimmer.) The mother wouldn’t let me use her name, so that was the end of that. She claimed that she spoke with a USA Swimming board member who supposedly admitted that the charges against Pliuskaitis were trumped up, but her account was incomplete and manipulative. Later I did a little research on her alleged board source, whose name I was not familiar with, and learned that he is part of the circle of lackeys for John Leonard’s American Swimming Coaches Association — which likes to brag that protection of children is not part of its mission “in any way, shape, or form.”