by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
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USA Swimming Has Experience With Co-Opting “Independent Reviews”
We don’t believe Congressman George Miller should hold up his inquiries to USA Swimming pending the organization’s own announced “independent review” of its safe sport program by an expert on sexual abuse named Victor Vieth, which is supposed to be released next year. And all indications are that Miller and his policy staff at the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, to their credit, are not sitting on their hands and falling for swimming’s $200,000 PR campaign, which is specifically designed to derail the full-scale Congressional investigation that youth club swimming’s 400,000 participants desperately need.
The public must appreciate that this is not the first time USA Swimming and its CEO, Chuck Wielgus, have co-opted a group with a nice-sounding name — in Vieth’s case, the National Child Protection Training Center — for political cover. In June of 2010, two months after Wielgus made an idiot out of himself on ABC’s 20/20, the group announced its partnership with the Child Welfare League of America for “independent” expertise on conducting annual audits of its policies and programming. See http://www.cwla.org/newsevents/news2010621usaswim.htm.
At the time, USA Swimming’s spin was that the Child Welfare League was the nation’s oldest and largest membership-based organization dealing with child welfare issues. On close inspection, it is nothing more than a trade association whose mission is lobbying for improvements in the nation’s foster care system.
Guess why USA Swimming picked the Child Welfare League for this sham announcement? Because Olympic medalist and former swimming board president Ross Wales was also on the board of the Child Welfare League.
Three years later we still don’t know what the Child Welfare League did, how much it was paid for the work, and why it disappeared.
As for Victor Vieth, he seems to have an impressive resume as a prosecutor of child molesters. But so what? His published bio cites Vieth’s authority as a trainer in “how to better recognize, react, and respond to children who are being abused.” It says nothing about experience in complex organization audits or in holding executives and directors accountable for systematic cover-up of abuse in their ranks, and lack of support of and retaliation against victims and whistleblowers.
Vieth is stonewalling interview requests, because he obviously doesn’t want to talk about any of this — or about who at USA Swimming contacted him for this commission and how much he’s being paid for it. The internal USA Swimming memo on its campaign to improve “perceptions” of how it’s doing suggests that Vieth is getting around $100,000 for a few months of moonlighting.
Louis Lowenthal “Shallow Water Blackout” Lessons Shouldn’t Obscure Lack of Lifeguard Coverage
Concussion Inc. has been all alone in the news media in reporting the full background of the drowning death last October of Louis Lowenthal, a 14-year-old swimmer at Michael Phelps’ North Baltimore Aquatic Club, who was doing ill-advised underwater breathing drills at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center.
NBAC and Meadowbrook have used the tragedy to raise awareness about shallow water blackout syndrome. A good article about the presentations on this by Bob Bowman, the club’s head coach and CEO, is at http://www.swimvortex.com/bowman-baltimores-warning-on-shallow-water-blackout/.
But educating swimmers and coaches on this danger still doesn’t explain why young Lowenthal died. There was no lifeguard in sight — which meant he wasn’t pulled from the pool for many minutes, at which point he was already brain-dead. The Meadowbrook Aquatic Center — owned by NBAC founder Murray Stephens, who went underground last year after allegations of sexual abuse — filed a tardy and false report on the incident with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which the agency tried to suppress before we acquired it through a public information law appeal.
Seven Days: The Last Week’s Headlines