by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
Congressman George Miller’s investigation of USA Swimming approaches a crossroads as we await release of a report by the Government Accountability Office, which Miller requested in June.
In the meantime, it should be emphasized that the abuses we’ve uncovered in swimming apply to many other Olympic sports, as well. In particular, speedskating is moving up fast on the outside to challenge swimming as the very worst sport in terms of coach grooming and sexual predation. Though this is not a competition — certainly not one any sport should be proud to win — we believe the deep historical roots of the problem and the number of big-name figures still give swimming the gold medal here.
An article by Jim Rendon in the current issue of Marie Claire magazine tells the story of speedskater Bridie Farrell at the hands of skating great Andy Gabel, her early mentor and trainer. See http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/skating-for-justice.
Yesterday we obtained a remarkable set of correspondence between former ranked speedskater Eva Rodansky and U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun. It is so important that we have uploaded the full texts to http://muchnick.net/rodansky.pdf. Below are some key bullets from Rodansky’s letters of November 13 and November 15.
Rodansky is rightly steamed at Blackmun’s characterization of U.S. Speedskating as a “model NGB [national governing body].” We’ve heard this line before. USA Swimming, too, is a “model,” evidently for its retrospective vision in setting up a bogus, slow-walking “safe sport” program in 2010 — only after bossman Chuck Wielgus make a fool of himself on camera in exposes by ABC’s 20/20 and ESPN’s Outside the Lines. Here’s how it goes: You become a “model” by “acknowledging the need for change.” Then the mechanism for change becomes same song, new verse: a victim-revictimizing process that feathers the bed of the NGB with a couple of more staff positions tasked with attending child protection conferences and with supporting the flim-flamming of complainants.
There’s protection, all right. A protection racket of the org’s sponsorships and image.
Here are a few nuggets from Rodansky-to-Blackmun:
* “US Speedskating is an example of a failed NGB that, after more than a year and a half of concentrated effort by athletes and their parents, has yet to be fully reformed. For years, even in the face of numerous grievances and complaints from its athletes and their parents, USS ignored, and failed to comply with, the requirements of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, as well as the requirements for NGBs set forth in the USOC Bylaws and policies, including the USOC’s 2005 ‘Governance Guidelines’ for NGBs. USS spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers from your former law firm [Bryan Cave, also swimming’s counsel], in a futile defense mounted in response to these complaints.”
* “USS’s revised disciplinary procedures are still designed to tip the scales in favor of US Speedskating, and against athletes and others who wish to file grievances.”
* “[In the recent past,] USS, by its then CEO and through Board members (including, specifically, Fred Benjamin), threatened to bring lawsuits (yes, lawsuits!!) against members of USS who complained about USS and its wrongful practices, including the existence of conflicts of interests of its own Board members. (Mr. Benjamin threatened a lawsuit notwithstanding the fact that the USOC, as a result of its own investigation, had found those conflicts of interest pertaining to Mr. Benjamin to be true).”
* More prevalent as a mechanism to keep athletes “in line” is “USS’s use of its disciplinary procedures, with the issuance of so- called ‘Code of Conducts’ as the weapon of choice…. The former CEO threatened to, and in fact did, ‘hand out Code of Conducts like candy.’”
* ” When athletes themselves use Code of Conducts “as a way of protecting themselves from the abuses of USS and its administrators / coaches, USS thwarted them at every turn. For the most part, Code of Conducts and Grievances filed by athletes were simply ignored.”
* The complaint filed by 13 boycotting athletes against their abusive coach, Jae Su Chun,was derailed. Then president Tom Frank commissioned the White & Case law firm to complete an “independent investigation,” which was full of factual errors.
* A former USS president admitted this March to a reporter for the Chicago Tribune that he had had inappropriate relationships with two underage female skaters.