by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
Over the weekend we reported USA Swimming’s lifetime ban for sexual abuse of Mitch Ivey, a huge name in the sport’s history. Today the Orange County Register reported this development, too. (Not for the first time, the Register failed to credit Concussion Inc. for breaking a major story. The newspaper’s account is behind the paywall at its website.)
Swimming victims, their famiies, and other sources tell us that they have contacted Congressional staff investigating abuse by USA Swimming coaches and how the organization handled complaints. Congressman George Miller’s June request to the Government Accountability Office to investigate child abuse issues within youth-serving organizations encompasses U.S. Olympic Committee sports in general, some of which have been the subject of child abuse allegations — including speedskating, gymnastics, and taekwondo in addition to swimming.
In light of all this new activity, USA Swimming’s suddenly energetic campaign to bust abusive coaches is as transparent as water in a pool. But that doesn’t mean CEO Chuck Wielgus and his henchpeople won’t get away with it. That will depend on Congress’s understanding of the fact that Mitch Ivey is no aberration; he is a pitch-perfect representation of a culture of abuse of kids that is revealed in the lies and cover-ups of the leadership in Colorado Springs, spanning decades.
The other way the swimming powers might win, while youth athletes and parents lose, is if USA Swimming’s PR-driven “independent review” of its expediently enacted safe sport program — a report due from bought-and-paid-for child protection expert Victor Vieth — gets released before GAO completes its report to Congressman Miller. As we have seen time and again with big sports institutions (the University of Utah athletic department’s airbrushed history of monster swim coach Greg Winslow is one recent example), commissioned reports serve the monetary and image interests of the commissioning organization, not the public interest.
We also reported last week that USA Swimming abruptly closed the case on a new complaint of coach rape in Massachusetts — a story ringing with violence and detail and endurance. Our national “safe sport” guardians put this file in mothballs just five days after the victim’s mother spoke to “independent” consultant Vieth. And Vieth isn’t talking.
On Friday, GAO’s managing director for public affairs, Chuck Young, told us, “The request [from Congressman Miller] that we do the work has been accepted but it won’t get underway until early in 2014.”
If the Vieth report for USA Swimming gets published in January or February and beats GAO’s, that could hamper escalation of the sports abuse issue to its proper level in the national conversation.