by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
USA Swimming has chosen one of its favorite captive swimming news vehicles, SwimSwam.com, to address public curiosity over the bizarre rebranding of this coming weekend’s big meet in Beaverton, Oregon — known for the last 14 years as the “Paul Bergen Junior International Championships” and now, suddenly, as the “Thunderbolt Junior International Championships.”
Concussion Inc. was the first to identify this switch in time. Organized swimming last month got around to banning long-known predator coach Mitch Ivey, now that Congress and other government agencies are investigating the sport’s sexual abuse and cover-up culture. When it comes to Bergen, whose rapes of Olympic gold medalist Deena Deardurff Schmidt are so well known that they are featured in USA Swimming vice president David Berkoff’s 2010 internal memo (viewable at http://muchnick.net/berkofflist.pdf), the hairsplitting solution was to white-out Bergen’s name from an event that has been attracting swimmers from around the world for a decade and a half. And hope no one notices.
But someone did notice, so USA Swimming had to cough up this statement to SwimSwam:
“USA Swimming is a membership organization and its ultimate authority is to expel from membership individuals who have violated its rules. Mr. Bergen is not currently a USA Swimming member, and has not been since 2005. According to Ms. Deardurff Schmidt’s 2010 statement and subsequent sworn testimony, she was abused by Mr. Bergen from 1968 to 1972. USA Swimming was incorporated in 1978 and began operating in its current form in 1980. USA Swimming has no authority to initiate a National Board of Review proceeding against an individual who is not currently a member (and is therefore not a risk to USA Swimming member swimmers) and when the alleged bad acts occurred before USA Swimming came into existence.”
SwimSwam’s background story is competently done and we recommend it. See http://swimswam.com/paul-bergen-international-now-called-thunderbolt-junior-international-scm-championships/.
We had a problem with SwimSwam’s coverage of the Ivey ban — something we’ll get to in a later post. We have only one problem with this Bergen report, and it relates to the failure to depict the whole environment of intimidation of victims. This is epitomized by the way Bergen has continued to be honored by the swimming establishment through the years (not only via this meet, whose host club is headed by son Linck Bergen, but also through Paul Bergen’s membership in the International Swimming Hall of Fame).
Support of abuse victims has been and continues to be the gaping hole in USA Swimming’s handling of both historical and current complaints against coaches. The organization is full of excuses about what it claims it can’t do. A fair-minded conclusion, however, is that the moguls of the sport, some of whom have not been above committing perjury, care more about their and the institution’s image than they do about the damaged lives in its trail. How many victims — Deardurff Schmidt excepted — have been frightened out of coming forward by the persistence of this “Paul Bergen” classic? How many more, even as we write this, remain frightened, knowing that swimming continues to offer legalistic defensiveness, all of which is really spurred only by the heat rising from the snow on Capitol Hill this week?
Again, here are links to all our Bergen coverage: