by Irvin Muchnick
Two days ago I reviewed Sunday’s report on ESPN’s Outside the Lines on fired University of Utah swim coach and unindicted child sex abuser Greg Winslow. OTL is the last best hope for sports investigative journalism, but its Winslow piece, though welcome, pulled way too many punches.
Most unfortunately, OTL took all the credit and accepted none of the responsibility for the 20-year gap between the program’s exposure of molester coach Mitch Ivey and Ivey’s only recent banishment by USA Swimming. ESPN has not, to my knowledge, yet shared with its viewers, certainly not with useful detail and analysis, the fact that the sport’s national governing body, an affiliate of the 1978 Amateur Sports Act-codified U.S. Olympic Committee, is under investigation by Congressman George Miller of California.
Such detail and analysis would establish that it didn’t take swimming 20 years to give Ivey the boot. Rather, it took about 20 seconds — as soon as he became more of a liability than an asset in swimming’s acknowledged six-figure (and likelier seven-figure) PR and lobbying campaign to ward off federal probes of how its so-called Safe Sport program, instituted in 2010, misleads and lies to America’s 400,000 club swimmers and their families.
Today the swimming news site SwimSwam.com comes in behind OTL with an interview with one of Ivey’s core victims, former swimmer Suzette Moran, which fills in some of the spaces in the ESPN story. See “Accuser Moran: Banning Ivey Was the Right Thing to Do” by Ceci Christy, http://swimswam.com/accuser-moran-banning-ivey-right-thing/.
In my view, Christy and SwimSwam miss the point, too — though I don’t doubt their sincerity in wishing to rid the sport of abusive coaches and in believing that they’ve performed an unalloyed public service in helping engineer Ivey’s ban. A clue to my problem with their perspective comes at the end of the piece, which emphasizes the need for parents to educate their kids about abuse and how to report it.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach, which I call “good touchy-feely / bad touchy-feely,” except for one thing: it exaggerates the primacy of vigilance against “pedophiles in our midst,” and ignores how sexual abuse is embedded in the very culture and current legislative DNA of swimming and other amateur sports. It’s easy to demonize individual predators. It’s harder to follow the money and understand how their systematic, decades-long cover-up by overpaid Olympic bureaucrats is a byproduct of wider dysfunction and crime. As I’ve said many times, the swimming abuse problem — involving mostly normalized, borderline-legal grooming-cum-heterosexual-abuse of adolescent girls — makes the tabloidy Penn State homosexual pedophilia scandal look like a garden party by comparison. We’re talking about scores, hundreds of lives damaged by coaches and the callous officials charged with supervising them. We’re also talking about the need for broad truth and reconciliation and accountability.
Concussion Inc. also dissents from Ceci Christy and SwimSwam’s narrative of the Mitch Ivey ban, which is at best naive and at worst self-serving.
As Tim Joyce’s and my reporting has established, USA Swimming long ago dropped its Ivey investigation. It was only when Congressman Miller’s House Committee on Education and the Workforce staff started breathing down the neck of swimming CEO Chuck Wielgus and his henchpeople that a “new” Ivey complaint was trumped up and ramrodded through the National Board of Review, at a lightning pace nowhere else evident in USA Swimming’s history of speed of justice. Accuser Moran didn’t even file a complaint or participate in the hearing; the swimming moguls arbitrarily and capriciously declared a SwimSwam article about her case to be grounds for a complaint. Worse yet, swimming flacks then promoted the Ivey ban and tried (at least prior to this current Christy interview) to bury Moran for turning to a lawyer rather than participating unprotected in this kangaroo court proceeding. It’s the latest twist on Big Swimming’s practice of revictimizing victims.
Outside the Lines knows all this, or should. In December 2013, the story is not its derivative, too-little-too-late Greg Winslow expose, or its Mitch Ivey bust in the early 1990s, or even T.J. Quinn’s excellent 2010 grilling of boss Wielgus. The story is the race between USA Swimming’s captive “independent review” of Safe Sport by highly-paid consultant Victor Vieth, and a report by the Government Accountability Office requested by Congressman Miller. The public needs ESPN on its side, with a splash, not a ripple, in telling that full story.