by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
Later this month child-protection expert Victor Vieth will submit to the winter meeting of the USA Swimming board of directors a review of the organization’s Safe Sport program, which was initiated in 2010.
Critics, including these reporters, have expressed skepticism about how thorough a job we can expect, given that Vieth is being paid unknown tens of thousands of dollars by USA Swimming to produce the report, and given that the commission for his report was folded into a six-figure public relations campaign launched last summer by CEO Chuck Wielgus and board president Bruce Stratton in the face of investigations of coach sexual abuse by Congressman George Miller and federal government agencies.
In the end, predictions do not matter. What will matter is only whether Vieth does, faithfully, leave no stone unturned in his examination of a generation’s worth of allegations of abusive sexual behavior toward youth athletes, and of their cover-up by top officials of USA Swimming.
With that mind, Concussion Inc. has launched a new series of articles, which page back through two years of our coverage to identify key topics the public has every right to expect Vieth to confront. To the extent he proceeds to do so, the report will warrant praise. To the extent he does not, the “independent review” will be bogus.
Our first topic is the role of David Berkoff, USA Swimming’s technical vice president. Up to and through the 2010 national television news exposes of swimming abuse, Berkoff was outspoken on USA Swimming’s lapses in this area. Most famously, he wrote the following in an email to an activist parent, Jeff Chida:
“Denying knowledge of Rick Curl, Mitch Ivey and others banging their swimmers! It’s a flat out lie. They knew about it because we (coaches and athletes) were all talking about it in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s. I was told by several of Mitch Ivey’s swimmers that he was sleeping with Lisa Dorman in 1988. I heard the whole Suzette Moran story from Pablo Morales over a handful of beers and nearly threw up. I was told Rick Curl was molesting Kelly Davies for years starting when she was 12 by some of the Texas guys. That was the entire reason I formed the abuse subcommittee. I was sick and tired of this crap. No one was standing up. No one was willing to take on these perverts.”
Later in 2010, Berkoff was recruited to the USA Swimming board. One of his first acts as a board member was to compile a list of coaches against whom public allegations of abuse have been made, but who are not on the sport’s published list of banned figures. The Berkoff list is believed, but not confirmed, to match up closely with a secret and longer-standing internal list of “flagged” coaches whose existence has emerged in victims’ civil lawsuits against the organization.
Once inside the USA Swimming leadership, Berkoff’s outspokenness withered. In April 2012, Berkoff granted his one and only interview to Concussion Inc.; since then, he has failed to return phone calls or messages seeking comment. He does, however, pop up regularly on Internet comment boards to defend USA Swimming from allegations that it has covered up abuse or not acted effectively to curtail it. Berkoff also produced a declaration in support of a USA Swimming court motion (pertaining to our report on an FBI subpoena of suppressed documents that the organization was forced to produce by the California Supreme Court), in which he revealed that he follows Concussion Inc.’s coverage of the unfolding scandals, sometimes on an hourly basis.
Earlier this year, after Rick Curl was sentenced to Maryland prison for molesting Kelley Davies Currin in the 1980s, the former swimmer accused Berkoff (among others) of being involved in covering up for Curl, and called for Berkoff’s resignation.
In an interview with the Missoulian of Missoula, Montana, Berkoff took issue with Currin’s charge. Berkoff said that he noticed Curl, with coaching credentials, on the pool deck at the Olympic Trials in Omaha in 2012. Berkoff recalled turning to his wife at the time and expressing surprise, because he had assumed Curl was still coaching in Australia, where he had arguably fled to avoid American legal scrutiny. The Missoulian columnist did not appear to have followed up with the question of why it would be acceptable for Curl to have been coaching in Australia, though not in Omaha, with the full knowledge of Berkoff and other top USA Swimming executives and directors.
Next in this series: Pablo Morales
FURTHER READING ON DAVID BERKOFF: