by Irvin Muchnick
As a consumer of celebrity news, I have many of the common reader reactions to the re-ignition of the national sexual abuse conversation through Dylan Farrow’s accusation against Woody Allen. I also have a couple of unique reactions as someone who, along with my collaborator Tim Joyce, has spent two years investigating the disgrace of systematic predation by way too many of Americas 12,000 club swimming coaches of way too many of the 400,000 athletes in our Olympic Committee-sanctioned youth swimming programs.
Domestic abuse, such as that alleged in the Allen household, is every bit as pernicious and as resistant to evidence of its reality and damage as the smartest commentators are telling us. But institutions where molestation by extra-familial authority figures flourishes be they Catholic Church priests or swim coaches present special challenges in combating large-scale butt-covering, liability-limiting strategies.
For Exhibits YYZ and YZZ, see Concussion Inc.s exclusive coverage of Dustin Perry, still holding forth on a pool deck in Carson City, Nevada, and Alex Pussieldi, who took early retirement from coaching after being accused of some of the same abuses as Perry, and is now on camera from Sochi in Olympic coverage for a network in his native Brazil.
Meanwhile, a week before the Farrow-Allen headlines, USA Swimming released When the Athlete Is a Child: An Assessment of USA Swimmings Safe Sport Program an independent review by the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center s director emeritus, Victor Vieth.
The 125-page report noted some modest reforms undertaken in 2010, after ABCs 20/20 and ESPNs Outside the Lines broadcast investigative packages, which thoroughly embarrassed swimming and its corporate sponsors, including Mutual of Omaha, Speedo, and ConocoPhillips.
The most prominent USA Swimming initiative became the publication, at long last, of a list of banned coaches. These are mostly ham-and-eggers at the lower rungs of the sport who were summarily thrown under the bus. Meanwhile, Hall of Fame coaches such as Paul Bergen allegations against whom two different swimmers have described to us in detail and for the record continue to roam free. (When I started typing this piece, the banned list had grown to 99 names. By the time Im finished, unlucky No. 100 could already be living in infamy.)
Vieth called his report not a pat on the back but a push forward. He wrote, Some survivors, and other witnesses, spoke of a culture in which it was an open secret that some coaches were sexually abusing children. When these survivors disclosed, they were often treated harshly by the swimming community.
Yet the process-happy report, defanged of hard investigative content, ignored the obvious question: Who is responsible for a toxic culture, if not the executive and oversight leadership? Top swimming officials have been lying for years about both the scale of abuse and their own cover-ups of it (and in some cases participation see below). One of our favorite examples: Former board president, and still a director, Dale Neuburger claimed in a deposition in a civil suit that he hardly knew of his college swimming contemporary, legendary coach Mitch Ivey, a long-time known pervert whose list of victims was so long it included two unrelated women with the same last name. Neuberger also swore on penalty of perjury that he didnt know Ivey had been part of a TV show the ESPN expose that prompted his dismissal by the University of Florida.
Last fall, two decades after that broadcast, USA Swimming banned Ivey, now 64. Like the Vieth report itself, which is silent on Ivey, this step was conveniently taken during the season in which Congressman George Miller, ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has stepped up an investigation of Olympic sport youth sex abuse. The Government Accountability Office and two California offices of the FBI are also involved.
The Vieth report is part of a $200,000 emergency PR and lobbying effort hatched last summer in a memo by USA Swimmings $800,000-a-year CEO Chuck Wielgus. In his assessment, Vieth said the Gundersen Center was being compensated around $25,000 but then added, in an equally vague footnote, that they were getting unspecified additional sums. Vieth has not responded to our requests for a clearer accounting. Nor will he comment on Wielguss public boast that the report touted our investigative process as an area in which we have excelled.
Here are a few bullets on the handiwork of the organizations crack investigative unit that Vieth missed:
Pat Hogan, the club development manager, married his first wife as soon as she was of age, after grooming her as a younger teenager when he was her coach. Indeed, it is such grooming the ultra-normalized treatment of star female athletes as coaches trophies that defines the culture as much as heinous violations of the criminal code. Last year the University of Utah fired swim coach Greg Winslow when Concussion Inc. revealed that the Arizona State University police recommended his indictment in the molestation of a 14-year-old he coached on the campus-based youth club. ASU has since booted Mike Chassons Sun Devil Aquatics off campus. Chasson had married hiswife Jill after coaching her at Stanford. After we reported that as a mid-teens Olympian, Jill Johnson had had a sexual relationship, probably statutory rape, with her coach John Cadigan (then as now an assistant at Michael Phelps North Baltimore Aquatic Club), she resigned as chair of USA Swimmings National Board of Review.
In 2006, USA Swimming secretly fired national team coach Everett Uchiyama after a Southern California woman stepped forward with details of his abuse of her. On Pat Hogans recommendation, Uchiyama simply slid over to the aquatic directorship of the Country Club of Colorado in Colorado Springs . USA Swimming board meetings were held at a conference center overlooking the pool Uchiyama ran. (He eventually would be run out of the country club and publicized on the banned list in the fallout of the 2010 report on 20/20.)
Hogans predecessor, Will Colebank, was fired a decade ago after getting caught exchanging inappropriate electronic communications with an underage male in Florida . No public announcement was made, and Colebank got a new job as a middle school teacher in the same Colorado Springs community until 2007, when he was busted for child porn and soliciting minors.
In this culture troubled but getting better every day! it was awfully nice of Vieth to use space in his report to celebrate the story of a victim who said he or she was gratified to receive mentoring and support in her testimony against an abusive coach. Weve been told a different story, one involving Vieth himself. During his fact-finding, Vieth spoke to a Massachusetts woman whose daughter had been violently raped by her coach, who evaded criminal charges on a technicality. Five days later, the family received a FedEx letter from USA Swimmings Safe Sport assistant director, informing them that their complaint had been dismissed.
Vieth has shouted at the top of his lungs and carried a tiny twig. That is why federal government investigations of USA Swimming must press forward.