by Irvin Muchnick
“… I can only offer frustration myself when I review the file and wonder why more was not done then. I can tell you that we are committed to trying to right that wrong now….” – USA Swimming’s Susan Woessner, in a February 19 email.
Sure, there’s plenty to indict the city officials, police, and private school athletic program administrators of Broward County, Florida, in allowing multiply and compellingly accused sex offender coach Alex Pussieldi to thrive in Florida Gold Coast Swimming until last year. (According to some, he’s still the man behind the curtain of the new Azura Florida Aquatics program, which has picked up the team colors, business model, and “Caribbean swimmer pipeline” of Pussieldi’s kaput Davie Nadadores, without missing a beat.)
Meanwhile, Pussieldi globe-trots for Brazilian television and plots his public visibility with care – probably confident that the powerbrokers of Olympic swimming are too scared to lay a glove on him, at least until after the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
And as Congressman George Miller and his staff press forward with their investigation of our national contribution to the global scourge of sexual abuse in amateur sports, that’s our main theme today: the epic fail – beyond bureaucratic wink-wink; well down the path of criminal cover-up and perjury – of USA Swimming chief executive Chuck Wielgus and his bloated and overpaid staff in Colorado Springs.
That staff includes Susan Woessner, the “safe sport” director of the post-2010 20/20 world of PR buy-in by the pseudo-professional hacks of Child Protection Inc.
In expressing disgust at the faux activism of USA Swimming, I can’t even exempt Woessner, as some others — beguiled by her good looks and slick presentation – are inclined. Woessner’s sister Geri joined the marketing staff of the organization just after Susan was hired; and even as she travels from one handwringing abuse-prevention conference to the next, and claims full credit for every nickel-and-dime improvement in busting ham-and-egger bad-guy coaches, Tim Joyce and I have uncovered too many stories of the same manipulation and passivity in prosecuting abuse cases that preceded the “safe sport” regime of Woessner and her assistant Liz Hoendervoogt.
Back to Chuck Wielgus – the chief executive, and by definition the chief enabler of this continuing culture of abuse … the chief architect of the current structure of money first, kids’ safety last … the chief articulator of corporate lies and cover-ups for close to 20 years.
The firewall of the Alex Pussieldi tale was his practice of Peeping Tom videotaping. USA Swimming’s investigators knew of these allegations against him no later than December 2004.
In 1998, a year after Wielgus took over USA Swimming, a Pennsylvania club coach named John Trites had been profiled on the FBI television program America’s Most Wanted. He went on the lam after being caught hiding a video camera in the locker room of his girl swimmers so he could capture them as they changed in and out of their swimsuits. The feds asked Wielgus’s organization to assist in a nationwide alert to aquatic facilities.
On May 10, 2010, Wielgus was deposed in a civil lawsuit in Indiana by former swimmer Brooke Talfinger. She had been a victim of the hidden videocam practices of her now-imprisoned coach Brian Hindson. Asked about past experience with such complaints against coaches, Wielgus was clear and firm. The issue, he said, was “not even on the radar screen” until 2008.
If that is not the definition of perjury (from the Latin perjurium, “deliberate giving of false or misleading testimony under oath”), then the two and a half millennia of the Roman jurisprudence system have lost all meaning.