by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
For the last 24 hours weve been reporting on the petition, signed by legendary open-water swimmer Diana Nyad and other sex abuse victims and their parents and supporters, and by the Womens Sports Foundation, asking the International Swimming Hall of Fame to withdraw next months scheduled induction of Chuck Wielgus, the executive director of USA Swimming since 1997, who pulls down a cool $908,000 a year. See full headline links below.
The most ambitious grassroots campaign yet to hold the leaders of Olympic sports accountable and to spur federal investigations aimed at ending the culture of coach rape and cover-up in competitive youth programs, the petition follows a similar one last week calling for revocation of the Hall of Fame and US Speedskating memberships of accused molester coach Andy Gabel.
For more than two years, these reporters have been uncovering the shameful saga of abuse of far too many of the nations 400,000 kid swimmers by far too many of their 12,000 club coaches a phenomenon that has persisted, despite the existence since 2010 of a so-called safe sport program. That program, which included the appointment of two social workers to USA Swimmings already bloated corporate staff, and mostly insignificant reforms, was boosted last year with a $200,000 public relations and lobbying campaign just as Congressman George Miller of California, ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, asked the Government Accountability Office to undertake an audit of sex abuse reporting requirements in federal statutes governing amateur sports.
The Miller probe, in turn, was prompted by the crumbling quarter-century-long cover-up of the abuse by Washington, D.C., area coach Rick Curl a member of the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame of his early teens swimmer Kelley Davies Currin, beginning more than 30 years ago. Curl is now serving a seven-year sentence in Maryland prison.
At this site, we have reported exclusively on investigations of USA Swimming by two FBI offices and on a more recent focus by federal investigators on the insurance operations of both USA Swimming and US Speedskating. The former operates a scam reinsurance subsidiary, United States Sports Insurance Company, out of Barbados.
In their petition to the swimming Hall of Fame board of directors (which includes names like Mark Spitz and its chair, Donna de Varona), the victims correctly note, among other things, that Wielgus failed to remove known serial molesters from swimming; quarterbacked a scorched earth strategy in lawsuits by victims; and partnered with the Catholic Church in state lobbying efforts (notably in California last year, where former seminarian governor Jerry Brown was persuaded to veto a bill that would have loosened the statute of limitations in a category of civil claims against institutions by abuse victims).
We would go quite a bit further than that. As a cancer survivor, Wielgus deserves sympathy. As the swimming CEO, he belongs in the Hall of Justice, not the Hall of Fame. In public statements, including sworn ones to courts, Wielgus has perjured himself by, for example, insisting that coaches Peeping Tom locker room videotaping of disrobed athletes wasnt even on the radar screen before 2008. In fact, 10 years prior to 2008, Wielguss USA Swimming had sent out a nationwide alert to aquatic facilities during the FBIs pursuit of Most Wanted list Pennsylvania coach John Trites, a child pornographer and clandestine locker room videotaper. (Trites is still at large.)
Next week a major media piece is expected to be published on our investigation of Alex Pussieldi, a Florida coach who did not dispute the charge in 2004 of one of the many foreign swimmers he housed that he recorded them through a video camera concealed in the bathroom of his house. Pussieldi retired from coaching just last year and, in the run-up to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, is the face of network TV coverage of swimming in his native Brazil. And USA Swimmings safe sport department did nothing about new complaints against Pussieldi as late as 2012-13.
In no way do we seek to trivialize the crimes of Jerry Sandusky and the damage to his many victims when we observe that the USA Swimming scandals dwarf the scale of Penn States. The crimes of swimming more closely analogize those of the Church with priest-like coaches hopping from parish (club) to parish, state to state, and often country to country, and with the parent organization valuing its own image and marketing far above the protection of the young people it is supposed to be serving.
The bold actions of Nancy Hogshead-Makar and the Womens Sports Foundation mark a breakthrough in ending this national disgrace, holding all responsible parties accountable, and bringing about a long-overdue overhaul of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, which empowered the U.S. Olympic Committee to supervise national sport governing bodies, or NGBs. In the face of growing evidence of the lifelong harm inflicted by coaches without oversight, and even as Title IX has sent female athletic participation to new levels, NGBs have hid behind criminal beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidentiary standards, rather than Title IXs preponderance-of-evidence standards, and have facilitated and encouraged denial and revictimization of the few girls, women, boys, and men courageous enough to come forward.
The party will be over when the prospect of Congressional hearings shifts from the House, which is Republican-controlled, to the Senate where, even more important than its Democratic majority, there are 20 women of both parties. As with the issue of rape in the newly gender-integrated military, the issue of sexual assault by sports coaches will be largely driven and resolved by women for women and for all of us who want to take care of our children and to foster an athletic climate free of Chuck Wielgus and his money-grubbing bureaucrats in Colorado Springs.