by Irvin Muchnick
Under the heading “the rest of the story,” we pick up with more detail on the events following the approval in February by the International Swimming Hall of Fame of the induction of USA Swimming’s executive director, Chuck Wielgus. That happened over the protests of an ISHOF board member, Terry Carlisle.
In June, Wielgus stood down for the honor under pressure from a petition of swimming sexual abuse victims, including the famed Diana Nyad, which was posted, supported, and promoted to the gills by the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Some activists worry that the two events are more than indirectly related. Their concern is well founded. And the linkage is ominous for the prospects of the current second petition, which is not sponsored by the WSF. This new and somewhat sputtering petition goes more to the heart of the matter: asking Congress to take up a no-holds-barred investigation of USA Swimming’s generation of executive and board corruption, perjury, and cover-up, with a view toward real accountability and giving the Amateur Sports Act a much-needed makeover.
For nearly three weeks, Concussion Inc. has been sitting on ambiguous, but I think powerful and potentially troubling, information on Terry Carlisle and the role of WSF in Wielgus’s calculatedly partial downfall. I’m choosing to share this information now because the clock is ticking. The second petition is in trouble, for the plain reason that WSF is giving it only token behind-the-scenes help – not the full celebrity athlete and organizational push that would nudge this issue to the top of the slush pile of key people in Washington.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Olympic Committee has tried to cut off the uprising at the pass by announcing funding for a shiny new national sports bodies’ “independent” investigative agency. Independent, as in bought and paid for by the USOC and its reliably docile private donors. Not independent, as in “federal government oversight” – which is what the safety of our kid athletes demands.
All this was set up by WSF’s unwise decision to negotiate a Wielgus Hall of Fame surrender statement in which USA Swimming expressed interest in working with the group on future solutions. Combined with WSF’s passivity on the second petition, that is not good.
What happens if the USOC and/or USA Swimming proceed to announce – this week or next or soon – that WSF has agreed to help spearhead, shape, or advise a new “independent agency” (perhaps in concert with such entities as the Gundersen Health System’s Child Protection Training Center)? Will the women’s advocacy group, which had been indispensable in this fight, flip? Or will WSF clearly commit to a solution driven by Congress?
Now here’s how Terry Carlisle fits in.
During the media blitz for the first petition, Carlisle did interviews with Yahoo Sports and the Orange County Register in which he discussed his dissent from the Hall of Fame’s February board vote in favor of honoring Wielgus. Carlisle said all the right things about how such a lifetime achievement award would be a slap in the face to swimming’s legions of abuse victims on Wielgus’s watch, starting in 1997. In addition, Hall induction also would have unconscionably airbrushed the history of the direct involvement of Wielgus in lying to courts and in other public statements, and in directing specific and well-documented cover-ups.
Interestingly, Carlisle reached out to (or was set up by publicists with) Yahoo Sports and the Register. But he never talked to Concussion Inc., which has lapped every other media outlet in uncovering dirty old files and ongoing cover-ups, worse than Michael Phelps would beat me in the 200 IM.
The reason might be that Carlisle, or his handlers, didn’t want to face pointed questions. Such as: Where was Donna de Varona, the International Swimming Hall of Fame board chair (and a stalwart of the women’s sports movement and good friend of the Women’s Sports Foundation) during the February vote on Wielgus?
As I understand the timeline, de Varona was possibly sandbagged by other board members, who were eager to suck up to Wielgus and the resuscitated donations that his induction might open up for the Hall. Their vote on the Wielgus induction, in Florida or by phone conference, could have taken place when de Varona was in Sochi for the Winter Olympics. Which is a fair enough explanation, as far as it goes.
But if that’s the case, then why the Women’s Sports Foundation’s petition drive end abruptly on a weekend filled with – according to reliable sources – all-night telephone negotiations that included de Varona herself, who was in Europe? And why did those negotiations culminate in a statement by USA Swimming that it looked forward to working with the Women’s Sports Foundation – days before USOC tried to bury the story of Wielgus’s abject Hall withdrawal and lame apology to historical victims with an announcement of a new-and-improved sex police under their aegis?
Seeking to unravel all this, I emailed Carlisle on June 5. He wrote back, “If you still want to talk to me in early July, I will be glad to answer some questions.”
Yesterday I emailed Carlisle again and said the story, as I see it, couldn’t wait until early July. I have not heard back.