by Irvin Muchnick
For the fourth straight year of its five years of existence, the Santa Clara University Law School’s Sports Law and Ethics Symposium has graciously granted me guest admission. I write about the 2011, ’12, and ’13 events in my soon-to-be-published book from ECW Press, CONCUSSION INC.: The End of Football As We Know It.
This time, with my fourth grader’s mother out of town, I’ll have to hustle to see the midsection of the event in between school dropoff and pickup in Berkeley. But I wouldn’t miss the luncheon program. That’s because the speaker there is Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) – the guy who brought down Lance Armstrong but is assiduously ducking the questions my collaborator Tim Joyce and I are posing about what Tygart did in the early 2000s, when he was at the Denver law firm Holme Roberts & Owen (now Bryan Cave).
In that capacity, Tygart counseled USA Swimming on an untold number of complaints of sexual abuse by coaches. He specifically was the “prosecuting attorney” (the organization appoints itself as prosecutor, judge, and jury, you see) of the 2001 National Board of Review hearing of Danny Chocron, a coach at Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida – Tygart’s alma mater.
Chocron raped girls and boys in his charge, confessed, jumped $250,000 bail on 14 felony counts, and is coaching to this day in his native Venezuela.
USA Swimming didn’t think it was important enough to publish even the most oblique reference to the fact that Chocron had been “banned for life” (unless he isn’t) until 2010. That was when ESPN conducted one of two nationally televised interviews in which the organization’s chief since 1997, Chuck Wielgus, made an ass of himself on the issue of his 501(c)(3) “non-profit” national sport governing body’s widespread, Catholic Church-scale, sex abuse and cover-up.
Earlier this year, the swimming establishment had the hubris to announce Wielgus’s induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. That honor got canceled after a petition by Diana Nyad and 18 other historical victims of swimming sex abuse. The petition was composed and promoted by the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Now Congress and prosecutors are digging in earnest. Unfortunately, the foundation and its superb senior director of advocacy, former Olympic swimming champion Nancy Hogshead-Makar, have not yet put their weight behind federal intervention and toothful reform of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. Instead, the Hogshead-Makar group is adopting a wait-and-see attitude toward a new “independent” abuse investigative agency, funded and established by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Tygart’s USADA is held up as the model of a similar agency. Yet Tygart won’t talk about his experience inside USA Swimming’s abuse cover-ups. Instead, he sits back while a surrogate – one of his ex-PR flacks – trolls me on Twitter.
Tygart’s speaking appearance in Santa Clara revives the question of whether the symposium is going to have a microphone for public questions and a faithful open colloquy.
The question also pertains to the morning keynote speaker, Paraag Marathe, president of the San Francisco 49ers, one of the event’s lead corporate sponsors. With today’s headlines – the belated punishment of Baltimore Ravens wife-beater Ray Rice, and the 49ers’ failure even to suspend their own Ray McDonald with pay pending resolution of a similar charge – Marathe, like Tygart, should not be allowed to do the Texas two-step and bolt. The symposium, after all, charges a steep admission (though not to me, of course) and is certified for 5.5 hours of California Bar continuing education credit for legal practitioners.
The symposium’s record in this area is spotty. In the past, for example, National Football League Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith was allowed to blow off one booking and, at another, hustle out a side door after the program “ran too long” and didn’t allow time for public Q&A. Let’s hope the university comes through Thursday.