Look for the December issue of Outside magazine on newsstands starting November 11. Outside has published a 14-plus-page investigative package on the USA Swimming sexual abuse and cover-up scandals featured in Muchnick & Joyce’s writings at Concussion Inc.
by Irvin Muchnick
My collaborator Tim Joyce and I are among the millions who look forward to writer Rachel Sturtz’s huge package in Outside. Along with the families of swimming’s hundreds of victims of coach sexual abuse and cover-up, both historical and ongoing, we expect the comprehensiveness of this report and its publication in a major magazine to provide a jolt of energy to the investigative efforts of Congressman George Miller and the more responsible agents and offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Holding USA Swimming’s criminal leadership accountable, and giving the 36-year-old Amateur Sports Act a much-needed makeover to reflect the current realities of female participation in the Title IX era — as well as our better understanding of the legal landscape of abuse — is not a partisan issue. Though Republicans captured control of both houses of Congress in the mid-term elections, there are now 100 women, of both parties, in those bodies: 80 in the House of Representatives and 20 in the Senate.
There is simply no bottom to this story, and in the absence of convincing evidence to the contrary, one thread of it seems to be a sleazy $23,000 “research grant” that was hastily engineered over the summer by Chuck Wielgus, swimming’s CEO, to Indiana University’s Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming. The go-betweens were American Swimming Coaches Association boss John Leonard and a coach in Texas, George Block.
The fast-tracking of the grant can easily be read as a quid pro quo by Wielgus to ASCA for its fawning tribute special issue on the legacy of his 17-year run as the lord of the sport’s rings — a kiss-ass article that made no mention of the disgrace of the cancellation by the International Swimming Hall of Fame of the scheduled spring induction of Wielgus.
For the full story so far, see the links at the bottom of this post.
Where we left things, Indiana’s general counsel’s office anticipated a preliminary response to my public records requests by November 3. After I received nothing that day, I checked with Joseph Scudro, the deputy general counsel. He emailed back that he had sent me a letter “last Friday, Oct 31st, via regular US mail.”
When I still didn’t receive the letter on the 4th, Scudro’s office fulfilled my request for a courtesy copy of the letter by email.
Yesterday, on the 6th, I received the hard copy of the letter in the mail. The envelope was postmarked November 4.
Welcome to my world. The compliance bureaucracies of major institutions do not exist for the purpose of facilitating public access. They exist to justify the jobs of people who study the fine print for ways to impede public access.
The substance of Scudro’s letter made this even more clear than his timing. In the letter, the university blandly explained that it was not obliged to release records of research grants. Scudro even went to the trouble of citing a putatively supportive Indiana Court of Appeals decision, Robinson v. Indiana University (659 N.E. 2d 153 [Ind.Ct.App. 1995]).
Now let me say that, after decades in this business, I doubt that the denial of my request for documentation of the Counsilman Center’s grant applications is as black-and-white as the university’s letter suggests. If private donors indeed can hide their influence on research at public universities, then the laws protecting the release of information are a farce.
No, I think it’s far likelier that (as in my requests for information on the National Institutes of Health’s funding of foundational research in the development of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center researchers’ “ImPACT Concussion Management System”) there are complex regulations governing specifics which can and can’t be disclosed. In short, my request to Indiana was probably inelegant and needs refinement in order to satisfy those complexities.
However, I am not holding my breath waiting for Indiana University president Michael A. McRobbie and his underlings to walk me through the process, before their obstinacy and lack of imagination contribute to dragging their good name through the muck of federal investigations of USA Swimming.
Instead, I am appealing to readers who might have expertise in Indiana public information law to help me reformulate my records request. You can write to me at [email protected].
And, of course, anyone at that august temple of higher education who would like to leak pertinent documents to Concussion Inc. can always do so by writing to [email protected].