by Irvin Muchnick
In incendiary remarks on a comment board at the website of Swimming World magazine, David Berkoff – the former gold medal swimmer who was until recently technical vice president of USA Swimming* – wondered if the critics of the sport are “just interested in castrating all the men around here.” (*This sentence originally identified Berkoff as the current technical vice president of USA Swimming, but his two-term term has just ended.)
Berkoff made the comment below a Swimming World review of the article “Unprotected,” by Rachel Sturtz, in the December issue of Outside magazine.
The statement by one of the highest-ranking members of the USA Swimming leadership and board of directors was posted just days prior to Monday’s scheduled National Board of Review hearing on Massachusetts coach Randy Smith, whose molestation of his teen swimmer Anna Strzempko is the jumping-off point of the Outside piece.
On Twitter, Alex Heard, the executive editor of Outside, has described the Swimming World review, at http://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/news/outside-magazine-publishes-comprehensive-overview-sexual-abuse-youth-sports, as “Scientology-like” – a characterization with which I agree. But the main post has nothing on Berkoff’s rhetoric in defense of USA Swimming and its beleaguered “Safe Sport” program.
I am deducing that the “David” on the comment board, who identifies himself as a lawyer, is Berkoff. He is well known among swimming insiders for his tireless online trolling of critics. If he comes to me with convincing evidence that he is not the “David” here, I will correct this article accordingly.
Berkoff does not respond to Concussion Inc.’s queries. He did one telephone interview with me in April 2012, then ignored scores of follow-up voice, email, and fax messages over the years.
In February 2013 we reported that the Campbell, California, office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had subpoenaed thousands of pages of discovery documents in civil lawsuits by abuse victims. Three months later, Berkoff supplied a declaration in support of a USA Swimming pleading in Santa Clara County Superior Court, in which he documented reading our report “somewhere between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Mountain Time on February 21, 2013.”
Our original interview with Berkoff had been prompted by contentions by activists that he is the worst and most disappointing flip-flopper on the issue of sexual abuse in swimming. He was outspoken on the subject as long ago as the early 1990s. And as we exclusively reported in August 2012, he emailed a swimming parent in 2010:
“Denying knowledge of Rick Curl, Mitch Ivey and others banging their swimmers! It’s a flat out lie. They knew about it because we (coaches and athletes) were all talking about it in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s. I was told by several of Mitch Ivey’s swimmers that he was sleeping with Lisa Dorman in 1988. I heard the whole Suzette Moran story from Pablo Morales over a handful of beers and nearly threw up. I was told Rick Curl was molesting Kelly Davies for years starting when she was 12 by some of the Texas guys. That was the entire reason I formed the abuse subcommittee. I was sick and tired of this crap. No one was standing up. No one was willing to take on these perverts.”
Later in 2010, however, Berkoff was drafted by the USA Swimming leadership to run for the board. Once installed, he became one of the most energetic defenders of Chuck Wielgus’s work in combating and accounting for coach sex abuse.
In case Swimming World takes down Berkoff’s comments, we have captured the full comment board and uploaded it to http://muchnick.net/berkoffcomment.pdf.
Here is the full, in-context comment that includes the verbiage in the headline and lead sentence above:
“So I guess that nobody here is in favor of due process? Girl claims something happened so it MUST have happened? Lynch-mob mentality? Or should all parties involved in such accusations be treated fairly and let the due process sort out the issues? Or are we just interested in castrating all the men around here?”
Below are complete links to Concussion Inc.’s coverage of David Berkoff.