by Irvin Muchnick
At this point in the latest boomlet of major-media attention for the shameful phenomenon of widespread coach sexual abuse and cover-up in our national youth athletic programs, it’s useful to note that this story is not entirely about USA Swimming’s voluminous contributions.
Swimming wasn’t even the only sport targeted in last spring’s public petitions from abuse victims. Swimming chief Chuck Wielgus saw his Hall of Fame induction rescinded (though he hangs onto his million-dollar-a-year job and freedom from criminal indictment, while the U.S. Olympic Committee raises more money for a new “independent” sex police agency). But so far, an already installed Hall of Famer in another sport, accused molester Andy Gabel – also president of U.S. Speedskating (USS) from 2002 to 2006 – has glided away from all consequences.
Here’s the latest on Gabel – complete with familiar intimidation tactics from his lawyers.
Media reports on skaters Bridie Farrell and Nikki Ziegelmeyer, the first two Gabel victims to come forward, broke in March 2013. USS announced that it had hired the Sidley Austin law firm to investigate the charges against Gabel “and any others that may arise.” (In 2014, the organization would falsely maintain that it had authorized Sidley Austin only “to determine whether USS has the appropriate SafeSport policies in place.”)
In May 2013, separate members’ proposals to revoke Gabel’s USS membership and to remove him from the National Speedskating Hall of Fame both failed. According to Bridie Farrell, speedskating legend Bonnie Blair argued that there was no justification for the action because four other national sports Halls of Fame have convicted felons in their honor rolls.
During this spring’s USS member meeting, both Farrell and Eva Rodansky, former speedskater and current athlete activist, were interviewed by Sidley Austin attorneys. Rodansky shared the story of another Gabel victim and directed the attorneys to additional witnesses for corroboration. The victim herself had been humiliated in the speedskating community when her anecdotes got around years earlier.
Rodansky also reported to investigators the allegations against Michael Crowe, the USS long track high performance director during Gabel’s term as president. Crowe was fired by USS in May of 2006 – likely as a result of the uproar regarding his role in USS failures on the ice. The Americans failed to bring a full team of women to the Olympics in Torino, and did not even fill the allotted starting positions in the women’s 1500-meter event.
The picture becomes even grimmer when you realize that America’s women long track skaters have not captured a single Olympic medal since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
“Crowe’s inappropriate romantic involvement with female skaters he coached was an open secret in USS for about two decades,” Rodansky told Concussion Inc. “Crowe was the gatekeeper to the upper echelon of American elite long track speedskating. In my view, he was the individual most responsible for the destruction of the U.S. women’s long track team and the destruction of my own speedskating career. I have given detailed testimony on this matter to Sidley Austin and to Congressman [George] Miller’s office.”
For this spring’s USS board meeting, dissident members again submitted proposals to remove Gabel from the Hall of Fame and revoke his USS membership. This initiative coincided with the Change.org petitions on both Gabel and Wielgus, which were coordinated by former Olympic gold medal swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar – then senior director of advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation and now head of her own advocacy group, Champion Women.
At the same time, Rodansky and others filed a grievance against USS that also encompassed other abuses of power by the organization. Some of those, in the complainants’ plausible view, directly related to the failures of the U.S. speedskating team at the Sochi Olympics. (See Rodansky’s March 14 guest column for Concussion Inc., at https://concussioninc.net/?p=8820.)
This background takes us up to threats by Gabel’s attorneys to sue USS and the complainants for defamation. More on that next.