Photo credit: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

For a period of decades, USA Swimming fostered a “culture of sexual abuse” and ignored or covered up hundreds of cases of underage swimmers being sexually abused, according to a report by the Orange County Register. From the report:

USA Swimming repeatedly missed opportunities to overhaul a culture within American swimming where the sexual abuse of underage swimmers by their coaches and others in positions of power within the sport was commonplace and even accepted by top officials and coaches, according to the documents and interviews with sexual abuse survivors, former Olympians, USA Swimming officials, safe sport advocates and some of USA Swimming’s leading financial benefactors.

The report is rich with details, and I recommend reading the whole thing. It highlights a speech given in 2005 by then-President of USA Swimming Ron Van Pool, urging the organization to take a more proactive approach to dealing with abuses committed against swimmers. According to documents reviewed by the Southern California News Group, that call largely fell on indifferent ears:

Top USA Swimming executives, board members, top officials and coaches acknowledge in the documents that they were aware of sexually predatory coaches for years, in some cases even decades, but did not take action against them. In at least 11 cases either [USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus] or other top USA Swimming officials declined to pursue sexual abuse cases against high profile coaches even when presented with direct complaints, documents show.

And here’s an absolutely staggering statistic:

In he more than 20 years since Wielgus took charge of USA Swimming in July 1997 at least 252 swim coaches and officials have been arrested, charged by prosecutors, or disciplined by USAS for sexual abuse or misconduct against individuals under 18. Those coaches and officials have a total of at least 590 alleged victims, some of them abused while attending pre-school swim classes.

Advertisement

The report paints a picture of USA Swimming as every bit as dysfunctional and indifferent toward victims as USA Gymnastics. While a lot of the blame expressed in the report is pointed towards Chuck Wielgus, who died in 2017, and who is described as having “absolute control of the issue of coach-swimmer sexual abuse,” it’s impossible for abuse on the scale alleged to go unchecked without the participation of others, and probably dozens of others. Consider this infuriating detail:

USA Swimming since at least 2010 has kept a list of more than 30 coaches and officials “flagged” by USA Swimming officials after being arrested or accused by law enforcement of sex crimes including rape and child pornography, but not disciplined by USA Swimming. Some coaches and officials on the “flagged” list have not been banned even after they have been convicted of felonies. Of the 32 people on the “flagged list” in 2010, only six have been subsequently banned by USA Swimming. The “flagged list” is not available to the public. Even when USA Swimming has banned coaches and officials for life for sexual misconduct it can be years before their names are listed on the permanently banned list on USA Swimming’s website.

You should read the entire report. The failure of adult-run systems built on the achievements of young athletes to protect those athletes from horrifying abuse is breathtaking.

Advertisement