Friday, April 15, 2011

Come on, guys. We can do better.

While I was working on my education degree we were warned by professors to never be left alone with a student; never give them a ride home alone; always pull in someone to be a witness during a reprimand…  these were general ways to protect ourselves from false accusations.  We were told that one accusation can be enough to ruin a career. 

Unfortunately I have seen that happen often in cases that are unrelated to swimming, where a person later admits they lied about what happened.  Coaches and teachers are in a position where a kid with a vendetta could do a lot of damage, the court of public opinion can harshly make up their minds against us without knowing the facts, and we do need to be protected… but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take every accusation seriously.  Every child who comes forward, even with just a rumor, needs to be taken very seriously.

Often organizations will suspend someone with pay while an investigation goes on.  That seems fair.  This says that “we need to know more before we let you work with kids again, but out of respect for you, we don‘t want to put your family in financial jeopardy while we take the time to sort this out.  You are still innocent until proven guilty, but we are in the business of protecting children.”  While it is not good practice to fire someone and smear their reputation over a rumor, we can act with sensibility on rumors in the interest of protecting kids.  I would expect my employers to be fair and to support me if an accusation were leveled against me, but I also understand that schools and swim teams cannot just let these things go.  Action needs to be taken.

USA Swimming has this thing called the “banned list.”  That list gives USA Swimming the power to make sure that someone unfit to work with children at least never coaches swimming again. Should we formally make a “suspended pending investigation list” to help to keep us from ruining reputations by putting someone on the “banned for life” list without having to wait for a conviction in a court of law?  Should we have a "flagged list" so that when a coach is hired, the board of that club could get a call from USA Swimming leadership saying "we want you to be aware of these reports we have received about this coach which may or may not be substantiated?"  It sounds like in the case of Mitch Ivey, even that was not enough to keep the University of Florida from hiring him... but at least they knew of his past when they did.

With the list we have the power to keep pedophiles away from our kids even if they get off on a technicality like George Gibney; even if they have never been to court over their violations like Mitch Ivey; even if all we have is recurring rumors like we have had with so many other violators.  We have the power to essentially say, “hey, you aren’t allowed to coach because we aren‘t too sure about you.”  It is not like putting someone on our list is the same as throwing them in prison without a trial. 

I have really struggled with the whole “Splash of Truth” thing.  I don’t like anonymous accusations and I have avoided writing on this topic until now because I don’t want to contribute to smearing someone’s name when I don’t know the facts… but I have to say that even though I don’t agree with SOT‘s tactics, I understand that the site was born out of frustration with a culture that has muffled the voices of victims.  When proper channels lead to dead ends, improper channels are naturally carved out.  I cannot imagine what these victims have gone through.  To feel ignored when they have worked up the bravery to come forward must be crushing.

I have been very careful to follow the advice of my professors to protect myself from false accusations, but if one accusation can ruin my career, why is Mitch Ivey not on the banned list when his history is so well documented?  Why are high school coaches’ convictions not getting them on the list and keeping them out of the USA ranks?  How in the hell did Andy King get to move from club to club for forty years with so many reports of abuse?  Under what rationale did Everett Uchiyama get a letter of recommendation for a job at a country club by our leadership;  and how on Earth was Deena Deardurff-Schmidt ignored for so long, especially after holding a press conference?!  Hell, I knew she was talking about Paul Bergen the first time I read about her case!   Does our leadership just not believe that these people are capable of such horrible things?  Does their opinion on these people trump the protection of athletes? 
He said/ she said arguments might not always go far in the court of law, but they should be enough to take some kind of sensible action in the name of protection.

As our leadership has pointed out, this is not just a swimming problem.  Even the Kanakuk Christian Camp kept a guy on staff for ten years after the first incident was reported and he went on to molest kids on a grand scale.  We have seen events like this uncovered in the Catholic Church over the last decade.  Our sport has the rules and resources in place to not make the same mistakes.  I just don’t get it!  

I know that it would not be easy for anyone, but I like to think that if a student or athlete of mine came to me with an accusation against a colleague, that I would be able to do the right thing, even if that colleague was a friend.  I would make sure that the child was taken seriously.  Parents and the authorities would be contacted.  USA Swimming would be contacted through their hotline.  The coach would be suspended from working with kids until the matter was sorted out, while honoring that the person is innocent until proven guilty… and I would hope that USA Swimming would at least keep that person from moving on to another club until his name has been officially cleared.

I hope that with the adoption of a hotline system, the hiring of Susan Woessner and USA Swimming’s recent policy changes, we can develop a system that protects athletes and coaches with fairness and respect.  We have a lot of work to do in seeking justice for victims, and unfortunately for many it will always be seen as too little, too late.


  1. Boom! Well said SV, all this is too scary (as a coach and as someone who would also believe I would do the right thing in reporting a possible incident). My hope is that SW being hired was not just a way to quiet the detractors (aside from SOT, which seems will never be quieted). Change needs to happen and I am happy USA-S is doing something about it now, even if it is, unfortunately, to late for some..

  2. Splash of truth "was born out of frustration with a culture that has muffled the voices of victims."??? Really. You know enough about the people behind that site to know and trust their intentions?

    They completely lost me when they told us Jim Wood was evil because he tried to build a pool during the years that USA Swimming has been dealing with these issues (granted "dealing" unsuccessfully, awkwardly, and poorly) A pool? Hang the man.

    Quite possibly the site was born of less than the good intentions you understand. I am all for shining the light on USA Swimming's pompous and almost-criminal responsorial to our very real problems. But lumping in Mr Wood with a slew of possible sex offenders is unfair and immature.

  3. Anon, I was kind of thinking the same thing about being lost about Jim Wood. Although I'm not A Splash of Truth, I can only speculate on the reason he/she/they are going after Jim Wood is because he/she/they felt that Wood allowed "staff corruption and scandal to go on right under his nose". Building a pool isn't a big deal. In fact its good. Not doing your job as USA Swimming President is bad. SOT should make that point without using the pool stuff.

  4. So who does everyone think SOT might be???

    Here are some thoughts on what could narrow down the list. 1, they have to be connected in some way to the attorney in California whether its direct or indirect because of their own lawsuit or self interest, 2, they have to be connected to Woessner somehow (coaching, worked with her, etc.) with as much ass-kissing they did on their last post about her, 3, they have to be well connected throughout USA Swimming to be able to gain as much information, factual and embellished, about Schubert, Hutchison, etc., and 4, they have to have an axe to grind with USA Swimming and they have probably been very vocal about their displeasure before going this route.

    Any guesses???

  5. I have no idea who this might be. But after the ridiculous attack on Jim Wood, it would have to be someone who has an ax to grind with Jim as well. I don't know anyone involved with USA Swimming who has any problem with Jim. I can think of one person who fills most of the criteria above. And in addition to having been very vocal about his displeasure (and self-promoting) - may have thought himself a better choice than Jim at the time.

  6. There is one person that definitely has an axe to grind with USA Swimming and even has his name listed as contacting Deardurff in her deposition. However, I don't think he has the contacts to be able to get all of this on his own.

  7. "You are still innocent until proven guilty..." This is our Constitutional right. Unless charges are brought, legal proceedings take place and adjudication is determined, EVERYONE has the right to persue happiness in the form of a livelihood.

    "Should we have a 'flagged list' so that when a coach is hired, the board of that club could get a call from USA Swimming leadership saying 'we want you to be aware of these reports we have received about this coach which may or may not be substantiated?'"

    "even if all we have is recurring rumors like we have had with so many other violators. We have the power to essentially say, 'hey, you aren’t allowed to coach because we aren‘t too sure about you.'”

    The aforementioned will lead to lawsuits filed against USA-S, or others who make these statements, for slander and defamation of character.

    Bottom line, the system will only work when those unfortunate enough to have been abused will have the courage to file charges and see the process to its conclusion. I cant even begin to imagine how difficult that would be for the abused and his/her family, but this is the only way for the undesirables to be prosecuted and removed from our sport.

    As for comments re: Mr Wood (pool construction - he is a coach and has the right to run his business) and Mr Malone... what in the hell do those have to do with the issues of child protection?

    SOT, you need to STOP with those! You are only smearing people and not helping with the issues you were originally very adimant about - child protection and corruption of USA-S.

  8. Screaming Viking... What can USA-S legally say about a coach if he/she is applying to a new team?

    The choices are, "Yes, the coach is a credentialled member" or "No, the coach is not a credentialled member."

    Being a member informs the new team that the coach is not on a banned list. Not being a member means just that... not registered.

    Now, USA-S can tell a team that a coach in question has been banned for whatever offense and cannot become a member.

    After all that, USA-S cannot legally inform a team of anything. USA-S couldnt tell a team a coach is under investigation since there could be a false rumor which initated the investigation, etc.

    We are on the slippery slope. As a coach, my career could be ended by a rumor. Where is my defense? Is there a coaches protection plan as well?

  9. coaches should not be in one-on-one enviorments with a swimmer. no coach should want to be put in that situation ...NO Coach!
    there should always be another coach or parent present when working with minors.!!
    Parents, swimmers, and coaches(teachers/counselors) need to be educated on this fact and USS should make some rules that mandate it.
    This needs to be evaluated at a much larger level than swimming. All activities involving minors require it.

  10. You left out one other thought on narrowing down who SOT might be: they don't care for John Leonard and ASCA!

  11. Splash is at it again. Several updates to the swimnscandal site including a letter from the San Jose attorney and some John Leonard emails that they/he/she got their hands on.

  12. SV - I posted a response, but I guess it didnt take.

    IMO, and I am not a lawyer, USA-S and ASCA could probably only divulge whether or not the coach in question has been or is a member.

    USA-S - could provide membership status, possibly even previous clubs.

    ASCA - could provide membership status, certification level.

    But if a coach has moved around, this isnt necessarily b/c the coach had some wrongdoing. From team concept changes, financial or facility issues, better opportunities, and so on, its really difficult to nail down why a coach may leave one team for another.

    Unless of course, some type of legal action is taking place.

    As for clubs, they could easily do their own background checks, including running the coach's driver's license and even going as for to get a credit score/rating. Why dont clubs do this? Its fairly inexpensive and easy to do.

    So there are many avenues clubs have to protect themselves. It only take a little research.

  13. as a swim parent and volunteer swim official.. i think, at our club at least, there has been too little disclosure of what's been going on and i suspect many parents are not aware. suddenly we're submitting to background checks - as officials -- and evern as meet director, had to submit to backgroun checks... and at no point has anyone said why, nor has there been any disclosure about what increased $$$ are being kicked up the chain to fund the legal battles that are taking place... my kid loves to swim but this has felt like the catholic church for some time.