Monday, April 11, 2011

Deena Deardurff Schmidt's Heartbreaking Deposition

Throughout my blogs chronicling USA Swimming's handling of sexual abuse, I've read many troubling stories. There is perhaps none that have left me as sick to my stomach as I was after reading the recently posted deposition of Deena Deardurff Schmidt. While SOT (Splash of Truth) has given some attention to the aggressive tactics of the USA Swimming lawyer, I think there is a far more troubling narrative in this deposition.

Deardurff Schmidt gave a press conference over a year ago saying that she had been molested during her time at Cincinnati Marlins in the 1960s and 70s. While she didn't name the coach, anyone with a little google savvy could figure out who that coach was: Paul Bergen. In the deposition, she names Bergen although she still has considerable trepidation about doing so. The immediate question this begs is "why?", a detail which I think becomes clearer when you see the fruitless efforts Deardurff Schmidt has made to pursue action against Bergen.

At the center of the case is whether USA Swimming had legitimate complaints from victims that they were required to act on. I'm not a legal expert but the deposition reveals that she made a considerable effort to confront what had happened to her, one that is frankly quite uncommon for a sexual abuse victim.

Deardurff Schmidt first tried to report the crime to the Cincinnati District Attorney in 1975. Unfortunately, a ridiculous statute of limitations precluded the DA from pressing any charges just three years after she said the abuse stopped. At the time, USA Swimming did not exist in its present form until 1980. Deardurff Schmidt went on to indicate that she Chuck Wielgus predecessor Ray Essick in the late 1980s. Deardurff Schmidt answers twice what she thought of his response. The lawyer asking questions in this deposition is Robert Rucci representing USA Swimming:

Rucci: When you told Ray Essick face-to-face in the late 1980s about your period of abuse, what did he say in regards to that?
Deardurff Schmidt: I don't recall the conversation. I recall that most everyone I told in coaching gave me an answer that I felt was very  vague and dismissive, that my coach was a great coach

Later on:

Rucci: What do you recall him telling you to do?
Deardurff Schmidt: I did not get a solution
Rucci: Well, what solution were you looking for at the time?
Deardurff Schmidt: That an action be taken and this be investigated
Rucci: Okay. And did you ask him to do that?
Deardurff Schmidt: I believe that I asked him why they hadn't done something to this coach that was widely known as a sexual predator.

Frustrated by the lack of response, Deardurff Schmidt went on to tell of how she was contacted by Mission Bay Aquatics after they were considering Bergen for a position. She asserts that another swimmer contacted the club to tell of past abuse by Bergen. Bergen was being considered to replace Mark Schubert at the time in 1988. He initially accepted a contract offer but ultimately pulled out citing contract problems. It is unclear whether the club had spoken to Deardurff and the other swimmer when they initially hired him. Deardurff Schmidt said she contacted a second club, Blue Fin Aquatics in San Diego when Bergen was working there.

In perhaps the most chilling part of the deposition, Deardurff Schmidt mentions confronting Bergen on a pool deck when she was 19 years old. She says that he did not deny abusing her and spent two hours talking to her.

Deardurff Schmidt also names very prominent coaches that she says she told over the years:

Rucci: Who were the prominent coaches that you talked to through the years about your abuse?
Deardurff Schmidt: I don't have a list of them off the top of my head
Rucci: Can you think of any?
Deardurff Schmidt: Richard Quick, Jim Montrella, Mike Troy, Eddie Reese
Rucci: Okay
Deardurff Schmidt: Denny Pursley

Lastly, Schmidt answers under oath that she had responded to a 2005 e-mail from ASCA Executive Director John Leonard, detailing her abuse under Bergen. She says that Leonard was e-mailing her because he wanted additional information about Bergen's character.

If Schmidt's testimony is true, the implications are startling. Why was there seemingly no inclination by any of the above to do anything? The lack of response indicates to me that none of the above believed Deardurff Schmidt. In fact, it seems quite clear that John Leonard does not believe her, given that multiple photos of Bergen are featured in the "Photo Album- Coaches" section of ASCA's website.

So we are left to try and explain why those that Deardurff Schmidt told did not believe her. Before I make an attempt, let me make it very clear that I am not giving an endorsement for them but instead looking for answers. I believe the above were friends or at least collegial with Bergen. They simply couldn't get themselves to believe that he had done something so monstrous and perhaps they never will.


  1. Wow. I guess we didn't have to wait a whole lot longer for more direct implication, did we...

  2. She said, he said arguments do not carry a lot of weight in a court of law. There should be a record at the DAs office showing the original "beyond statute of limitations" complaint. Supplying that documentation along with a written complaint to ANY of the people supposedly engaged in conversation would have ensured follow up. Abuse at the hands of an adult is heartbreaking. But I read the deposition and noted many instances where the answers were hazy regarding who was spoken to and what was said. Perhaps these coaches were approached, and if credible information had been passed along, they should have followed up...perhaps. But the deposition fails to clearly state if the conversations were in depth or in passing, where they occured (on a pool deck during a meet) and what precipitated them. I would also like to know where the meeting with the abusive coach took place for 2 hours.

  3. Anon,

    I hear your critique. However, its fairly hard to expect her to remember exactly what was discussed in these conversations, almost all of which happened over 20 years ago. Now, you may accuse me of biased logic as I have railed against Chuck Wielgus for having little if any memory of anything related to the case in his deposition.

    I understand that unfortunately we are stuck with he said/she said but I do think that the culture of swimming has made it extremely difficult for victims of sexual abuse so I feel some sympathy for Deardurff Schmidt

  4. Wasn't Bergen still in Canada in 1988 since he had Higson get the 200BR world record in 1988???

    Also, if Eddie knew this about Paul then why would his brother have him speak at that Clearwater Coaches Clinic 6 months ago???

  5. "But the deposition fails to clearly state if the conversations were in depth or in passing, where they occured (on a pool deck during a meet) and what precipitated them."
    This is exactly the problem. It seems to be absurd to require a victim to have a in-depth conversation to convince one of these high profile national coaches to take action against one of their esteemed colleague. Revealation of sexual abuse are frequently made in vague terms at the beginning. If these coached truely have the swimmer's best interest in their mind, these vague references should be picked up and lead to action.

  6. When Bergen left the Marlins he took over NAC, which, if I remember correctly, didn't have waterpolo. Deardurff said she confronted him a few years after she left when he came back to town for a waterpolo competition but I don't think he ever coached waterpolo.

    Also, knowing Eddie, if something like this was brought to his attention he would have done something about it. He cares so much more about his athletes as people than he does as swimmers and I have to believe he would do the same in this circumstance.

  7. NAC did indeed add water polo under Paul Bergen and did travel to Ohio for meets as well as water polo matches.

  8. It seems like a standard of the top coaches in the sport to have such rumors chasing them around, or be married to women who were swimmers 10 years younger than them.
    it is a well known rumor, for many years now, that Bergen was a pedophile. I have a good friend, who i trust, who swam for Bergen as a canadian national team member, in the 80's and i believe what he told me back in the 90's about Bergen... which leaves no doubt the man should be investigated.
    I think most people simply don't know how to react to such accusations. It is ashamed this wasn't dealt with when she initially contacted authorities. The nations views on all this were very different in the 70's, 80's, 90's.
    Just because she is a very good swimmer doesn't mean she isn't vindictive and mean hearted to the point of leveling false accusations to get even with someone she despises. Bergen was very tough(some would argue mean spirited).
    It seems formal investigation is merited if for no other reason than to clear the name of the coach.
    I have absolutely no doubts about Ivey. the fact that ASCA would continue to include him in their hall-of-fame demonstrates ASCA's real values are focused solely on success measure in gold.

  9. It makes me sick to read all the rationalizing from the sidelines. Bergen is a sexual abuser. This comes from the "other swimmer" mentioned in the deposition. Bergen had the job, then a phone call to Mission Bay about his inappropriate conduct with female swimmers was detailed , the club director investigated, talking to many sources...and then the offer was withdrawn. Bergen knew I had called and contacted me immediatley afterward and admitted to me that he "had a problem". And he was going to work with horses instead, which he did without much sucsess before returning to swimming. Again....people just don't want to believe..same thing that has gone on for 40 years. Bergen is a monster.....

  10. I swam for Bergen in Nashville in the 70s, and we all knew he was sleeping with at least one female swimmer. He was an astounding creep who ruined lives,.

    1. I had a friend on that team.

    2. You are absolutety right! He did a lot of mental abuse. But she has survived!

  11. People! Wake up. If you have information about actual things he did, come forward. Report it to USAS and make sure this guy never tries to darken the doorway of pool again. It takes action to solve the problem not simply words.

  12. There is NO STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS for sexual abuse claims under USAS's COde of Conduct. See Article 306.4

  13. Paul Bergen was in Napa as head coach of Napa Valley Swim Team (NVST) and Bob Bowman was there with him for a short time as well training a very young Michael Phelps. Bergen was seemingly protected by swim parent coaches and when I complained about him, it fell on deaf ears. Eventually, the entire team broke up (then he left because all the $$$ was gone) in to 2 teams, Wine Valley Aquatics (the late Julian Schmidt formed group) and NVST was never the same since. He destroyed lives AND clubs.

    Oh, and the NVST also paid for his stable of race horses to be taken care of and he was promised a handsome 6 figure salary on top of that to get him to come there as head coach. Although I have no proof, I am quite certain that he was abusing swimmers at that time as well but did not know many of the swimmers parents or the young kids.

    We had tried (as president of Napa Valley Masters Swim Club) to get some pool time in the shallow end of the pool for a reasonable price...but he would not even talk to us.

    What a pomp, arrogant ass he was... I knew there was something about him that just rubbed me the wrong way, now I know. The reason more young swimmers did not and still don't report this kind of thing is the possibility the coach will deny it and the parents support him instead of the swimmer. He should be in prison...

  14. So what was the reasoning that Texas cut Bergen loose, or is this another quiet swimming "club" secret............. Apparently he left there in short order

  15. Paul came to Waukesha, WI immediately after leaving the Marlins. I was 14 at the time and he was grooming me to be another victim. From there he moved to the PAC (Philadelphia Aquatic Club) for a while until it was found out he was sexually involved with one of the swimmers. All these years I have been haunted by him and the unwillingness of the larger culture to put an end to the sexual abuse. Shameful that he has been allowed to continue all because he was a "good" coach.