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
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
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.