On the Tuesday before my meeting with Chuck Wielgus, I couldn't sleep. Saturday morning brought back a lot of bad memories I would rather not relive. There were four of us in the lounge of the Marriot Marquis: Chuck and I with Susan Woessner and my wife Kate. We spoke for roughly an hour and forty minutes, far longer than I expected. If my thoughts before the meeting were tortured, afterwards I almost had too much to process. My opinions about Chuck's actions and leadership are unchanged. In a series of blogs this week, I hope to explain everything as I saw it.
Chuck told someone later that although he thought the meeting went well, he wished he could've gotten me to crack a smile. While proposing the meeting, Susan had expressed her hope that I would feel differently about Chuck once I met him. Chuck spoke frequently of his children, two teenage girls and two older sons. I had no preconceptions about Chuck personally, but I'm not so naive about the world that I thought only someone monstrous could do what he has done. It's an unfortunate truth that many people who are otherwise considered "good people" can fail to do the right thing. That was part of the comparison I was trying to draw between Chuck and Joe Paterno in a previous blog.
As I mentioned in the comment section of my previous blog, our conversation started long before Saturday. Chuck e-mailed trying to "manage [my] expectations" for what we could discuss. When pressed, Chuck quoted USA Swimming's confidentiality policy. He also made it clear he wanted to say less than it allowed. He also said he wouldn't discuss "personnel", citing "standard business practice". I agreed to respect the confidentiality outlined in the USA Swimming rulebook, and nothing more.
He provided more explanation when we met. He pleaded that, given the ever growing list of lawsuits against USA Swimming and their handling of sexual abuse by coaches, lawyers governed what he could say. Chuck asserted that he wants to engage his critics. He now feels powerless to do so, although he told Kate later that he didn't feel he needed to answer my criticisms anyway.
I decided before the conversation that I wouldn't go in guns blazing. The responses that I got were telling, those given to Kate were far more so. Chuck was not as defensive for Kate's questions. When she asked him whether he was caught off guard by having to deal with the problem of sexual abuse by coaches, he was emphatic that he was. I got the impression that Chuck believes any other person would have done the same: that critics like me are abusing hindsight. Those two responses were part of a theme: Chuck would say something humble and then undermine it. I asked him later whether he thought USA Swimming members had a right to be disappointed in his leadership. He admitted that he felt badly about his performance in the ABC 20/20 interview but followed that up with a defense of why he did not do well. He cited that the 20/20 interview was the only disappointment that the USA Swimming board had in him. (EDIT: Chuck emailed me after reading the blog to inform me that neither he nor the board considered this the only disappointment.
I hope to explain in the following blogs just how complex the problem is we are facing. I left the meeting feeling no different about Chuck's actions. Whether or not he did not fulfill his legal responsibility as our leader will be decided in the courts and not in this blog. USA Swimming members can judge whether Chuck meets their expectations as a leader of our organization. Just as with the law, ignorance is no excuse.