I want to make something very clear from the beginning of this post. I am about to give my best attempt at explaining why not just Chuck but our board of directors and others failed to do the right thing. I think it's an important endeavor to understand, but not excuse why bad things happen. I'll repeat it simply for emphasis: I want to explain but not excuse.
In my last post I discussed my own motivations. One of the things I left out is that I feel a lot of compassion for my abuser. I don't know, but I have a strong feeling that he feels the same hurt that I did. It is likely that he is still living with it while I have been able to (mostly) move on. The sad truth of abuse is that many abusers were abused themselves. They are deeply hurt individuals that need help.
But what about everybody else? The people who turn a blind eye, or don't say anything, or only go as far as their lawyer tells them they need go? Why do they do it? I believe there are a variety of explanations for this behavior.
Allow me to get briefly sidetracked with an anecdote. My mother in law grew up in Baltimore during the 1960s and 70s. She remembers quite well being allowed to play and run around the city on her own. It wasn't abnormal behavior. People, in general, just weren't that worried about what would happen to children let run free in a big city. A few decades later, with violent crime actually much less frequent in a major city like Baltimore, people are much more hesitant to let their children run free. Why? Because they are much more aware of the potential danger, even though it is less. This is a paradox that is facing the swimming community today: I think that if many parents knew how likely it was that their coach was abusing children, they would likely stay. At the same time, having that knowledge is probably one of the best deterrents there is.
There is a generational gap in understanding just how big of a problem this is. When I say "generational gap", I am not suggesting that all people older than a certain date do not understand and all younger people do. I am saying that the younger you are, the more likely you understand. Joe Paterno, for instance, came from a generation that generally did not talk about sexual abuse. His experience can explain why Paterno did not do the right thing. Joe Paterno's age and culture help to explain why he did the things he did, but they don't excuse it.
Walking away from my meeting with Chuck, I realized that this generational gap is more than just this issue. There is a generation that is entrenched with power in swimming as a sport right now. Take a look, for instance, at the coaching staff for World Championships last summer, with approximate ages:
Eddie Reese (70), Frank Busch (60), Gregg Troy (60), Bob Bowman (48), Jon Urbanchek (70?), Teri McKeever (50), Jack Bauerle (56?)
The USA Swimming Board of Directors is lead by President Bruce Stratton (app. 62). A quick scan of the rest of the board finds few, if any, young people (and I'm defining young as less than 45 years old) where they aren't required, i.e athlete reps.
It would be very "young turk" of me to just dismiss the accomplishments of all these people off hand. They are there because they have done good things in swimming. Chuck was extremely proud and eager to talk to me in our meeting about all of his other accomplishments as Executive Director. I have to confess that was I was 13 years old when he took the position I have very little idea what it was like before he got there. It is obvious that there are people who have been around and feel positive about his leadership.
The makeup of USA Swimming, both it's volunteer board, it's paid employees, and the most powerful coaches with the most influence, are overwhelmingly stacked with people who likely empathize with Chuck for being caught off guard in 2008. They were likely caught off guard as well. Unless USA Swimming leadership makes an effort to empower their young critics they will continue to lead from behind on this issue. Meanwhile, that younger generation looks on, disgusted, incredulous that their leadership could be caught off guard by something they think is so obvious. Even more enraging for that younger, disempowered generation is the lack of accountability. They see the people in power make mistakes but they see no consequences.
In between, there is room for reconciliation. But it has to start at the top, with the people in power. Those on the bottom have already made plenty of concessions- they had no choice.