Tuesday, December 20, 2011

100 Minutes with Chuck Part 3: Why?

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.


  1. Chris,
    Good perspective, but it doesn't explain the emails to 'keep things quiet'. It doesn't explain the 'blame the victim' mentality. It doesn't explain the basic responsibility to 'do the right thing'. That's not generational, that's just stupid. Ignorance, awareness and education might be generational, stupidity knows no bounds.

    There's a senior coach on a team in the Milwaukee area that recently called one of his female swimmers 'stupid', and 'an embarrassment'. That's not an unusual comment for him to make. Too many coaches think they are motivating with degrading comments like this. That kind of behavior can't be tolerated. Too many teams condone this 'coaching by degrading'. And too many parents are reluctant to do anything because they don't want to 'rock the boat'.

    It doesn't help when the people in power don't follow through on complaints, or dismiss the complaint because 'it's not a code violation'. If an action is questionable or morally irresponsible, most people will see that as 'wrong'. If a pedophile owns a practice facility (it happened), most thinking, breathing people will see that as 'wrong'. If this doesn't qualify as a code violation, then the code needs to be changed. If a coach is 'following' 50 or 60 porn stars, porn site and Hooters models in his Twitter account, most people will see this as morally wrong. If the code doesn't address the proper use of social media, then the code needs to be changed.

    And with this change, effective people need to be put into positions to deal with these issues.

    That's not happening, locally or nationally.

  2. "Stupid" and "an embarrassment" are unacceptable adjectives? What if they're accurate? Called a kid "fat, lazy and out of shape" today. After six months of trying to encourage, cajole, and support a kid didn't work, this phrase actually got him to realize that he was, well . . . fat, lazy and out of shape.

  3. 'Coach' Cannonball... If you use those words to inspire or motivate your athletes, you're as much an embarrassment as Chuck Wielgus... And your tagline in twitter says it all. you've been 'coaching' for too long...

    Maybe the problem is YOU...

    A sampling of your more inspirational twitter posts (https://twitter.com/#!/stateswimming/):

    'BeRecruited just sent me an e-mail telling me a recruit was interested. HE is 5'4" and weighs 135#. #Thanksfornothing'

    'Why is it only the crappy kids "like" our team's Facebook page?'

    'Not even sure why we order sandwiches for after the meet. We're gonna get our lunch handed to us this Saturday.'

    'Not sure which has less power, East Campus or our sprint group.'

    'wish we could count our intersquad in our dual meet record. It might be the only meet we win this year. that is IF we win.'

    'If my team didn't suck so much, it would fly into space.'

    'When your first two voicemails are from the Dean of Students and the sheriff's office, wisdom dictates you avoid the Assoc AD at all costs.'

  4. Coach Cannonball - I agree with anon - you are the embarrassment - you should not be coaching!!!!

  5. 'I was under the impression that Coach Cannonball was not a real person and instead was somebody's fictitious twitter persona.'

    I truly hope that that is the case.