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On Eve of Congressional Meeting, USA Swimming Escalates Lobbying and PR in Coach Sex Abuse Scandals

This week's announcement that USA Swimming has commissioned an "independent review" of its safe sport program is just the latest in a series of chess moves by this U.S. Olympic Committee national governing body in the run-up to a meeting next week with the staff of Congressman George Miller, the California Democrat and ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce who is investigating how the organization responds to sexual abuse allegations.

Paul Newberry of the Associated Press wrote an excellent article blunting this particular round of organized swimming's $200,000 public relations offensive on the issue of widespread sexual abuse by youth coaches over the last generation. The new PR campaign was the subject of an internal memo, first reported by my website Concussion Inc. and later analyzed in my piece for MomsTeam. Girl swimming butterfly

Wisely, the wire service did not stop with the rosy self-appraisal of the hire of Victor Vieth of the National Child Protection Training Center to evaluate the steps that were put in place only after ABC's 20/20 investigation three years ago exposed the magnitude of the sex abuse issue. Reporter Newberry also quoted B. Robert Allard, a leading attorney for victims in this sport, characterizing the review as "'lipstick applied to a pig' as the organization prepares to meet with congressional investigators."

Of course, independent reviews are not always and absolutely calculated whitewash jobs. But as Vieth proceeds to evaluate USA Swimming's website, education, outreach, administrative flow charts, and a set of National Board of Review investigative procedures widely criticized as both slow and unsupportive of victims' claims, only the most naive and beholden to the Olympic "brand" could fail to ask obvious questions. One is: "Why now?"

Another is: Under what suspension of our critical faculties should we be trusting this leadership to put its house in order -- the same leadership, under $800,000-a-year CEO Chuck Wielgus, whose institutionally defensive definition of "rumors" delayed for more than 20 years the prosecution of rapist Maryland coach Rick Curl? (Curl got busted only after victim Kelley Davies Currin finally had had enough, and went public after seeing him on the deck at the 2012 Olympic Trials. USA Swimming vice president David Berkoff, who represents himself as a reformer, admits that he also was surprised to see Curl at the Trials, because Berkoff thought Curl was still on the lam in Australia -- as if that would have excused the organization's failure to take action against a known molester.)

This is an example of lapses on which only a Congressional investigation, not a carefully circumscribed "independent review," can shed useful light. Quite apart from the safe sport program itself, USA Swimming has to answer for the unannounced departures, following the emergence of evidence of sexual misconduct, of executive staffers Everett Uchiyama and Will Colebank. Both moved on to jobs in which they would interact with children; as a Colorado high school teacher, Colebank was convicted of child pornography and solicitation -- the same offenses that have now prompted his ultra-quiet removal from swimming headquarters in Colorado Springs.

Even sticking strictly to the defined mission of the review -- the efficacy of the purported safe sport improvements under Susan Woessner, the administrator hired following the 20/20 embarrassment -- Vieth will find plenty to criticize if his eyes are open and he is honest about what he sees.

USA Swimming's background checks, which were a joke when instituted in 2006 (they whiffed on monster multi-state pedophile Andy King, now spending his last days in California state prison), remain a joke. One of the main consultants on their design, Barry Nadell, hardly inspires confidence: he also owns the domain name and registered business name "Hooking Up With Tawnie Lynn." One result of Nadell's handiwork is that James Pantera -- a con man who served federal prison time (the front-page newspaper story about him is near the top of a simple Google search) -- got USA Swimming to accredit him to start his own club in San Diego as recently as February of this year. And yet Pantera still hasn't been banned.

Mike Saltzstein, the dissident former USA Swimming board member who exposed Pantera, said, "They haven't even subjected Pantera to a hearing. But they did manage to copy me on internal correspondence attacking me and claiming they did not ‘know what I was up to' when reporting the guy. Help me again understand why it will take swimming at least eight months to ban the guy (presumes they ban him), yet the city and the public school in San Diego took less than a week." "Don't you have to wonder what his (Mike's) agenda really is," said the internal memo.

Not within the scope of Vieth's review (but let's hope within that of Congress) is the fact that safe sport director Susan Woessner's sister, Geri Woessner, was also hired by USA Swimming -- to an executive position in the marketing department.

The sports parents of America cannot allow next week's meeting between Congressman Miller's staff and a group of national sports officials (including Susan Woessner and Desiree Filippone, the Olympic Committee's managing director for government relations) to be "one and done." It must be the start of a process that concludes with public hearings and full accountability for USA Swimming.

Irvin Muchnick's book The Concussion Inc. Files will be published in 2014. His 2012 ebook, Penn State in the Pool: The Cover-Up of the USA Swimming Youth Coach Sex Abuse Scandal, is available on Amazon Kindle.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MomsTEAM.

Posted August 20, 2013