The SwimVortex Safe Sport Series
Athlete members of the USA Swimming Board of Directors have acknowledged that those who led their sport have “made errors in judgment” in their handling of sex abuse allegations, while stating their belief that much work has been done to right those wrongs.
“Further action must reinforce the cultural and structural changes that are already underway,” say the athlete representatives, Mark Weber, Van Donkersgoed, Natalie Coughlin, Anthony Ervin, Aaron Peirsol, Davis Tarwater, Derek Paul and Chip Peterson. Their names reveal a truth that has already been highlighted by those seeking deep change in the way things have long been done – the gender gap in swimming governance: seven out of eight of the athletes are men, Coughlin the only woman.
The athletes write: “First, we do not and will not tolerate sexual misconduct in the sport. We are disgusted with any person who would manipulate the duty of coaching and molding young people, as we are with any volunteer leader or staff member who enabled this to persist – either actively or passively. We stand with victims through our actions and we will stand up for them at the highest levels of USA Swimming by ensuring real and significant change.
“This includes holding accountable anyone involved with USA Swimming who either actively or passively allowed these tragedies to occur.”
The latter is significant at a time when pressure grows for swimming to face a Congressional hearing alongside other Olympic sports operating under the United States Olympic Committee umbrella (more on that soon). The athletes commit to something that has been sorely lacking in many aspects of swimming governance when they write:
“…we are committed to having more transparent and open discussion, including asking ourselves the hard questions as to why any complacence was allowed to exist, and to ensure that will not recur.”
The transparency they seek must include, critics are bound to note, engagement with the likes of Nancy Hogshead-Makar and other advocates for victims who have long been campaigning for action to be taken, if the lessons of those “errors of judgment” are to be learned.
- Writing under a banner of “Athlete Statement Regarding Recent Media Coverage” – the athletes’ let in full:
The recent media coverage regarding USA Swimming, combined with the resignations of two of our senior staff, portrays a negative image of USA Swimming.
There is truth that in recent decades senior leadership, both within the volunteer governance and staff, made errors in judgment. This must be admitted. It is also true that USA Swimming has taken many positive institutional steps to better our sport and to protect athletes. Further action must reinforce the cultural and structural changes that are already underway.
First, we do not and will not tolerate sexual misconduct in the sport. We are disgusted with any person who would manipulate the duty of coaching and molding young people, as we are with any volunteer leader or staff member who enabled this to persist – either actively or passively. We stand with victims through our actions and we will stand up for them at the highest levels of USA Swimming by ensuring real and significant change. This includes holding accountable anyone involved with USA Swimming who either actively or passively allowed these tragedies to occur.
Where We’ve Been
In 2010, USA Swimming launched the Safe Sport program. This both acknowledged and started to fix the wrongs that took place in the past as well as those that may take place in the future. The evolution of that process involved the dedication and expertise of many athlete leaders – some of whom were themselves victims of sexual abuse.
We proudly emphasize one fact recent media coverage has omitted: while certainly not perfect, USA Swimming’s policies have become the model that other NGBs have strived for. Further, our procedures, including reporting, investigating, and adjudicating cases of misconduct have resulted in over 100 individuals being removed from the sport.
Where We Must Go
As the athlete leaders on the Board of Directors, we are calling on our Board colleagues and staff leadership to ensure that removing sexual misconduct from our ranks is not just a desire but a primary mandate for the entire organization.
Just as we strongly advocated last year for the governance restructuring which will clarify and elevate the accountability of both the Board of Directors and staff, we are calling on all members and stakeholders to move forward together in this endeavor as a united family.
We are continually evaluating the effectiveness of our Safe Sport Program and seeking ways to strengthen it for even greater athlete protection. We are focused on ensuring that our organization will be even more vigilant. And, we are committed to having more transparent and open discussion, including asking ourselves the hard questions as to why any complacence was allowed to exist, and to ensure that will not recur.
To close, we want to hear from you, athletes, and we call on you during this time to reach out with your feedback and questions.
- Mark Weber, Athletes’ Vice-Chair
- Van Donkersgoed, Deputy Athletes’ Vice-Chair
- Natalie Coughlin Hall, USOC AAC Representative
- Anthony Ervin, USOC AAC Alternate Representative
- Aaron Peirsol, FINA Athletes Commission
- Davis Tarwater, Athlete Representative
- Derek Paul, Athlete Representative
- Chip Peterson, Athlete Representative
The SwimVortex Safe Sport Series – so far:
- significant developments in GB Masters
- the words of Olympic podium placer Michael Jamieson and considered their relevance to woeful culture at the heart of FINA and the poor response of national federations who show no inclination to use their potential power to change the game in the interests of athlete protection from various forms of abuse.
- the Larry Nassar abuse case, a story about much more than a doctor who traded the hippocratic oath for hypocrisy and criminality; a story that calls into question the usefulness of the Olympic Movement, the United States Olympic Committee and the role of USA Swimming when it comes to the protection of athletes.
- Climate Change: empowering coaches to ensure sport is a safe, healthy and enriching place for all, at whatever level: we recall 2014 lectures delivered by Prof. Joan Duda, of Empowering Coaching, at the World Aquatics Development Conference in Lund on a day of high relevance to current events; and by Dr. Fiona McLachlan, academic adviser to Shane Gould in the 1972 triple Olympic champion’s PHD studies, for the guardians of swimming youth to consider “How to be Good”.
- the relevance of Fran Crippen and his passing to events at the Winter Olympics.
- the death of Qing Wenyi
- World Coaches call for global swim community to press FINA on clean sport
- If Prohibition Must Sober The Olympics, Then Ban The Blazers Craving Nobel Prizes
- Time To Ban The Olympic Cold Shoulder To Truth, Whistleblowing & Red-Flag Waving
- I Ran Past The First Watchman … Does your silence indicate permission to pass?
- Why USA Swimming’s Leadership Must Face Full Inquiry Into Abuse Down The Years – The Orange Country register’s telling investigation
- Susan Woessner Resigns As USA Swimming Safe Sport Boss Admitting Hutchison Link
- Don Heidary, ASCA Board President, Writes Of ‘Real Culture of American Swimming’
Questions sent out this week to pertinent parties:
- Questions For Coaches On Their Jobs, Athlete Welfare & The Role Of Blazers
- Questions For USA Swimming, USAS & Their Busy Safe Sport Unit
- Questions For Athletes Who Represent Athletes At The House Of FINA