The United States Olympic Committee’s (USOC) newly-formed (and self-described ‘independent’) SafeSport organization has begun looking into a case of an accused coach that USA Swimming reviewed and closed without punishment in 2010.
In a story first reported by Concussion Inc, Sarah Ehekircher, currently a USA Swimming member coach herself, shared details of a relationship between herself and her coach Scott MacFarland in the late 80s that she says began when she was a minor and under his tutelage. MacFarland still coaches in Texas under the name James Scott MacFarland. The case went through the USA Swimming National Board of Review process, and that review did not find cause to take disciplinary action against MacFarland.
The Concussion Inc report, linked above, has the full details of Ehekircher’s allegations of the abuse, and when asked she referred us to that report as “100% accurate” for information. The high-points of the story are that Ehekricher says she was kicked out of her house at 13 by her father and her stepmother, and was invited to live with MacFarland. She says that the relationship turned sexual when she was 17 and a junior in high school and he was 34 and still her coach during a trip to a meet in Irvine, California.
She said that the two went on to have sex on “hundreds of occasions” according to ConcussionInc’s reporting. At 18, she left to swim at the University of Arkansas, but left the program after having an abortion – the first of two she had that she attributes to her sexual intercourse with MacFarland.
When asked what MacFarland’s defense was, Ehekricher told SwimSwam that his claim was that he “was in a sexual relationship with her after she was 18 and at the conclusion of (when) he was her coach.”
Ehekricher says that this story is flawed for two key reasons: one being that he was her coach until she was 24, and the other being that the sexual relationship started when she was 17. That last point is crucial, because per Ehekricher’s allegation that the relationship started at a meet in Irvine, California, it would have been statutory rape under California law, where the age of consent is 18, but not Colorado law, where the age of consent is 17.
When the case was opened in 2010, no civil suit was pursued because the statute of limitations had expired. A law that was circulated in the California legislature in 2013, that USA Swimming lobbied against and was eventually vetoed by governor Jerry Brown, would have changed those statutes of limitations.
ConcussionInc’s report also included an independently-obtained email from NBOR chair John Morse, reflecting on the case:
“The panel struggled with this matter for some time. We have tried our best to do the ‘right thing’ by all parties involved (including Ms. Ehekircher). Because most of the events at issue here took place about 20 years ago and documentation that might otherwise be available in a case about conduct which happened a year ago, for example, has long ago become unavailable, several critical factual issues suffered. Given that the burden of proof in these matters falls on the Petitioner, this ultimately worked to Petitioner’s (and the victim’s) disadvantage. Although the conduct of Respondent in this matter left a lot to be desired and represented poor judgment at best (and no doubt caused Ms. Ehekircher pain and emotional damage), the Board could not find that the Petitioner met its burden of proof to the preponderance of the evidence standard required.”
USA Swimming’s Code of Conduct didn’t explicitly outlaw coach-swimmer relationships until 2013.
Ehekircher shared emails from the USOC’s Center for SafeSport confirming that they were reviewing the accusations against MacFarland after she hand-delivered a report to them last week. Though they weren’t specific as to whether that review was about the accusations themselves or about USA Swimming’s handling of the accusations, the emails did say that, as of Wednesday, they had not received the case file from USA Swimming when they requested it a week earlier. When Ehekircher pressed them for why they had asked for the file for USA Swimming before she filed her report to the USOC, Kathleen Smith, a Senior Investigator at the USOC divulged that they had received another complaint on MacFarland that prompted them to request the USA Swimming file. Ehekircher was uncertain as to whether this complaint related to her case, or if there was another alleged victim that had come forward.
At least one recent addition to USA Swimming’s public “Banned Member List” was a case investigated by the USOC’s Center for Safe Sport, rather than USA Swimming’s internal organization, showing an increased reach by the umbrella USOC Safe Sport organization into investigations of abuse.
After this report was first published, USA Swimming reached out to say that they will cooperate with the U.S. Center for Safe Sport, with a spokesperson stating that “As standard practice, USA Swimming will provide the U.S. Center for Safe Sport with relevant case information for any reports submitted to the Center.”
Update: USA Swimming says that relationships between coaches and their athletes while in supervisory or evaluative control has always been against the rules – the 2013 rules changes involved only relationships that start between adults after the coach-athlete relationship stopped, which MacFarland says is what applies here, while Ehekircher says that the relationship began while MacFarland was still her coach. USA Swimming also says that their age of consent is considered to be 18, regardless of what state or local laws say:
- 305.2 – Any inappropriate sexual conduct or advance, or other inappropriate oral, written, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature at any time, past or present toward any person under the age of eighteen (18) by (i) a coach member or other non-athlete member, or (ii) any other adult participating in any capacity whatsoever in the activities of USA Swimming (whether such adult is a member or not) is prohibited
- 306.3 – Neither civil nor criminal statutes of limitation apply to reports of cases of sexual abuse