Attorney Bob Allard, who frequently represents survivors of sexual abuse in lawsuits against USA Swimming, has written an open letter on behalf of sexual abuse survivors calling for USA Swimming to “expel” 8 people from the organization.
Allard’s letter says the eight named individuals have been part of a USA Swimming culture that “has been responsible for the sexual abuse of countless minor swimmers.” Allard specifically names the following individuals, asking USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey to permanently and publicly ban them from the sport:
- Murray Stephens
- Paul Bergen
- John Leonard
- Mary Jo Swalley
- Mark Schubert
- Clint Benton
- Millie Nygren
- Steve Morsilli
The letter, and all eight names, are related to a set of three civil lawsuits filed last month by six survivors of sexual abuse under new California laws that extend the statute of limitations for such suits. The suits revolve around three now-banned swim coaches: Mitch Ivey, Everett Uchiyama, and Andy King. The suits say USA Swimming failed to protect the six women from abuse at the hands of their swim coaches, and created a culture that allowed abuse to happen.
In a press conference last month, one of those abuse survivors – Debra Grodensky – had already named Benton, Nygren and Morselli as responsible parties she says should be removed from leadership positions in USA Swimming.
Allard says the open letter represents all six of his clients in the three new lawsuits, along with “approximately 5 more who have come forward since the last press conference.”
Here is a brief summary of how the letter describes each of the eight individuals and their connection to sexual abuse within USA Swimming:
Murray Stephens was the longtime head coach of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. Allard’s letter says that “USA Swimming has known since as late as October 2011 that Stephens is a sexual predator,” but allowed him to quietly resign instead of banning him.
Paul Bergen was a coach on Olympic and World Championship teams in the ’70s and ’80s. He has been accused by Olympic gold medalist Deena Deardurff-Schmidt of sexually abusing her when she was a teen. Bergen has not been banned by USA Swimming or the U.S. Center for SafeSport.
John Leonard has been the executive director of the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) since 1985 and is set to retire at the end of this year. The letter accuses him of honoring Stephens with induction into the ASCA Hall of Fame. The letter also says Leonard and ASCA awarded a swim school franchise to Uchiyama after his quiet firing from USA Swimming for sexual misconduct.
We spoke to Leonard by phone this week. He said that he has never been involved in ASCA awards – those are voted on by the Board of Directors. Leonard also said that ASCA records showed no indication that Uchiyama was ever a director for Swim America, the ASCA-licensed swim school.
“Mr. Allard’s press releases rarely are based on fact,” Leonard said.
Mary Jo Swalley
Mary Jo Swalley headed up Southern California Swimming, the LSC for the region. The letter says Swalley didn’t intervene or pay for Uchiyama to have a separate room from his teenage swimmer at junior nationals. The letter alleges that Swalley admitted years later that she had mishandled the situation in a board meeting.
Swalley says she was never contacted by Allard and that the call for her removal came as a “total surprise.”
“The facts are simply wrong,” she said. “His representations are not what happened.”
Swalley says Allard is mistakenly conflating Southern California Swimming (the LSC Swalley had worked with) and SoCal Aquatics (Uchiyama’s club). Swalley says she’s never had any association with SoCal Aquatics, and that Southern California Swimming had no say in SoCal Aquatics’ policies on housing or hotel rooms.
Swalley said she didn’t recall ever saying she’d mishandled the situation in a board meeting. “I never made a comment that I mishandled anything, because there was never anything that I’d directly handled.”
Mark Schubert is a former National Team Director for USA Swimming. He’s accused in the letter of knowing about abuse by a long list of swim coaches and failing to intervene or take action. One specific example from the letter: when he was coaching at the University of Texas, the letter says, swimmer Kelly Currin confided in him about abuse she suffered at the hands of her former coach, Rick Curl. The letter says Schubert dismissed her from the team, calling her a “distraction.”
Schubert told SwimSwam this week that Allard’s allegations were “completely false.” Schubert says that when Currin told him about prior abuse, she and her family had already legally settled the case and asked him not to share the information. Schubert says he still did share Currin’s story with his athletic director and assistant athletic director, and both agreed that it should be kept in confidence.
Schubert says Currin was not dismissed from the team, but chose to quit while dealing with an eating disorder. The letter accuses Schubert of being part of the ASCA Board that elected Curl as Coach of the Year in 1994, but Schubert says he did not vote for Curl at the time, because of the things Currin had told him about Curl’s abuse.
“I’ve always been concerned and cognizant of the safety of any athletes that I’ve been in charge of,” Schubert said. “For [Allard] to imply otherwise is just absolutely false.”
Clint Benton is a board member for the Pacific Swimming LSC. The letter says he received a complaint about sexual abuse by coach Andy King and took orders from former USA Swimming executive Chuck Wielgus to cover it up.
Steve Morsilli is the head coach of the Pleasanton Seahawks in California. The letter says he was notified about sexual abuse allegations against King, but did not report them to police or other authorities. The letter also says Benton ordered Morselli to remain silent about the abuse allegations.
Morsilli called the allegations untrue, and said he wasn’t aware of King’s sexual misconduct until 2009-2010 after King was arrested.
Around 2002 or 2003, Morsilli says, he helped a former swimmer write a letter of complaint about King. The swimmer accused King of forcing her to kiss a teammate in front of the rest of the group to get out of swimming extra laps. Morsilli says the swimmer specifically asked that no action be taken, but wanted her complaint on file in case there were other issues with King.
Morsilli says he doesn’t recall the former swimmer mentioning anything about a sexual relationship between King and his athletes at the time, and that he felt that getting her complaint to the proper people (it went up the chain from Pacific Swimming to USA Swimming) was his responsibility.
“I got pulled into this situation in the hope of supporting my swimmer and facilitating her complaint,” Morsilli told SwimSwam. “I thought I was one of the ‘good guys’ by supporting her wish to bring the issue forward. Somehow, that has been turned around and now I am being considered a ‘bad guy.'”
Millie Nygren has been a board member with Pacific Swimming and is also connected to the King case, the letter says. According to Allard, Nygren knew about the abuse allegations against King and failed to report them to police or other authorities. The letter says Nygren was part of the decision not to renew King’s contract with a club, but that the failure to make the allegations public to authorities allowed King to sexually abuse several more swimmers over the next 25 years.
We asked USA Swimming for comment on the letter (which was delivered to Hinchey’s attorney), but have not yet received an official response. SwimSwam has also attempted to contact all 8 individuals named by the letter.