USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey testified for a Congressional subcommittee today, apologizing on behalf of USA Swimming for sexual abuse suffered by swimmers.
Hinchey testified for the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations along with heads of three other National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and other Olympic executives. Also testifying were U.S. Olympic Committee acting CEO Susanne Lyons, USA Gymnastics CEO Kerry Perry, USA Taekwondo executive director Steve McNally, USA Volleyball CEO Jamie Davis and U.S. Center for SafeSport CEO Shellie Pfohl.
The hearing itself lasted almost three hours, and while there were notable exceptions, the questioning was much less harsh than the much-discussed Mark Zuckerberg Facebook hearing earlier this year. Many of the representatives lamented that the many positives of the Olympic movement weren’t able to be discussed. In some ways, the lenient line of questioning was perhaps a product of the testifying group’s very short tenures with their organizations.
None of the testifying CEOs have been in their posts longer than a year and a half. Hinchey took over USA Swimming last summer. Perry is brand new to USA Gymnastics as of December 2017. Lyons took over the USOC just under three months ago after Scott Blackmun resigned. McNally took over USA Taekwondo last fall and Davis started with USA Volleyball in early 2017. Pfohl is actually the longest-tenured of the bunch, and was only named to her post in November of 2016, the year the Center was officially founded.
The notable exception was Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA), who was very harsh in his criticism of USOC acting chief Lyons and Gymnastics head Perry for their organizations failures to address sexual abuse concerns, though several representatives jumped in after him to note that neither Lyons nor Perry were in charge of their organizations when the subjects of Carter’s complaints took place.
The questions from Congress often centered around a few key topics: public banned lists for sporting organizations, background checks for coaches and the lengthy 3-year delay between the 2014 USOC approving the creation of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and the opening of the Center in 2017. We’ll break down some of the specifics of Hinchey’s testimony and the testimony of the other executives below.
In Hinchey’s opening statement, he acknowledged and apologized for the sexual abuse suffered by USA Swimming members, referencing the 2010 scandals in which decades of overlooked sexual abuse within swimming finally came into broader conversation.
“In 2010, USA Swimming faced its own reality that children and swimmers were being sexually abused in sport,” Hinchey said. “USA Swimming apologizes, acknowledges and deeply regrets the abuse suffered by children, athletes and other participants in swimming programs.”
While an apology was far from unexpected (in fact, most of the executives testifying began their statements with apologies), it also marks a drastic shift from both Hinchey’s predecessor and his earlier statements on the issue. Many SwimSwam readers will remember former executive director Chuck Wielgus‘s well-publicized interview with ABC News’ 20/20 program in which the then-USA Swimming head responded with an incredulous question (“You feel I need to apologize to them?”) when asked if he’d apologized to victims of sexual abuse in the sport under his watch.
Wielgus would later offer a written apology, though still a conditional one: “I also am extremely sorry if our organization has not done enough to provide the highest level of child protection safeguards and guidelines,” per ABC News.
For his part, Hinchey told us in an interview when he took over as CEO last summer that he was still getting up to speed with the issue facing USA Swimming and couldn’t give specifics. We’ve continued to ask for a chance to talk to Hinchey about the matter, but have not yet been granted an interview. Earlier this year, he sent a letter to USA Swimming members acknowledging that “members were failed,” but his statement to the House today is a much more direct apology and admission of the sexual abuse that occurred under the organization’s watch.
USA Swimming Specifics
Here are a few other specific things Hinchey brought up throughout the course of the hearing:
- Hinchey noted USA Swimming’s banned list, public since 2010, pointing out that 90 people had been banned for sexual misconduct.
- He said USA Swimming has “monthly recurring reports” on 50,000 non-athlete USA Swimming members, adding up to 600,000 annual background checks for adults in USA Swimming who have access to children
- Asked about USA Swimming’s support of the Center for SafeSport, Hinchey said that the swimming federation contributes $43,000 a year to the Center, and is willing to contribute more: “As one of the larger NGBs and based on who we are, if we can provide more resources, we absolutely will.”
- Hinchey said that since 2017, when the Center took over exclusive authority in investigating and punishing allegations of sexual abuse (previously done by USA Swimming itself), 75 complaints have gone directly from USA Swimming to the Center.
- He also specifically pointed out the need to involve athletes in the process, pointing to a USA Swimming working group made up of athletes and coaches to help evaluate what USA Swimming does.
U.S. Center for SafeSport:
The Center for SafeSport was created last year to investigate sexual abuse allegations in all Olympic sports. You can read more about it here.
- Pfohl provided some numbers that show the growing role of the Center in its just more than a year of existence. She said the Center got more than 500 reports last year and was expecting to at least double that number this year. She said that where at this time last year, the Center was dealing with 20 to 30 reports a month, it is now dealing with 20 to 30 reports a week.
- The Center has handed down 169 sanctions, 142 of them being lifetime bans.
- More than half of the Center’s current budget is coming from the USOC, which contributed $2.7 million last year and will contribute $3.1 million over each of the next two years (2018 and 2019). The total budget of the Center is $4.6 million a year, and it employs 5 full-time investigators and 7 externally-contracted investigators.
- The Center has previously said it is looking to diversity its funding to avoid conflicts of interest with the NGBs and USOC funding most of its budget. But Pfohl said at the moment, the Center doesn’t even have the resources to carry out the audits of NGBs that new federal legislation requires it to conduct.
- “We deal in facts,” Pfohl said, in addressing concerns that the Center’s investigative process wouldn’t provide fairness or due process to victims or accused individuals.
- She said investigations average 63 days in length, though she said some are significantly longer and some much shorter.
Pfohl also laid out more specifics on the Center’s investigative process:
- A report comes in, whether via phone, e-mail, named or anonymous
- The Center triages the reports, addressing the most pressing ones first. Pfohl said reports involving accused abusers who are still active get priority, as do cases involving a minor.
- If the report alleges a crime (particularly sexual abuse of a minor), the Center contacts law enforcement
- If a victim is still in “harm’s way” or if there is potential for others to become victims, the Center will hand down an interim measure (like an interim suspension) before completing its investigation.
- An investigator carries out the investigation, gathering evidence from the alleged victim, the accused and any witnesses, and puts all the evidence into a report
- The Center’s Director of Investigations analyzes the report, determines if a violation of the SafeSport Code has occurred and hands down a sanction
Pfohl said there are options for arbitration at both the stage of the interim measure (if given) and at the final sanctioning stage.
- Representatives pressed Lyons about the USOC’s ability to fund the Center, noting that USOC revenue is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Lyons said the USOC was willing to fund more if the Center needs it.
- A representative brought up several pieces of the USOC’s own official documents that reference the impact on the USOC’s reputation as one factor to consider in handing out a suspension. “I have to admit to not having seen that before, and I have to say it does not belong on that list,” Lyons said. Pfohl was also questioned, and noted that the intent of those lines were to allow organizations to suspend members for conduct that could hurt the image of the organization, rather than to caution against handing out penalties that would hurt the image of a federation. Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) cautioned the organizations that the wording could be misinterpreted or used wrongly in the future and recommended rewording those sections.
- The USOC was also chided for its slow process in establishing the Center for investigations. The USOC approved a working group in 2010 (Lyons said that was largely due to the huge scandals in USA Swimming at the time), the working group recommended in 2013 that an independent entity be established to investigate sex offenses, the USOC approved the Center in 2014, but the Center wasn’t established until 2017. Lyons admitted that “it did take too long,” and said the delay was due to funding and insurance issues, as well as getting individual NGBs up to mandatory compliance requirements.
You can watch the full session here: