With the verdict on Friday that a 16-month sentence would be the punishment for former swim coach Todd Sousa for having sexual intercourse with a 15-year old girl, one of the more visible cases of abuse against a swim coach is put to rest.
On the one hand, the 16-month prison sentence for a verdict of 16 felony counts and 2 misdemeanor counts seems to be a bit on the light side. Sousa will have to register as a sex offender, which is a worse punishment than his 16-month prison sentence, and he will have to begin an entirely new line of work. Sousa’s career has been entirely focused around aquatics: as a swim coach with the Aquazots Swim Team in Irvine, California and as co-owner of the Swim Ventures swim lesson program.
On the other hand, there is a silver lining to the matter. The sexual contact was alleged to have taken place between April 1, 2010 and February 18, 2011, with the latter date being the encounter where a friend of the victim reported the matter to her parents, which made it to USA Swimming. By April 29th, USA Swimming’s full investigation ran its course, and he had received a lifetime ban, and 6-months after that, he had been through the court system and handed down punishment.
While the USA Swimming athlete protection policies are an important two-pronged approach of prevention and detection, and the former is the ideal, for a case to go from report to full ban in only two months is a sign of progress. Though we can’t say exactly who (because of the legal issues at hand, USA Swimming has not published the reason for bans before the current Code of Conduct), there are coaches who have escaped for decades after their sexual abuse of their swimmers was first reported because of the previous culture of the sport. For a coach to be in prison 8-months after the reports were received is a huge step forward and shows that it’s becoming harder and harder for these coaches to hide. Let this be a warning to any coaches out there who do this sort of thing (and there are others – you would be shocked if you found out who) that it will become increasingly difficult to sweep accusations under the rug.
There is a long way to go in athlete protection. A long way to go. Everything USA Swimming has done to protect athletes has not been perfect, even after their renewed focus on it, but even their most fervent critics can’t deny that there has been some amount of progress made. Every abusive coach who is brought to justice builds more-and-more momentum towards cleaning up our sport.