Joe Bernal Added To USA Swimming’s Banned List

Joe Bernal, most recently the coach of a swim club that had his name attached to it, has been banned for life by USA Swimming. Earlier this year we reported on the sale of the club, and the subsequent scrubbing of Bernal’s name. Now Bernal has been judged by USA Swimming to have violated the following pieces of the code of conduct:

304.3.5 Any sexual contact or advance or other inappropriate sexually oriented behavior or action directed towards an athlete by a coach, official, trainer, or other person who, in the context of swimming, is in a position of authority over that athlete.

304.3.5 Any inappropriate sexually oriented behavior or action directed towards a member by any other adult participating in any capacity whatsoever in the affairs or activities of USA Swimming or its LSCs (whether such adult is a member or not). Any nonconsensual physical sexual conduct, or pattern of unwelcome advances or other sexual harassment in connection with or incidental to a USA Swimming-related activity by any person participating in the affairs or activities of USA Swimming or its LSCs (whether such person is a member or not) directed toward any member or other person participating in the affairs or activities of USA Swimming or its LSCs. (effective September 27, 2008)

304.3.5  Any sexual conduct, advance or other inappropriate sexually oriented behavior or action directed towards an athlete by (i) a coach member or other non-athlete member, or (ii) any other adult participating in any capacity whatsoever in the affairs or activities of USA Swimming (whether such adult is a member or not). Any nonconsensual physical sexual conduct, or pattern of unwelcome advances or other sexual harassment in connection with or incidental to a USA Swimming-related activity by any person participating in the affairs or activities of USA Swimming (whether such person is a member or not) directed toward any member or other person participating in the affairs or activities of USA Swimming

Although the same section of the code of conduct is referenced three times (304.3.5), that particular part has gone through two changes since 2008. Bernal had been inducted into the ASCA Hall of Fame just this past fall, and one of his top former athletes (and former USA Swimming board member) David Berkoff had publicly expressed support for his former coach.

We have not been able to determine Bernal’s exact whereabouts to reach him for comment, but multiple, independent sources within New England swimming say that he left the country abruptly this fall. Bernal was well known for coaching both Berkoff and another Olympian, Bobby Hackett. Bernal was also the coach of Harvard University from 1978-1992. For many years, Bernal’s Gators Swim Club was the strongest and most nationally prominent club in the New England area, although not in recent memory.


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198 Comments on "Joe Bernal Added To USA Swimming’s Banned List"

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USA Swimming’s power is absurd. If any of these alleged transgressions occurred, it should be in the hands of the US courts to decide the fate of the coach. These hearings should not be held behind closed doors without any real evidence. If a coach actually assaulted you then go to the police and only EVIDENCE will decided the coach’s fate… The courts don’t make decisions on allegations alone. If the evidence isn’t sufficient to prove a coach’s guilt in court then it shouldn’t be enough for USA Swimming to punish individuals and destroy legends. A man dedicated his life to the advancement of this sport and all of that is erased by one allegation in 45+ years of coaching.… Read more »

SMH right back at you.

And here’s rape culture, ladies and gentleman.

Sane Swim Parent

Exactly, Shannon.

Even more appalling is that a coach cannot face an accuser, and that code of conduct violations can be dated back with the revised versions applying to events which occurred long ago – USA swimming is so afraid of people that they are covering their own *sses at the expense of great coaches – this will definitely not be the last flame of greatness put out by the wave of unevidenced claims and accusations, and this problem will only grow if safesport and the code of conduct, as well as the hearing process is reformed.

kudos to you SMH, thanks you and god bless Joe Bernal

How do you know the claims are unevidenced? Did you hear the evidence presented at the hearing? I’m not saying Joe Bernal did what he was accused of doing, but none of us have heard the evidence.

Kirk Nelson

“Even more appalling is that a coach cannot face an accuser” What would this accomplish, exactly?

Former BGSC swimmer

Because if this were actually done in a court of Law, he has the right to do so. USA swimming’s process is extremely corrupt.

Well for one thing it would allow for some sort of question and answer process, perhaps not a full cross-examination but allowing for more than just an accuser’s unquestioned statement and then a short “hearing” in which the accused cannot challenge the statement at all whatsoever. With how radically structured and limited the hearing and appeals process is it seems more like the idea of a case is guilty until proven innocent, not vice versa

Steve Nolan

They can do that with an intermediary. Putting potential victims in direct contact with abusers isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world.

The point is that there is no oppurtunity to question the accuser or their statement AT ALL. Anyone can fabricate a statement; it’s much harder to defend that when questioned about it.

The accuser was questioned for over an hour by Bernal’s attorney! I don’t know where you are getting your info, Truth, but ‘truth’ it is anything but!

The NBOR process includes investigation, exchange of exhibits, opening statements, direct examination, cross examination, and closing statements by both parties. Bernal was represented by an attorney, he participated in all parts of the process and appealed the original decision. He had PLENTY of opportunity to defend himself and provide ‘evidence’. When you don’t deny that you were romantically involved with the athlete as soon as she turned 18, but vehemently deny that there was any involvement leading up to that date, it leaves everyone scratching their heads to put the pieces together.

Christy, you appear to have knowledge of facts which are not known to the public eye. Please, share

Just the Facts

I knew the swimmer quite well during the time period of the accusations and can bear witness to events that she lied about including events related to our carpool and travel trips. USA Swimming should rely on facts about the time period involved to make a decision NOT on the belief that if he was romantically involved when she was of age then he must have been involved prior to that. Facts should guide their decision not assumptions.

NE Swim Mom

What you seem to be missing is that regardless of her age the relationship is against the code of conduct and he knew that without a doubt. Perhaps he may not be charged as a pedophile for this particular relationship, but he still knowingly disregarded the code of conduct and deserves the punishment. Our athletes need to be protected from predators like him.

Just the Facts-

THAT is where you want to make your stand??? That he only slept with her after she turned 18??? You’re planting your flag on THAT???

Good greif…

Just the Facts- I’m sure you and every parent hopes that their child’s first sexual experience at age 18 is with her 65+ year old swim coach. Sure would set you up for healthy, equitable, happy relationships in the future

The victim never alleged sleeping together–the code of conduct is broad….that comment doesn’t help the accuser either.

Um. Yes, she absolutely did. Starting whe she was 15.

Apparently everybody against Bernal seems to know all of this information. Just wondering; where do you get it from?

First off, many times the statute of limitations has passed so an individual can’t press charges. Victims may not have come forward initially because they blamed themselves for what happened to them. I think it’s completely appropriate to have lower standards of evidence to remove someone from USA Swimming than to put them in prison. I would much rather err on the side of caution when it comes to selecting who is allowed to interact with our young people, while I wouldn’t want to do that if it means someone’s freedom is taken away. The stakes are much higher in a criminal setting so the standard of evidence must be as well. Also, certain activities, such as sending inappropriate text… Read more »

Lower standards of evidence are not the same thing as no evidence. It is unacceptable that a legend can be ruined because of a “he said, she said” case.

And, about USA swimming legal counsel: USA swimming won’t risk ruining their own good name for the sake of anyone, most likely all that the “counsel” is advising them to do is submit to the accuser’s will to make it easier for themselves and to cut their own losses

Do you know what evidence the accuser presented? How do you know there was “no evidence?” None of us do because none of us were at the hearing. Judging by some of the comments below, some people have seen Mr. Bernal act inappropriately with other athletes. While you may know him and feel certain that he did not, no one ever really knows what a person may be doing when others aren’t around. I would caution you to not make comments about things you don’t know about.

Mr dm, speaking of not knowing what you’re talking about, in none of the above statutes which Bernal is listed as having broken is contact with a minor explicitly stated, as you yourself were quick to point out in your earlier essay.

First off it’s Ms. DM, and second, I don’t understand what you are saying. “Any sexual contact or advance or other inappropriate sexually oriented behavior or action directed towards an athlete by a coach, official, trainer, or other person who, in the context of swimming, is in a position of authority over that athlete.” I think that would cover inappropriate conduct of any kid whether physical or not. A sexual advance can be made over text message or email as well.

It’s Ms. DM actually. I’m trying to understand what you are saying? Are you saying that his alleged actions weren’t against a minor? Regardless, the rules prohibit unwanted and inappropriate behavior against any USA Swimming member. If he was sexually harassing an adult, he still broke the rules.

There was a witness who stood up against the accuser…..FYI!

USASwimming does not act unless the evidence is compelling.

Former BGSC swimmer

That’s actually false…there is no evidence presented. It is all done via a phone conversation. The accused never gets the opportunity to face accuser. Wrong.

Another former BGSC

Former BGSC, you obviously don’t understand what “evidence” is. Evidence comes in the form of written documents, testimony, cross-examination, affidavits and other information that has established authenticity and foundation. In the USAS process there is no right to an in person hearing. While hearing are normally done via telephone this does not mean that there is no evidence. And the accuser must testify. Just because the evidence is disputed does not mean it’s not evidence. That’s what a jury or in this case a review board is for. They determine whose evidence is more compelling, trustworthy, and believable.

And the third party that collects this evidence denied mine. So this isn’t about denial it’s about due process for everyone.

USA swimming does not act? With how the hearing process works a statement of an accuser appears to be evidence enough for them

That is a ridiculous statement.

No…it’s not. I’ve personally seen a coach’s reputation ruined by another rival coach, with no evidence.


Not true

I don’t know all the facts here, but I think USA Swimming may have made this decision “willy nilly.” My child swam for Bernal at the time of the alleged incident and there seems to have been some pretty good evidence that Joe is innocent. The truth, however, is unknown. With that said, the pendulum seems to have swung pretty far and it appears to me that coaches have few rights in these instances. If I look at the this as a typical example of the way that USA Swimming handles these types of cases, then I would start to worry that no one with any character will enter the coaching profession. I can’t imagine dedicating my life to something… Read more »
Inside Info

Innocent ? Innocent of what? The press release speaks for itself. An earlier post asked why these coaches aren’t hiring lawyers to fight…that’s the $64,000 question.

Just the Facts

It’s an expensive endeavor to hire a lawyer for anyone and as we know swim coaches aren’t the highest paid…maybe some of them can’t afford to do it.

Inside Info

Yeah, right! USA Swimming operates “willy nilly”…is this a real post or was your comment hacked. Pathetic.

But what if it’s a lie?

Inside Info

If it’s a lie, why isn’t he fighting it?

I’m a NES parent from another team, volunteered at our meets and knew a lot of coaches. One swimmer may have actually accused him, but his reputation was legendary, and not in a good way. It was well known by many that he was inappropriate with his swimmers for years. It finally caught up to him. He dug his own grave.

Sane Swim Parent

I’m with JEL. I swam for him one summer, and this is not at all a surprise to me.

You’ve said ‘wel known’ but if they were then you all are complicit .


Just the Facts

Well known by many? Got any facts to back that up? Legendary? As someone whose children swam for him for 7 years during that time and volunteered extensively for the time, I think if he had a “legendary” reputation for inappropriate contact with swimmers then some of us parents and our swimmers would have known before you. It’s comments like yours that are based on no facts that really tick me off.

Blueberry Coyote

God forbid a grown man in his 70’s speak like a real person to his swimmers. Younger swimmers, especially in New England, have been turned into coddled little babies who cry to their parents whenever their feelings are hurt or they hear a word that makes them uncomfortable.

I do not want to comment directly AT ALL on Bernal’s case, since we know next to nothing about details of this case, except the sections of the Code he has been judged to have violated. But in general, I agree with you in part: For outright crimes that have been alleged to have been committed, then one should obviously call the police as soon after the alleged offense as possible. I don’t know the process of hearings and whether they’re held behind closed doors without evidence as per your complaint, I suspect it’s more complex than just weighing allegations vs defendant’s response, if not, then I would agree with you on that too. The accused should obviously be present,… Read more »

I am both a lawyer and familiar with the hearings process and my comments above are basically in line with what you are saying. As I stated before and as you are saying, the code of conduct for USA Swimming coaches is different than the law. Therefore, a coach can be “innocent” in a court of law, but still be banned.

I am a swimmer for gators right now and I honestly had no idea about any of this. None of us ever suspected it.

SIck of This

If you have inappropriate thoughts about your athletes, that’s bad enough. If you can’t control your urges to not act on them, GET OUT of our sport. Leave now. Don’t wait until you get caught. Don’t do that to our athletes. I hate the stain these stories keep putting on our sport, and my heart aches for the swimmers who put their trust in these coaches and have that trust betrayed.

The problem is that there’s no way of knowing what actually happened – any swimmer could either decide to or be coerced into accusing a coach of something they didn’t do, and USA swimming is so soft that they accept any accusation WITHOUT so much as a shred of EVIDENCE, if only to save themselves

Incorrect – maybe you should except that these measures should be taken. USA Swimming are clearly just taking these accusations seriously. No shred of evidence? How about multiple eyewitness accounts – what more do you think should be required…. blood? The only soft aspect about this whole thing is that people are complaining about USA Swimming taking action.

And which multiple eyewitness accounts would those be?

There are no multiple witness accounts.

Inside Info

The victims are “eye witnesses “. Pull your head out of the sand.

Inside Info


No. There is the accusation that made USA Swimming to take action. There are no swimmers at that time that witnessed this behavior-there is a non-swimmer who corroborated because she had personal, vindictive reasons to do so because she did not hide that from many of the parents. That’s as far as I will go because I know that individual will suffer emotional and mentally from what she did—in time, and that won’t be a good thing either.

Talk about accusations
Swim Mom You certainly are full of accusations yourself this morning!!! Let’s cover some areas. You say only one person corroborated with the victim. That is absolutely not true. At least put the full info out there if you are going to take all this every and time to post. The victim had her college coach speak on her behalf, and two other people along with other people in written testimony. If you have taken any time to be of reasonable mind you have been able to see on this message board that many people that have been connected to BGSC or in the swim community continue to say that they have had the same interation with this coach or… Read more »

The word I used was witnessed.

Inside Info

Right. And USA Swimming is gunna ban a coach for LIFE with no proof. Wake up people.

Michael Pliuskaitis was banned for life, and then reinstated because a court proved that USA swimming’s ruling was arbitrary – refusing to acknowledge how USA swimming doesn’t care about evidence so much as their salaries? Please wake up, people


Just the Facts

Inside Info, are you saying that innocent people don’t ever go to jail? Just because USA Swimming deems it doesn’t make it true.

No. Wrong. Weak. There is no due process that’s all the point is–everyone should be interested in someone having the opportunity to defend against allegations to get the truth. There are no multiple eye witnesses as people are stating-there is one who corroborated because she is vindictive and everyone in New England swimming knows who she is —

Cale Berkoff

As unfortunate as this entire situation is I think USA Swimming did the right thing in 0 tolerance to this sort of behavior. They could however could be much more transparent with the case I’m Dave Berkoff’s son and I had no clue what was going on.

Exactly! Zero tollerance for sexual assault, you can never assume he didnt do it, why would you flee the country over accusations, just like Tom Brady destroyed his phone, Joe did do something.

Don\'t know what to think

As a swimmer who had the pleasure of training with the Gators and getting to know Bernal during a week stay in the Boston area, I’m shocked to hear this. I trust that USA swimming has handled the situation appropriately, but I nonetheless wish to know what exactly the allegations were.

About Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis is a swim coach, writer and swimming enthusiast. Chris does private consulting and coaching with teams and individuals. You can find him at Chris is a 2009 Graduate from the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first professional athletic coach …

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