The following is solely the opinion of Chris DeSantis. While Chris DeSantis is a writer for Swimswam, his opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of all the Swimswam staff or founders.
In the past few weeks, I’ve read the news on this site of two high profile coaches being banned by their respective governing bodies over sexual misconduct. Below the posts, the comment section is rife with defenders of the respective coaches. The message to victims of sexual abuse is chilling. When they finally work up the courage to reveal what has happened, few if anyone will stand with them.
I’m reminded of the sentencing of Rick Curl in 2013. Curl, in case you can’t remember, was another high profile coach who was put in jail for seven years. The formal charge was “child abuse”, which lacks the detail that Curl sexually abused one of his swimmers, Kelley Currin, starting when she was 12 years old.
Despite the horrific crime he had been convicted of, there were 72 letters of support submitted on his behalf. Swimswam’s own Ceci Christy, in the courtroom, described a “a nearly-full courtroom of former Curl swimmers, coaches, and friends…When the defense asked for supporters to stand up, the entire courtroom stood except for the plaintiff and members of the media”.
My heart sank when I read those words. Every stakeholder in swimming- parents, coaches, swimmers and officials- should be embarrassed about our sport’s culture. Collectively, we need to pull our heads out of the sand, move past our discomfort with discussing sexual misconduct, and start affecting some change.
I was among the first to put heavy pressure on USA Swimming to do something on this issue, but I believe more and more the responsibility is falling to the rest of us. We need to realize that when an accuser comes forward, they are doing so knowing that they risk being revealed somehow or other, and that more than likely they will stand alone just like Kelley Currin did.
The reality of these cases is that the information used to enforce bans is kept confidential to protect victims. This can be frustrating for those on the sidelines- and they can jump to conclusions at light speed based on that lack of information.
No matter where you stand, let’s focus on what’s important. Everyone involved in these situations needs help and support from those closest to them. The athletes on your team need to know that if they are ever abused, that the group around them will help and support them.
Parents can understandably feel partly responsible if their kids are abused by a coach. They need someone else to reach out to them and let them know that they didn’t deserve this.
Coaches, even if they are guilty of the crimes they have been accused of, are people who will need relationships to guide them through the stormy waters that awaits. I think stakeholders often give blind support to coaches when the athletes are swimming fast- get to know your coach and support them as a person, not as someone that gets swimmers to swim fast.
As a coach, I am forced to confront every day that my profession has a problem, and it won’t go away overnight. I love swimming so much and I want to be proud of the culture we have made for our sport. In many other ways I am, but in this area, we still have a long way to go.