A report by the Southern California News Group says USA Swimming has ignored, covered up or refused to investigate sexual abuse allegations against coaches in relation to hundreds of swimmers over decades.
The SCNG report is extensive, and you can read it in its entirety on the website of The Orange County Register here. Much of it implicates former CEO Chuck Wielgus, who has been widely criticized for USA Swimming’s handling of sexual abuse claims under his leadership, but the report also points fingers at other officials still in place.
A few of the biggest key allegations raised in the SCNG report:
- That “top USA Swimming executives, board members, top officials and coaches” knew about sexually predatory coaches for years, but did not pursue any action against them. The report cites multiple high-profile cases, including Rick Curl and Mitch Ivey.
- That USA Swimming has paid $77,627 to lobbying firms to lobby against California legislation that would make it easier for sexual abuse victims to sue their abusers and organizations that employed them – which would include USA Swimming or USA Swimming clubs in the case of abusive coaches.
- That USA Swimming keeps a list of “flagged” coaches and officials who have been arrested or accused by law enforcement of sex crimes but have not yet been disciplined by USA Swimming. The report says the “flagged” list is not available to the public, and that of 32 people on the flagged list in 2010, only six were ultimately banned by USA Swimming. This existence of this list has been known in the past, with the explanation that it is made up of known non-members that USA Swimming doesn’t have authority to ban until they apply for membership.
We asked USA Swimming about these allegations but have not yet received a response. When current CEO Tim Hinchey took over last summer, we interviewed him and asked what he thought about the criticism of Wielgus and how he would lead in the area of sexual abuse by coaches and officials. Hinchey said he “didn’t have a whole lot of knowledge” about the situation but would be getting up to speed with it as soon as he could. We’ve asked USA Swimming multiple times since then to speak with Hinchey about the issue, but have not received a response.
The SCNG report cites attorney Bob Allard, who has represented multiple victims of sexual abuse within the sport, and is currently representing Olympian Ariana Kukors, who says she was groomed and sexually abused from the age of 13 by her longtime coach Sean Hutchison. Allard is calling for the immediate removal of all of USA Swimming’s executive leadership. That would include COO Mike Unger, Managing Director Pat Hogan, Executive Director Debbie Hesse, Managing Director Lindsay Mintenko and Safe Sport Director Susan Woessner.
The report also quotes Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic swimmer and outspoken advocate for women in sports. Hogshead-Makar says there are “still too many abusive coaches who are either still coaching [or] still in the Hall of Fame.” She also alleges that coaches have been “blackballed” for advocating for athletes and trying to push back against unethical coaches.
In another troubling piece of the report, Hogshead-Makar says she once asked Woessner why USA Swimming wasn’t looking into sexual misconduct allegations leveled at a former U.S. Olympic coach. Hogshead-Makar says Woessner asked “what does it matter?” because the coach in question was no longer coaching young swimmers.
The SCNG report alleges that USA Swimming has covered up abuse to protect its brand, quoting swim coach Dia Rianda calling Safe Sport “a complete farce.” Rianda – who says she reported inappropriate behavior by a coach and was ultimately fired for it – says that “USA Swimming is all about protecting their brand in any way they possibly can.”
Even more concerning are legal documents in which Wielgus seems to admit that protecting young swimmers has never been the organization’s top priority. The OCR report includes a 2010 deposition of Wielgus in which the former USA Swimming executive was asked if protecting young swimmers from sexual abuse was USA Swimming’s top goal. “No I would not,” Wielgus said. “… I would say that has never been our number one goal.”
The report also lists several major payments from USA Swimming to outside firms connected to sexual abuse allegations. The story says USA Swimming spent $7.45 million on legal fees between the years 2006 and 2016, a number nearly ten times what USA Track & Field paid over the same period. The story also tracks a six-figure payment to a Denver-based public relations firm specializing in “crisis communication” to help clubs deal with sexual abuse scandals. That’s in addition to the $77,000+ payment to a California lobbying firm to lobby against the legislation that would extend the statute of limitations, allowing abuse victims more time to take legal action against their abusers.
Another name that gets brought up in the report is that of Pat Hogan, USA Swimming’s club development managing director. According to a June 2010 deposition, Wielgus said Hogan was the USA Swimming employee with the most knowledge regarding the organization’s child protection program. In the same deposition, Wielgus was questioned about Hogan’s first wife, who began training for him at the age of 17. Hogan was 27. The two eventually began dating, later married and then divorced. Wielgus said he never questioned Hogan about his relationship with his first wife, but would only say the relationship “began to develop” after she was 18.
Hogan spoke on that relationship in a 2010 New York Times piece, saying both were adults when the relationship began. “I conducted myself with complete honor and integrity in my relationship with my former wife,” Hogan said in the Times. “Our relationship, which developed after she was 18 and I was a young man in my 20s, always had the full knowledge and blessing of her parents”
You can read the full OC Register report here.