U.S. Para Cycling Leaders Temporarily Assisting Para Swimming After Negligence Lawsuit

U.S. Paralympic Cycling leaders have stepped in to assist with U.S. Para Swimming after a lawsuit filed Friday left the organization reeling from allegations of negligence. 

The civil complaint in Colorado district court claims that both the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and U.S. Center for SafeSport ignored accusations of misconduct against Robert Griswold when pairing the 25-year-old world record holder with an autistic teammate last summer at the Tokyo Paralympics. The 19-year-old teammate, who has the “mental capacity of a 5-year-old,” was allegedly groomed and sexually assaulted over the next year starting in Tokyo and continuing at the Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

“Defendants USOPC and SafeSport had actual knowledge of multiple prior instances, or at minimum credible allegations, of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse perpetrated by Griswold, yet turned a blind eye and/or conspired to cover-up such allegations, on each occasion,” the lawsuit said. “Upon information and belief, USOPC and SafeSport’s actions to insulate Griswold and further victimize Plaintiff were due in large part to the fact that Griswold was a premier swimmer, and because Griswold’s family was deeply embedded with leaders throughout the U.S. Paralympic swimming community.”

The USOPC broke its silence on Friday by announcing the placement of two staff members on administrative leave. U.S. Para Swimming director Erin Popovich and associate director Nathan Manley both have automated email responses saying they are on leave.

With newly-hired George Leatherman as the only coach listed on staff, U.S. Para Swimming is receiving temporary assistance from U.S. Para Cycling director Ian Lawless and manager of operations Jenny Ryan. Lawless has run the U.S. Para Cycling program for the past nine years. 

“Jenny and I will be working with the Para-swimming program temporarily, to help ensure that support for athletes on the National and Resident team continues, uninterrupted,” Lawless wrote in an email to the team.

Friday’s lawsuit alleged that the “cover-up” is the latest in a string of troubling incidents involving the USOPC and SafeSport.

“Importantly, this is not the first time Defendant USOPC has withheld allegations of abuse; conspired with its affiliated entities (including Defendant SafeSport) to cover-up allegations of abuse; failed to properly supervise its own officers, directors, coaches, and athletes; or allowed physical, verbal, and/or sexual abuse to occur under its nose,” the lawsuit added, citing an ESPN article from 2020. “Many such instances have occurred at the OPTC.”

The U.S. Center for SafeSport released this statement on Friday: “The Center does not comment on matters to protect the integrity of its investigative process.”

A lawyer representing Griswold told SwimSwam last month that he “vehemently denies any wrongdoing.”

The 63-page civil complaint is available to read in full here.

Griswold has not been arrested or charged with a crime as of publication.

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed USOPC chief of sport Julie Dussliere as one of the staff members on leave, but a spokesperson told SwimSwam that her current absence from the office is not due to administrative leave. 

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Justice
2 months ago

It has been two weeks, are there any updates regarding this?

Enough of The Sorority House
2 months ago

It is complete cluster and it starts at the Top of US Paralympics and goes all the way down to the Coaching Staff and the “National Team “ coaching team coaching staff . They all should have said something . All should be let go . They need to clean house at US Paralympics Swimming and start over . Most of the “National Team “ coaches are yes people and are useless. They need real USA Swimming Coaches in there . Enough of the “Girls Club!

Fletch
2 months ago

Why doesn’t USASwimming absorb Para? Seems like a great time after Duel in the Pool

No, itall
Reply to  Fletch
2 months ago

Usas does nit want paralympic swimming. They should be ashamed of this. It all started when their previous ceo brainwashed staff to never be good to paraswimming. It has carried forward.

Athlete
Reply to  No, itall
2 months ago

I don’t know if it’s ever fair to speak for the entirety of USA swimming, I’m sure there are those that would be in favor and those that would be opposed. I would not regard it an issue of want but one of equality. It is time to move the Para athletes to same level of coaching, pay and professionalism that team USA benefits from. I think it is rather obvious the para athletes do not currently receive this treatment but DO deserve it.

Last edited 2 months ago by Athlete
Admin
Reply to  No, itall
2 months ago

I think there’s a temptation to assume that it would be better or somehow “more honorable” for US Para swimming to be under the USA Swimming umbrella, but it is not a guarantee to be so. USA Swimming, after all, has its own dark history of sexual abuse coverups.

Are US Para swimmers better off being managed by a group that understands and invests a lot of resources into managing swimmers? Or a group that understands and invests a lot of resources into para-athletes? I can see an argument either way.

Athlete
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

I think your two questions posed at the end are a good illustration of what will continue to hold Para back. There was a staff constructed to “understand and invest” in Para athletes and they just treated the athletes like kids they were babysitting. Para athletes are swimmers. Full stop. They would be best managed by the best swimming minds and staff we can provide. The fact that they have disabilities, does not supersede their need for the best training, highest pay, and structural support. No USA swimming is not a perfect organization but it does have more and better resources.

Admin
Reply to  Athlete
2 months ago

USA Swimming does not have more resources than the USOPC.

An example of why I think USA Swimming is not best-equipped for Para: USA Swimming is never going to fund a resident program at the US Olympic Training Center – that’s just not part of their model. That model makes more sense for para-athletes than it does for Olympic athletes, where USA Swimming has tried it, and it has failed miserably.

I think this is a wakeup call that USOPC needs to hire and manage their staff better. Frankly, to me, that the house of cards fell is not a surprise. There have been several instances, including on much more benign topics, where athletes have been threatened with losing… Read more »

Para athlete
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

The problems within USOPC are just so deep rooted though that it seems no amount of change in staffing will be enough to fix the issues at hand. I mean, we’re talking about an organization that couldn’t confirm the location and dates of its National Championships until two months before the meet, most likely due to whether they could cover the pool rental fee. That would be unheard of for USA Swimming! Not to mention, the sheer lack of energy at any meet run by US Paralympics. Swimmers, no matter how old, are treated like children and coddled and/or subject to a toxic and abusive environment. You mention the resident program, but that is the very program that allowed these… Read more »

Brandon Jameson
Reply to  Fletch
1 month ago

Paralympic swimmers have never been treated as equals by Team USA. In 2021, the payment for Paralympic/Olympic medals was finally made equal (the difference between them was massive). The shameful discrepancies in their Trials events last year (go take a look and compare/contrast for yourself) is another example. And where did the two very separate teams spend the next 2-3 weeks at their respective training camps? The Olympic Team spent 17 days in Hawaii, and then went to the sprawling Team USA training center set up by the USOPC at the Okura Sports Center in Setagaya. The Paralympic Team didn’t even really have a camp; they just went home to train on their own, as usual (unless they were on… Read more »

Admin
Reply to  Brandon Jameson
1 month ago

Hi Jeff Baustin/Brandon Jameson, please stick to one username in the comments section. Thanks!

Swimming is lifesaving
Reply to  Brandon Jameson
1 month ago

As an athlete at nationals- yes yes yes to all of this. Sunday morning was a fiasco. The timing system broke multiple times, the wedges on the blocks were messed up, and the bulk head fell apart. Why was it not at Greensboro like last year? It was supposed to be on the west coast supposedly this year too. They also took away medals for relays, something that the younger swimmers look forward to. Concerns over safesport and classification are ravaging the sport as well. Hopefully next year it will change for the better, but I have no idea how that’ll happen with the current system.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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