Members of USA Swimming’s Board of Directors, the group that serves alongside members to oversee the activities of the organization, is often thought of in public criticism as simply administrators, officials, and other pure bureaucrats. While many members of the board fit into that mold (including several past presidents of USA Swimming), 10 members of the Board of Directors are either current or recently-former athletes who serve under various athlete-representative titles.
Those athlete members released a statement on Monday regarding recent allegations that USA Swimming has undertake a decades-long coverup of abuse by member coaches. The statement largely supported the activities and intentions of USA Swimming, though it did admit “mistakes.”
“We proudly emphasize one fact recent media coverage has omitted: while certainly not perfect, USA Swimming’s policies have become the model that other NGBs have strived for. Further, our procedures, including reporting, investigating, and adjudicating cases of misconduct have resulted in over 100 individuals being removed from the sport. ”
The letter concluded with a vague outline for a path forward:
“As the athlete leaders on the Board of Directors, we are calling on our Board colleagues and staff leadership to ensure that removing sexual misconduct from our ranks is not just a desire, but a primary mandate for the entire organization,” the letter read. It also asked the membership to “move forward together in this endeavor as a united family.”
The letter also extended a line of communication to the athlete members that this group is appointed to represent, via this email address.
The letter was signed by 8 of the 10 athlete representatives on the board. The names include 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin, 2000 and 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the 50 free Anthony Ervin, and 5-time Olympic champion Aaron Peirsol. The two athlete-themed members whose names did not appear on the letter were Amy Schulz, an Athlete’s Board Representative Alternate (Ex-Officio), and Kelsey Otto, Past Athlete’s Executive Committee Chair (Ex-Officio).
- Mark Weber, Athletes’ Vice-Chair
- Van Donkersgoed, Deputy Athletes’ Vice-Chair
- Natalie Coughlin Hall, USOC AAC Representative
- Anthony Ervin, USOC AAC Alternate Representative
- Aaron Peirsol, FINA Athletes Commission
- Davis Tarwater, Athlete Representative
- Derek Paul, Athlete Representative
- Chip Peterson, Athlete Representative
We have requested follow-up interviews with the members that signed the letter, but as of posting have not heard back.
The letter can be read in its entirety below:
The recent media coverage regarding USA Swimming, combined with the resignations of two of our senior staff, portrays a negative image of USA Swimming.
There is truth that in recent decades senior leadership, both within the volunteer governance and staff, made errors in judgment. This must be admitted. It is also true that USA Swimming has taken many positive institutional steps to better our sport and to protect athletes. Further action must reinforce the cultural and structural changes that are already underway.
First, we do not and will not tolerate sexual misconduct in the sport. We are disgusted with any person who would manipulate the duty of coaching and molding young people, as we are with any volunteer leader or staff member who enabled this to persist – either actively or passively. We stand with victims through our actions and we will stand up for them at the highest levels of USA Swimming by ensuring real and significant change. This includes holding accountable anyone involved with USA Swimming who either actively or passively allowed these tragedies to occur.
Where We’ve Been
In 2010, USA Swimming launched the Safe Sport program. This both acknowledged, and started to fix, the wrongs that took place in the past as well as those that may take place in the future. The evolution of that process involved the dedication and expertise of many athlete leaders – some of whom were themselves victims of sexual abuse.
We proudly emphasize one fact recent media coverage has omitted: while certainly not perfect, USA Swimming’s policies have become the model that other NGBs have strived for. Further, our procedures, including reporting, investigating, and adjudicating cases of misconduct have resulted in over 100 individuals being removed from the sport.
Where We Must Go
As the athlete leaders on the Board of Directors, we are calling on our Board colleagues and staff leadership to ensure that removing sexual misconduct from our ranks is not just a desire, but a primary mandate for the entire organization.
Just as we strongly advocated last year for the governance restructuring which will clarify and elevate the accountability of both the Board of Directors and staff, we are calling on all members and stakeholders to move forward together in this endeavor as a united family.
We are continually evaluating the effectiveness of our Safe Sport Program and seeking ways to strengthen it for even greater athlete protection. We are focused on ensuring that our organization will be even more vigilant. And, we are committed to having more transparent and open discussion, including asking ourselves the hard questions as to why any complacence was allowed to exist, and to ensure that will not recur.
To close, we want to hear from you, athletes, and we call on you during this time to reach out with your feedback and questions.
Mark Weber, Athletes’ Vice-Chair
Van Donkersgoed, Deputy Athletes’ Vice-Chair
Natalie Coughlin Hall, USOC AAC Representative
Anthony Ervin, USOC AAC Alternate Representative
Aaron Peirsol, FINA Athletes Commission
Davis Tarwater, Athlete Representative
Derek Paul, Athlete Representative
Chip Peterson, Athlete Representative