USA Swimming Named In Lawsuit Accusing Coach Joe Bernal of Sexual Abuse

Former high-level swimmer Amanda Le is accusing coach Joe Bernal of sexually abusing her 15 years ago and alleges that USA Swimming and other organizations failed to stop it.

Le, who trained with Bernal from 2006 until 2010, filed a lawsuit against “the individuals and corporate entities who let a known child rapist work as a youth swim coach, who supported him with infrastructure, position, and prestige for decades, and who allowed him full access to a never-ending cycle of young girls to prey upon,” the suit states, according to CNN.

“Amanda Le was one of those girls.”

The 33-page lawsuit alleges Bernal sexually abused Le while she was a minor—he started coaching her when she was 13 and finished when she was 18.

Bernal died in October 2022. His coaching career took off when he transformed the Fordham University men’s team into a force while also starting up the school’s women’s swim team. He went on to serve as the head coach at Harvard, getting the nod to work on two U.S. Olympic staffs in 1984 and 1988 as the coach of medalists David Berkoff and Bobby Hackett.

Inducted into the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) Hall of Fame in 2015, Bernal also founded Bernal’s Gator Swim Club based in New England (BGSC-NE), where he trained Le.

In February 2016, Bernal was given a lifetime ban by USA Swimming for sexual abuse of an unnamed “Athlete A,” which the lawsuit states was Le. Later that year, his place in the Hall of Fame of both the ASCA and Fordham was rescinded.

Bernal’s Gator Swim Club was renamed Gator Swim Club in 2016 after his retirement.

“USA Swimming is deeply committed to the safety and welfare of all its members,” the organization’s then-spokesman Scott Leightman said in 2016 in a statement to The Boston Globe. “The Safe Sport program’s mission is to increase awareness to reduce the risk for abuse in sport and our organization has no tolerance for violations of our code of conduct.’’

The lawsuit alleges that when Le was 15 and Bernal was in his mid-60s, he kissed her after practice, and the sexual contact escalated over the next few years.

“While she was in high school, Amanda started to have panic attacks, which she believed at the time were due solely to the stress of swimming; she knew that (she) was afraid of performing poorly because she would be punished,” the suit states. “Amanda was also suffering the consequences of the sexual abuse, although she did not realize it at the time.”

The lawsuit states that Le would sleep in Bernal’s room on several team trips, and she would get picked up from Bernal to skip school and go to his house for sex.

Le went to college from 2011 until 2014, and during her junior year, Bernal impregnated her and paid for the abortion, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit goes on to say that Le’s mother found her diary, and despite her parents showing it to another coach at BGSC, that coach did not contact law enforcement and “did nothing to protect Amanda.”

The suit also alleges that USA Swimming “was aware of complaints about Bernal’s inappropriate behavior with minor female swimmers” before Le began competitive swimming. It accuses Bernal, USA Swimming and other defendants of violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Bernal was previously named in an August 2021 lawsuit in which Kimberly Stines accused him of a “five-year campaign of systemic emotional and sexual abuse” beginning in 1976, according to CNN.

Le’s attorney, Jon Little, told CNN that the litigation in Le’s case is ongoing and a trial is expected sometime in late 2025 or early 2026. He also represented Stines, and says the system failed her.

“The system failed her and now she feels guilty that there is an Amanda Le,” Little told CNN, adding that Le filed the lawsuit to let kids know they are not alone.

“She felt alone back then, but she doesn’t now.”

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anonymous
7 days ago

bro i go to gators and know all the ppl and coaches they’re talking abt

Curious
10 days ago

Hey what happened to the comments from Amanda where she admitted that the police didn’t find her story credible?

comment image

Admin
Reply to  Curious
10 days ago

She asked us to remove them.

Anybody can have their own comments removed. There’s even a link to do it.

Amanda
Reply to  Curious
9 days ago

Show me where I said that. You are the problem. People like you are why women stay silent.

Admin
Reply to  Amanda
9 days ago

His comment isn’t about you. He’s trying to accuse me of a coverup. Don’t take it personally, you’re just collateral damage to this guy.

Amanda
Reply to  Braden Keith
9 days ago

I was replying to him, do not worry.

Amanda
Reply to  Curious
9 days ago

If this is how you interpreted by comments, really hope you don’t have children and do not in the future. I deleted my comments because I’m going to tell my story in full so people like you do not try to twist my words.

FormerNESCoach
13 days ago

Cronin is screwed smh 🤦🏻‍♂️. Good for this girl for coming forward. Gator Swim Club should have never carried on after Bernal anyway.

Disgusted
22 days ago

This is similar to what happened with Rick Curl at what is now Nations Capital Swim Club in the Mid-Atlantic LSC. It was well known and accepted behavior both locally and nationally. Unlike Curl, I’m not sure how well Bernal’s actions were known at USA Swimming headquarters in Colorado, but I’m sure there were many in the New England LSC that knew about this behavior and did NOTHING. This is just so sad and heartbreaking on so many levels for the victims.

Masters Swammer
Reply to  Disgusted
20 days ago

I swam for Bernal in the early-mid 90’s as an age grouper before my family moved away (when I was 13).

Obviously, this is disgusting, and my heart goes out to the victims.

I agree with the comment about the “Lord of the Flies” environment, where Bernal pitted swimmers against one another and picked favorites. That describes my experience. E.g., we were 12-year-olds being asked to do repeat 50s with no breath, and if one person couldn’t do it, Bernal would point out who screwed up, and make the whole team keep repeating the set. It was a different time, where this might have been written off as “tough coaching,” but it was also very different from the other teams… Read more »

Hero Worship
Reply to  Masters Swammer
20 days ago

I’m not from the New England area, but I liked and looked up to Joe Bernal. As a younger coach, I always admired how his team walked into every meet with the same outfits and even the same swim bags. His swimmers were good and they were tough competitors. Little did I know that it was nothing more than a cult and the leader (Bernal) was a phony and preyed off the athletes & single moms. I also ended realizing the same disappointment with Dick Shoulberg at Germantown Academy. Although it never came out that Shoulberg sexually abused his athletes or had multiple affairs with swim moms, he was also a phony and was verbally abused his athletes and created… Read more »

Last edited 20 days ago by Hero Worship
Masters swammer
Reply to  Hero Worship
20 days ago

Yeah, he definitely had a lot of power over some of the parents. In reading this, I began by thinking to myself “How could this young woman’s parents read this in her diary, and then let her continue on this team?” Even if they didn’t have definitive proof, and she claimed it was just fantasy, wouldn’t you remove your kid from that environment?

But I’m sure Bernal had these parents convinced that she would be an Olympian, or at the very least, this would be her path to a college scholarship. If she came from a working class family and was receiving discounted dues, the parents probably wanted so much to believe it wasn’t true. I sort of understand how… Read more »

Disgusted
22 days ago

This is sick! USA Swimming, NE Swimming & Gator Swim Club need to be sued into oblivion. The Gator Coach, Alex Cronin, should be permanently banned from the sport for his gross negligence and failure to report Joe Bernal. There is a more complete and detailed version of this story on yahoo (https://ca.news.yahoo.com/usa-swimming-named-explosive-sexual-224612151.html).

ThumbsDown
Reply to  Disgusted
6 days ago

Exactly! As a coach who has, on more than one occasion had to report (as a mandated reporter), to know that AC has been going around for years with this information and what he’s witnessed and he just keeps the dog and pony show going gracing the pool deck at NES meets…this is reprehensible and shame on anyone defending him AND Bernal. It’s a big giant F**K You to responsible coaches who day in and day out are out to do right by young athletes, meanwhile these shmucks get celebrated and revered. Shameful.

John Culhane
22 days ago

Ugh. I have nothing but contempt for the enablers. There will always be sexual predators (unfortunately), and more can and should be done to prevent these things from happening in the first place. But once they do happen, those who look the other way (in sports, church, etc. etc.) are the ones who can and should blow the whistle. Their lack of courage is appalling.

Snarky
Reply to  John Culhane
18 days ago

It seems as though Cronin used his knowledge of Bernal’s abuse of Amanda to negotiate a bargain price for the sale of the team and then kept his mouth shut.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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