Tim Joyce of WBAL in Baltimore has broken another big story on the front of sexual abuse in swimming, as he claims he has been in contact with a victim who claims to have been sexually abused while at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, home to Michael Phelps and Bob Bowman.
Joyce reports that the victim reported the activities to her club in October of 2011, at which time the impeccably-managed club seems to have taken every appropriate action: they immediately relieved the coach of his duties, they reported him to the police, and they reported him to USA Swimming.
NBAC wouldn’t comment on the case, though one will recall that there was much coaching turnover in the club in the fall of 2011.
From that point, Joyce reports that the victim was never contacted by USA Swimming, and that there was no follow-up on the case, though no sources were revealed, even by their connection to the situation if not by name.
The story was initially removed from the WBAL website, but has since returned with a note from the editor that all claims were backed up by “unimpeachable” sources.
USA Swimming Responds
USA Swimming has fought back, responding to parents of the club with a list of Questions and Answers. The letter begins by referring to the claims as “unfounded,” in stark contrast to the statement made by the editors at WBAL who claim to have verified Joyce’s sources. The statement also refers to Joyce’s claims as “inaccurate, sensational, and issue-driven reporting.” The letter then goes into details about the 6 core areas of USA Swimming’s Safe Sport program, and says that it is “routinely recognized as the best in Olympic sport.”
(The letter, addressed to “parents and friends of NBAC,” went into some detail about how complaints within the program are handled, as it was originally geared toward that audience, as compared to the audience that has been closely following the story through the news and would already be familiar with many of the concepts. To read all about the SafeSport program, click here, or read the full letter below).
Next, USA Swimming sends off details about the complaint, beginning with stating that there is not a current investigation involving any coach from NBAC. The abuse was alleged to have taken place in 1975, when swimming was governed by the AAU. According to USA Swimming, that they had no legal recourse because they didn’t exist in 1975.
They do state, however, that they passed the complaint and information to the Baltimore County Police Department, Precinct 1.
The coach resigned his position at the club and his USA Swimming membership in 2011 (as compared to WBAL, who claims the coach was removed from his duties by the club).
Full Text of the Letter from USA Swimming, Unedited:
Q&A: On the blog about North Baltimore Aquatic Club
Dear parents and friends of NBAC,
It has come to our attention that a local AM radio station has been broadcasting unfounded accusations about USA Swimming’s handling of a complaint to our Safe Sport team related to NBAC involving an alleged incident that occurred 37 years ago. While the organization continues to work compassionately and tirelessly on our comprehensive abuse-prevention initiative, which is routinely recognized as the best in Olympic sport, we remain as frustrated as you are with inaccurate, sensational, issue-driven reporting like this.
Regardless, we believe strongly in our responsibility to provide responsible communication on this issue, so we developed the Q&A below to answer questions you may have about this situation.
Swimming is a fun, healthy activity that provides a positive, valuable life experience for its participants. All of us at USA Swimming are committed to fostering that experience for all our members in a safe environment.
Please know that we take the safety of our swimmers very seriously, and through our Safe Sport program we thoroughly investigate issues and quickly and prudently take action. That is our unwavering commitment to you.
What is USA Swimming’s stance on Safe Sport?
USA Swimming put in place a comprehensive Safe Sport program, which is among the strongest in youth sports. Our program consists of efforts in six core areas:
- Policies & Guidelines
- Screening & Selection
- Training & Education
- Monitoring & Supervision
- Recognizing, Reporting & Responding
- Grassroots Engagement & Feedback.
USA Swimming is proud of its proactive approach to abuse prevention and continually strives to be the leader in Safe Sport in the Olympic movement.
During our annual convention, USA Swimming released a “Safe Sport Report” evaluating our efforts in this important area. The report is attached to this email for your review.
What is the status of the complaint and investigation arising from NBAC?
There is not a current investigation involving any coach from NBAC. There was previously a complaint filed regarding an incident alleged to have occurred in 1975, back when swimming was governed by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Because USA Swimming (and therefore its Code of Conduct) was not in existence in 1975, the organization legally had no recourse in the matter. However, due to USA Swimming’s commitment to Safe Sport and the safety of our swimmers, we reported the complaint and information received to the Baltimore County Police Department, Precinct 1.
What happened to the coach?
The coach resigned both his position at the club and his USA Swimming membership in 2011.
How does USA Swimming handle complaints?
USA Swimming takes all complaints regarding violations of the Code of Conduct, and especially those involving alleged abuse, very seriously. When a complaint is received, USA Swimming initiates an investigation through a third-party investigator. The investigator conducts a thorough review to determine if the complaint has merit.
When the investigation corroborates the complaint, USA Swimming requests a National Board of Review Hearing against the individual. The National Board of Review has the authority to rule on the membership status of the accused individual. The highest penalty USA Swimming can invoke is the permanent suspension of membership. Additionally, when the complaint involves abuse of a minor, USA Swimming reports that information to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.
What about screening for coaches?
USA Swimming does extensive background checks (covering federal, state and county records) on coaches and has added a background check requirement for all non-athlete members. We also require teams to perform additional pre-employment screenings of new coaches. All Non-athlete members of USA Swimming are also required to complete athlete protection training.
USA Swimming publishes a public listing of individuals suspended from the organization for life.
As a parent, what can I do about Safe Sport?
USA Swimming offers free online education on the issue of Safe Sport and abuse prevention for parents of our 330,000 athlete members. We strongly encourage all of our parents to participate in this convenient online training by visiting www.usaswimming.org/protect and clicking on “Education.”
What if I have questions or concerns?
USA Swimming employs a Safe Sport staff at our national headquarters in Colorado Springs, and the staff members are here to help answer questions, execute programming and accept reports. You can contact Susan Woessner, director of Safe Sport, at [email protected] or Elizabeth Hoendervoogt, Safe Sport coordinator, at [email protected].
Get more information about Safe Sport here (http://www.usaswimming.org/DesktopDefault.aspx?TabId=1955&Alias=rainbow&Lang=en)