This blog has a renewed sense of focus on change in the way structurally and culturally we combat abusive coaching.
One of the things I have struggled with is that I know that some of the things I have written are not terribly effective for winning people over. As I wrote myself, shame doesn't really work, and when I tell other coaches and swimming people that being silent makes them complicit, I am aware that I am in fact shaming them.
That piercing comment has a different purpose than rallying people who have been passive on this issue. Instead I am echoing what I have heard from victims of abuse. Part of their story that I hear over and over again is the fact that many people had the ability to say or do the right thing to help them but did not.
I am trying to communicate to them that I will not do the same, and also encouraging them to hold me accountable to that promise. It is an attempt to model behavior. Being consistent in that communication has led me into more conversations with victims of abuse. I have gained a better understanding of what they are up against.
We Want to Hear From Them
A legacy of Chuck Wielgus' morally bankrupt leadership is the way he set the tone for how we culturally responded to complaints of abuse. Wielgus, the most privileged person in swimming, was content to sit back and wait for victims to come to him.
This status quo is still echoed through USA Swimming's education material, which insanely still feature Susan Woessner lecturing you about reporting.
The crucial step they are missing is sexual abuse victims face innumerable barriers to reporting what has been done to them. Beyond the real fear of local and national reprisal, they have had the experience of people who knew or who they told not helping them.
Victims of abuse have to be convinced that speaking out will actually help them. That the person on the other end listening will fight for them. It remains to be seen whether the US Center for Safe Sport will establish itself in some publicly documented cases as one who will do as such.
So What Can I Do?
In the meantime, there are concrete things you can do in your own little slice of the swimming world to push change forward. By far the easiest is by signing onto the petition I created a month ago. If you consider yourself one of the "good people" of swimming, I highly recommend it. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Many coaches have asked me if they should make public statements or communications to their team regarding their positions on certain Safe Sport issues.
My answer is absolutely yes. Do not assume that people know your positions if you have not communicated to them. You can do your team and everyone on it a huge favor by telling them what boundaries you have, especially if they go above and beyond the general recommendations USA Swimming has.
2. One coach (who I will eventually be including on a podcast to discuss this, among other things) had the very bright idea to engage someone in his local community that specializes in helping victims of abuse and trauma.
That person has been brought in to do an audit of the team, including confidential interviews with folks lower on the power totem pole than the head coach, and will recommend structural changes.
Again, this is a great option, if you are not hearing first hand from victims of abuse these second person specialists can be your best way to get started understanding the nature of the problem you want to prevent.
3. Remember that you have a platform, no matter who you are.
Some cranky people have decided to read my posts and guess that when I say "silence is complicity" I mean that everyone should be typing out 1000 word blog posts about abuse.
If you have a blog, I think you should, but thats not for all of us. But all of us have some platform, somewhere where people listen to us. And we can demonstrate in whatever way feels honest to us what we value through that platform.
Finally, one of the barriers I have heard about endlessly is that "people aren't comfortable talking about this stuff".
That is true. But what if for one moment the leaders of our sport, instead of recommending that people break through the layer of discomfort that comes from one more rep of 100 yards, starting working instead on this layer.
What I've found from talking to people who have endured abuse, sexual and otherwise, is incredible inspiration. It's strange but, while talking to someone about terrible things that have happened to them definitely makes you feel sad, it can also light a fire under you. So, do what it takes to make that conversation possible.