Today is the big day. Sarah Ehekircher will meet with USA Swimming head Tim Hinchey later on. As I wrote a week ago, this meeting is a huge opportunity for Hinchey. It's also a huge opportunity for the rest of us.
Swimming is ripe for a cultural reset. Particularly with the increasing departures from prominent positions by "old boys" who were allowed to get away with their dark ages coaching for far too long. We may not get a better opportunity to push for big change for quite some time.
What's on the table today? Well, it's hard to say. I have a simple metric for success coming out of this meeting. If Sarah Ehekircher tells me it was good enough for her, then it's good enough for me. Beyond that, everything is negotiable. But here are some significant areas of progress I hope we see in the near future:
Structural Change to Encourage Gender Equity
I hope that starting with this summer's Pan Pacific Championship, we never see an all male USA Swimming coaching staff again. I hope that going forward the numbers are all roughly equal. I want to see not only women, but people of color. Yes, I want that dirty word "diversity" in coaching, especially at the top level.
The recent string of high profile college hires give little hope to this situation changing. And believe me, I don't have anything bad to say about the two most recent big ones. Sergio Lopez is well deserved, and my good friend Gary Taylor is a thrilling choice at Auburn.
How do we get there? Affirmative Action, of course, which I know just sent thousands of my peers into a frothy rage. But lets not pretend there is not already affirmative action for "good old boys" in this sport.
Please, inform me where the selection criteria for the 2018 Pan Pacs is posted, or the Tokyo Olympics.
For each and everything I will mention, there is a cross sectional argument. If, like me, you are white and male, there is actually a lot to be gained from bringing equity to coaching. That is because there is only a very select few benefitting from the current system.
Even somebody as accomplished as Dave Salo, who at one point in the last decade appeared to be training more of the world's best swimmers than all other coaches combined, somehow never finds himself selected as head coach for an Olympic team. How does that make any sense?
Survivor Focused Reform
Whatever reform effort flows from now on in USA Swimming, they need to understand that patting themselves on the back for being "ahead of the curve" is a hollow exercise unless they do one thing: listen to survivors of abuse.
Any reform effort going forward must not be lead by National Team athletes, or members of the USA Swimming board, or Hinchey or "USA Swimming is the real victim here" Mike Unger.
All of the above should be quiet and listen for a moment. Listen to people like Sarah. She can help them bring more survivor voices into the fold by being listened to in the first place. Everyone else should follow their lead.
I thought a lot about my criticism of National team athletes being used to echo USA Swimming talking points on abuse. I've thought of a constructive solution. What if Katie Ledecky were to simply follow a real life abuse survivor, and just be a part of that person's posse. That would send a powerful message to survivors- that the best of the best in American swimming stand behind you, and that you are one of us.
Again, whether or not you were subjected to abuse, these survivors hold the key to a far better culture in swimming. They can help all of us. While the stories may be hard to hear, they also open the door to addressing a lot of things that need improving, big and small, within what we're doing.
The Conversation Continues
When I met with Chuck Wielgus seven years ago, the conversation had one clear goal. Wielgus was going to tell me his side of the story, and I would be persuaded to stop criticizing him. Once it became clear that was not how it would go, Wielgus lost interest in any further conversation.
If Hinchey can prove that he is really willing to be thoughtful and listen, and wants to continue to engage and learn, that will be a monumental shift in leadership in Colorado. He will set the tone for an entire organization, one with many of the same parts that his predecessor Wielgus put in place.
So, while tomorrow seems big I hope it's just the first little step of many to a better culture in American swimming. I'll have more to follow here, including a conversation with Sarah herself afterwards.