As my friend Sarah Ehekircher keeps diligent track of, there are now 201 swimming coaches that are in some way prohibited from coaching by either USA Swimming or the US Center for “SafeSport”.
Your average swimming person might recognize a few names on the list. Not because because many of the names are “well-known” but because swimming is a very small world. Erick Lans was the head coach of the swim club I made my entree into USA Swimming on. Everybody in Massachusetts grew up in the shadow of Joe Bernal, the Rick Curl of New England Swimming.
I met Laurel Highlands in passing my first year out of college in Western Pennsylvania. Outside of Bernal, who was added to ASCA’s Hall of Fame mere months before he was permanently banned, none of those were “big names”.
You’d be hard pressed to find many well known swim coaches on any banned list. I’ve started to understand why. There are moral standards out there for coaches. If you’re the coach who was lucky enough to be on the pool deck when a young Michael Phelps came through, you can act with impunity.
Heck, the boss of USA Swimming will make even make an empty statement about how if he had a time machine you wouldn’t have coached in the Olympics. When it comes time though, you can still be on the USA Swimming National Junior team. Congrats!
If you’re one of the names on this list, or perhaps a a High School swim coach in North Dakota, Ronnie Hehn, you’re going to get nailed to the wall. I don’t feel any ambiguity here. If you strap weights to a swimmer, you are doing something obviously dangerous and stupid and you deserve to be punished for that.
Sam Freas can advocate for swimmers training with weight belts but that is cool because he’s Sam Freas and we all loved Sprinting: A Coaches Challenge. No matter that there is really no swimming purpose for doing so (as many noted in their chiding of Ronald Hehn but thus far have said nothing to Freas) and there is no real “safe” way to practice this.
I was at a coaching conference where Freas advocated that we put our swimmers in one to one combat with each other to teach them to “fight” when they were in adverse situations.
How many coaches left with an idea that doing so was in any way an appropriate way to coach swimming?
The coaches on the banned list deserve their ignominious place. But they are just the most ban-able coaches. Remember that USA Swimming had to be dragged into banning Rick Curl.
Remember that USA Swimming’s “Safe Sport” program operated with a compromised leader for nearly all of its existence.
Remember that complainants to USA Swimming were subjected to National Board of Reviews where a group of swim coaches and officials acted as judge and jury, where they were not allowed legal representation of any kind. The accused coaches were allowed to prepare a hefty defense with an attorney while victims were kept in the dark.
As it appears now, SafeSport is doing their best to not allow a “re-do” on any of these ridiculously handled cases. Why would they? Contradicting the results of USA Swimming’s kangaroo courts would bite the hand that feeds them.
“SafeSport” in all it’s incarnations has always been and continues to be a PR operation. That is not to say that there aren’t some well intentioned people on the inside. But they have consistently acted in large part against the easiest to punish, the ones that they figured were incapable of fighting back against USA Swimming.
They have triangulated which cases pose the greatest risk to them. Likewise, the majority of swim coaches have triangulated who they will call out. They are willing to go after low hanging fruit but scared to challenge the big good old boys. I don’t blame them- there is mostly loss and pain in doing so.
Still, swimming would be better if they did.