Last week delivered the “bombshell” that the FBI is investigating USA Swimming, particularly around the captive insurance scheme they operated (the USSIC) but also in regards to their handling/intimidation around sexual abuse complaints.
I have the misfortune of not being surprised about anything that is being investigated. It is a pleasant surprise that they are being investigated at all, after years of rumbling rumors that such an investigation would take place. It also probably explains the complete silence I’ve gotten from top officials at USA Swimming in recent months. They are no doubt doubling down on their public relations strategy as usual.
What is that strategy? It’s fairly simple. Avoid having top USA Swimming officials face independent media almost entirely. Threaten (often implicitly) what little “media” exists within swimming with a lack of access should they push this issue whatsoever.
Do a fluff podcast with Ritter! Direct people to the US Center for Safe Sport even though that organization is increasingly being recognized as a complete shame and failure. Wait for some more lawsuits to force tiny incremental changes.
Finally, continue to displace responsibility onto two of the most important (and powerless) stakeholders in American swimming: parents and your average hard working coach. I have to make a distinction here, because one might think that “coaches” are well represented in USA Swimming governance.
The truth is a certain class of coach is. The top qualification to serve as a check and balance on the salaried staff of USA Swimming appears to be loyalty to the brand,.
Meanwhile, coaches that would never abuse a kid, who are barely scratching out a living, are jumping through a newly constructed set of hoops to satisfy the brand. Parents are in the same vulnerable position they have always been in, while being presented with a sham effort that does not protect their children in any meaningful way.
I have to admit, however, my own personal hope for change is growing. I’ve never seen the “suits” in Colorado Springs on the run more than they are today. Multiple attempts by USA Swimming staff to persuade teams and organizations I work with to drop ties with me have failed. Their influence is weak and waning.
As I said last week on my 100th podcast, I think the only way for sports organizations to move ahead is to start over. Begin anew with a focus on the wellbeing of everyone involved: coaches, athletes and the families of those athletes.
Perhaps an FBI investigation that brings charges to the top of USA Swimming will have some teeth, enough teeth to force a complete reset. Although, I have to acknowledge that USA Gymnastics is on their 5th (6th?) try at this point so who really knows. At least more people are catching up.