dark ages

Even Wilder Speculation About College Jobs

Even Wilder Speculation About College Jobs

Yesterday, Swimswam posted an article speculating who might get hired at one of the most coveted jobs in swimming, head coach of Auburn University. This is shaping up to be an epic college hiring season and I applaud the article. It is fun to speculate about this kind of thing.

I would make only one significant edit to Swimswam's list. It is made up entirely of men. That's not entirely Swimswam's fault

Catching up on Irvin Muchnick

Catching up on Irvin Muchnick

I first discovered Irvin Muchnick six or so years ago. I think it may have been in a Swimswam comment. On first read, Muchnick's words can hit you like a two by four across the face. Especially in the world of swimming, to say his approach and willingness to take on powerful figures is uncommon would be a vast understatement.

Alternate Realities of Swimming

Alternate Realities of Swimming

While I await more a more forceful response from a USA Swimming board member (I spoke with one who wished to remain anonymous on Friday that promised me something more by today. They said, I quote "No response is worse than a bad response") let's discuss why there is such a wide gap between the state of swim coaching I write about and the one that ASCA President Don Heidary blustered earlier this week.

Michael Brooks Has Questions to Answer

Since last week, there has been a rush to focus on the problem of Sean Hutchison. This is understandable, Hutchison stands accused of monstrous behavior and was a prominent figure in our sport for the past decade.

However, before we move on, it is actually very important to understand what exactly happened, and the culture that supported Hutchison. It is far more important that we do not replicate the environment that allowed Hutchison to flourish than to just punish Hutchison and move on.

The current head coach of King Aquatics, Michael Brooks, has some important questions to answer in the wake of Hutchison "stepping down" as CEO of King. So far, the only quote circulating from looks is as follows:

"Ariana Kukors is part of the King Aquatic family and we only want the best for her,” Mr. Brooks said. “Our staff is meeting to review this devastating news. Sean Hutchison has stepped down as an executive with King and has had no direct interaction with our swimmers for a very long time.”

This statement still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Here are a few we should demand from Brooks:

1. When did he learn of a sexual relationship between Hutchison and Kukors, and what was his reaction?

2. What does "for a very long time" mean in relation to Hutchison's presence on deck. Specifically, when was the last time Hutchison interacted with swimmers at King?

3. Even though Hutchison has stepped down from his position, is he still the owner of King Aquatics? When families at King pay their dues this month, is that money going to Hutchison?

4. Who made the decision that Hutchison was no longer CEO? 

If these questions seem to the reader to be aggressive in assigning blame to Brooks, let me present a counter scenario. If Brooks and others truly were in the dark about Hutchison, they should be furious with USA Swimming right now. They clearly sat on information about Hutchison, and as a result of that lack of clarity, have put Brooks' career and others in jeopardy.

So to MIchael Brooks, I ask for answers to the above questions, and one more. Depending on the answer to the above, will you join the fight for transparency at USA Swimming. Membership of USA Swimming, swimmers and parents at your club, deserve answers about what happened in 2010 at FAST, and who knew what about Hutchison at that time.

If you want to catch up on somebody who was way ahead of their time, Irv Muchnick was reporting on much of what we now know as long as six years ago. Few listened, and far more should now.

Enough With the Victim Blaming

It's not even been a week since Ariana Kukors bravely told the story of what happened to her at the hands of her swim coach, Sean Hutchison. Already there is a disturbing trend in the discussion of it. To varying degrees, Kukors has been maligned. The arguments I've heard are something like follows:

"She was a consenting adult to the sex because they had sex after she was 18 years old"

If this is how you read the story, I'm going to ask you to reconsider. I'm being polite today because several friends reached out to me yesterday and asked me to stop being so angry. That's hard for me- abusive coaches have really hurt the sport I love, but more importantly really hurt people that I care about. 

It's worth reading Kukors' story several times, even though it is hard. People are fixating on the handshake as the first step to grooming. Don't fall into this trap- shaking hands is not a in isolation. Grooming children who you hold power over for sex is. So if you ask kids to shake your hands, 

Power is the key to understanding this story. Hutchison held huge influence and power over Kukors and others. I do not believe that a 16 year old girl can consent to sexual contact with her 34 year old swim coach. 

Likewise, Kukors story reveals that Hutchison used another power imbalance to his advantage. He knew what he was doing was wrong- victims are often far less certain about what is right and wrong due to their age and position.

That he "saved" intercourse until she was 18 is a key tell. He knew what he was doing was wrong and was trying to do it in a way that would leave him less exposed to legal jeopardy. Even though he knew he was in the wrong, he effectively transferred the shame onto his victim and used that power to tighten his grip.  

So please, spare all of us the insinuation that Kukors somehow consented to any of this. 

So What Do We Do Now?

I mentioned that friends reached out to me, and even a few people that I had never spoken to. This is the part where I tell them "I hear you". They wanted less anger and more proactive steps. So here are some proactive steps.

1. Offer whatever platform or forum you have for the girls and women you know in the sport to talk about what they would like to see get better. Many of them will not want to- be empathetic to that.

I believe that prominent female voices within the sport will be speaking out on this very issue in the next few days, and there will be strength in numbers that there has not been before in this moment

2. If you are a man, get out and positively support what these women and girls are saying. Take their suggestions to heart and think about real change you can effect in whatever domain you have.

That's it. I think that step one will reveal a lot about what step two should be. It's time for big change and the moment is now. 

Silence is Complicity

Yesterday was a whirlwind. I spoke to more people than I can properly remember, all about the topic of the day. This day there will be more, I'm sure.

Here's a message for all those conversations, and the ones I'm not having. The time is now. Speak your truth.

There are people who know more about Sean Hutchison, FAST, "SafeSport", Mark Schubert and all the other tentacles of this story. Some of them, like Dia Rianda or Dagny Knutson, have been ignored. It's time to start listening. 

There are other people who know more who haven't spoken. Right now they are waiting on the sidelines. I hear their stories third or fourth hand. I have empathy for the fact that some of them have also been hurt in this situation. They do not want to be defined by what they know and said.

I think soon they will be defined by what they knew and didn't say. Their silence makes them complicit in this story repeating itself. 

Everyone is scared right now, myself included. When I told my wife I would begin writing about this full force again, her first inclination was to beg me not to. Part of me agreed. I knew that keeping my mouth shut, however, just wasn't an option.

Eight years ago, I questioned why big name coaches like Bob Bowman contribute nothing to this discussion. The same question is worth asking today. These are people with powerful platforms, that they have used to advocate for far more trivial issues. What does their silence say?

There is a huge category of silent partners right now who can still play their part. We need more than silence from them too. If you're reading this and you think "I don't have any special knowledge, I'm not a big name, I don't even know what to say". Say something. Use my words if you want. You have a platform. The time for silence is over. 

Hold Their Feet to The Fire

I'll be honest: I'm mad. I don't know where to start.

In the days since Ariana Kukors publicly revealed not only the brutal manipulation and abuse that Sean Hutchison inflicted on her, but the insidious grooming process he used to achieve it, the other characters in this story have been far too silent.

It's time to hold some feet to the fire. This blog is directed specifically at the media covering this story.

It is not an attack. It is a request. Hold their feet to the fire.

Who are they? Like I said, it's hard to know where to start. Here are two suggestions:

Mark Schubert

Schubert, who played a huge role in enabling Sean among many, many other things, is out in the media trying to cast himself as some sort of whistleblower that was ignored back in 2010. 

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Schubert took his knowledge of Sean and used it as leverage to his own gain. He gladly accepted $625,000 to keep his mouth shut and went his way.

Oh, and he hired the man, Bill Jewell, who oversaw Hutchison day to day at FAST, Jewell was another enabler who fashioned himself as a whistleblower. He was quoted in the original Washington Post article in 2010 saying that he had looked into the "rumors" and addressed them with Sean.

Jewell would go on to be banned for three years from coaching by USA Swimming after a real whistleblower, Dia Rianda, actually held some feet to the fire.

As Craig Lord aptly put in a facebook comment underneath Schubert's latest distortion, there is some basic journalism that anyone that talks to Schubert should engage in. Spend 5 minutes googling Mark Schubert and Sean Hutchison and catch up on some of the above. Ask some follow up questions.

Mark Schubert is not a hero in this story. He is one of the villains.

USA Swimming

USA Swimming cannot be allowed to put out statements like the one they did for Kukors without strong pushback. 

Here's the worst part of that statement:

"During the USA Swimming investigation, both Ariana and Hutchison, as well as Ariana’s sister, Emily, unequivocally denied the existence of a romantic or sexual relationship"

USA Swimming loves to be cagey with revealing details about their "investigations", but here they are changing the rules and burning Kukors to defend themselves. 

Kukors own story provides so many questions USA Swimming needs to answer. Why did their investigation consist of one brief phone call to Kukors? Why were they in such a rush to consider this "case closed" and move on?

Why did they have to pay Mark Schubert $625,000 dollars for his silence if nothing happened?

Most importantly, where do they get off throwing a sexual abuse victim under the bus? How do they justify that their organization is somehow more important than the welfare of a human being? 

So again, my request goes out. Craig Lord, Swimswam, Deadspin, Scott Reid at the OC Register and anyone else that has shown a modicum of interest in this story. Hold their feet to the fire, keep asking questions, and don't let up until we get the answers we deserve.