For more than three decades, he got away with it.
Starting in the 1970s,USA Swimming coach Andrew “Andy” King
moved up and down the West Coast. He held positions at
organizations from California to Washington. He was named 2003
Western Team head coach and worked with hundreds of children,
including a number of high-level athletes. On paper, Andy King
looked like an all-around good guy.
Earlier this year, it became clear he was anything but.
In the 1980s and 1990s, he allegedly molested as many as a dozen
female swimmers in the San Francisco Bay area. One of those victims
claims King impregnated her and then forced her to have an
abortion. As soon as questions about his behavior surfaced, he left
the area and moved to Oak Harbor, Wash. He continued the same
pattern there. When questions arose, he abruptly resigned and
returned to the Bay area, landing a coaching job in San Jose.
He probably would have continued the pattern, amassing more
victims, had one not stepped forward, ending the years of silence.
Finally, in February 2010, the pattern was broken. King was
convicted of 20 counts of child molestation and sentenced to 40
years in prison. Had the story ended there, King could have been
written off as just one bad man.
But it didn’t.
Another of King’s victims, a 15-year-old girl, pursued a
civil case against him — and U.S. Swimming, also known as USA
Swimming. The lawsuit’s allegations shocked the swimming
world and made it clear more was going on than the actions of just
one bad man. The suit accuses more than 32 swim coaches of
molesting young swimmers. And it claimed USA Swimming knew about
many of the incidents, but failed to take appropriate
From the beginning, USA Swimming officials have asserted they take
coach misconduct very seriously. Since the lawsuit was filed, the
organization has released a 7-point action plan to ensure athlete
safety; partnered with the Child Welfare League of America, a nonprofit
organization founded in 1920; and released a list of 46 permanently
banned coaches and officials. Most have been barred for sexual
offenses that occurred within the past two decades.
But critics, including Mike Saltzstein, former USA Swimming vice
president, say the organization is not doing enough. Meanwhile, at
least four additional cases have been filed against the group and
more are to come, according to Indianapolis attorney Jonathan
Little, part of a team of attorneys representing victims from
around the country. The accused coaches are charged with sexual
violations ranging from videotaping young swimmers, to
inappropriate massaging and touching, and rape, according to
Little. In King’s case, one of his former swimmers publicly
claimed that he made her kiss one of her teammates in front of the
rest of the team, promising that the entire team would have an
easier practice if she complied.
But just as King was a harbinger of more serious problems at USA
Swimming, the sex abuse scandal rocking that organization may very
well be a warning sign of bigger problems in aquatics, say sex
“Organizations have been derelict, in my opinion, in
recognizing that they are vulnerable to having people [who would do
harm] in their ranks,” says Robert Shoop, a Kansas State
University professor and expert on the issue of sexual abuse by
teachers and coaches.
Aquatics seems to fit that description. In light of the USA
Swimming firestorm, 32 percent of aquatics professionals say they
are not confident they have adequate protocols in place when hiring
a new staff member, according to an August 2010 online survey of
approximately 515 Aquatics International readers. But only
9 percent plan to make any changes.
What’s more, though the accusations against USA Swimming have
received national news coverage, some leaders appear unwilling or
unable to address the issue. At best, they’re uncomfortable
discussing the prickly subject of sex abuse. At worst, they simply
refuse to accept a role in preventing future abuse.
“Organizations can do just about nothing,” says John
Leonard, executive director of the American Swimming Coaches
Association. “The issue is parents going to police.
That’s the only way you’re going to get these people
Much like the Boy Scouts of America, and the Roman Catholic Church,
for many years the issue of child sex abuse has been virtually
ignored in aquatics. As a result, experts say not enough is being
done to prevent another King from showing up at almost any aquatics
facility in the nation — and amassing more victims.
Reality of sex
Clearly, child sexual abuse isn’t just a problem in swimming.
Any youth-serving organization is attractive to predators, says
Elizabeth Warren, national prevention program manager of Darkness to Light, a Charleston, S.C.-based nonprofit that promotes child sexual abuse awareness and education
“Trying to paint this as a swimming picture is totally unfair
and completely unreasonable,” Leonard adds. “It’s
a larger issue in society.”
Indeed, one in four girls and one in six boys is sexually abused
before the age of 18, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
report. What’s more, other research suggests that in
approximately 90 percent of child sexual abuse cases, the
perpetrator is someone the victim knows, such as a camp counselor,
instructor, baby sitter or coach. Most often, that adult is a male
and the victim is a female, but statistics show that’s
certainly not always the case.
“Awareness of, and education on, child protection issues
among sport teachers, coaches and other stakeholders is too often
lacking,” according to “Protecting Children From
Violence In Sport: A Review With a Focus on Industrialized
Countries,” a July 2010 report from theUNICEF Innocenti
Research Centre in Florence, Italy.
A 2002 Australian study of athletes at the club and elite level
found that 31 percent of female and 21 percent of male athletes had
been sexually abused at some time in their lives. It also showed
that 41 percent of females and 29 percent of males who reported
sexual abuse said it happened within the sports environment.
Additionally, 25 percent of Danish athletes were aware of incidents
in which coaches sexually harassed sport participants under age 18,
or had personally experienced it, according to a 2001 Danish study
of 250 sport students in the UNICEF report.
Coaching is an attractive role for child molesters because it
brings them closer to young people. Athletes often spend
significant amounts of time with coaches, in many cases away from
the practice venue at competitions and events. That’s when
they are most vulnerable, with incidents of abuse more likely to
happen “off site,” according to experts such as Brooke
de Lench, author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of
Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins 2006).
That was the case with former Northern California swim coach Norman
Havercroft, accused of sexually abusing Jancy Thompson, who swam on
his team as a teenager in the 1990s. According to the ongoing
lawsuit, Havercroft allegedly sexually molested Thompson at a
number of settings, including his home, a school and other sites
during out-of-town meets. He also allegedly molested a young
swimmer in a hotel room on an overnight trip to a swim meet. She
filed a lawsuit against Havercroft in 2001.
All coaches have a significant degree of power over the athletes. A
young swimmer might be told by her parents to “listen to the
coach,” and older athletes may fear that if they don’t
do whatever the coach wants, it may mean the loss of a scholarship
or a place on the team.
“There are strong cultural factors at play here based on
trust, devotion, ambition and submission to authority
figures,” explains Celia Brackenridge, an internationally
recognized author and expert on youth sport and athlete welfare.
“The performance culture is not unlike that in a cult or
religious environment where the young person — in this case,
a swimmer — is prepared to sacrifice, do almost anything to
succeed, and feels she has no option but to comply. The medal is
the equivalent of salvation and redemption.”
Those who would infiltrate an organization such as a swim team are
likely to fall under one of two types. First, there are the
individuals who sign on as coaches, teachers and group leaders for
the express purpose of getting close to a group of potential young
victims. Second, there are those who don’t necessarily go
into coaching to molest, but nonetheless end up in a situation. As
Shoop explains, these perpetrators “‘never meant to do
anything’ and might even think they’re truly in
If all pedophiles fit the stereotypical profile of a creepy looking
individual lurking in the shadows, weeding out those who would do
harm would be simple. But that’s not the case. Perpetrators
often are individuals everyone knows and trusts.
“Sex offenders look just like me and you, and they go out of
their way to blend in with the everyday behavior in an
organization,” Warren says.
In most cases, that fact helps a perpetrator gain the trust of the
young person through a “grooming” process. This might
entail extra attention, gifts and/or innocent (albeit
inappropriate) physical contact, such as a hug. By the time that
behavior crosses the line, the athlete is already entangled in a
relationship with the perpetrator and coming forward is
A number of factors make it difficult, Little says. “First,
the victims often feel that somehow they may be at fault,” he
says. In addition, by coming forward, victims must overcome any
fears that no one will believe them, publicly admit what happened
and face the perpetrator in court.
What’s more, the culture of an organization can make coming
forward even tougher. “No one wants to face the harsh reality
that these pedophiles can be our uncles, teachers coaches and
friends,” Warren says.
The issue can be even more complicated if the coach has a strong
reputation for winning. A winning coach likely means greater
prestige and financial stability for an organization, so it’s
not hard to fathom how that might make it easier for some to look
“I’m hearing directly from the parents that many times
when they do report something to a higher-up, concerns are
basically ignored,” de Lench says. “It’s a band
of brothers, if you will, and many times they’re protecting
According to Little, that’s the case with USA Swimming.
“USA Swimming has established a culture that blames the
victims and protects the coaches,” he asserts. “It has
established a cult atmosphere centered around the Olympics.
‘How dare you challenge us? We are the holders of the keys to
your Olympic dreams.’”
As a result, much of the responsibility for identifying pedophiles
in aquatic and other athletic organizations has fallen on the
victims and their parents — until now. Yet without the
support of the organization, the naming of offenders often
doesn’t happen until years later because parents are in the
dark and victims are too afraid or ashamed to come forward.
“As a policy matter, it’s not advisable to put the
burden on those who have been harassed,” says Nancy
Hogshead-Makar, a former Olympic swimming champion and now a law
professor at Florida
Coastal School of Law and the senior director of advocacy for
the Women’s Sports Foundation. “There’s
tremendous shame involved, and that makes it difficult for them to
To eliminate predators, experts such as Hogshead-Makar say
all parties must be involved. Organizations need to implement a
comprehensive program that addresses staff, parents and athletes.
“Everyone plays a role,” adds Sally Johnson, executive
Council of Youth Sports. “It is so important that
everyone take the responsibility.”
One place organizations can start is requiring criminal background
Johnson’s Stuart, Fla.-based organization represents more
than 185 organizations/corporations. In 2003, it was named in the
Federal PROTECT Act to work with the FBI on a pilot program
addressing the issue of child sexual abuse. In 2004, NCYS cofounded
Center for Safety Initiatives as a resource to provide
comprehensive background screenings.
The NCSI screenings generally include:
- Identity verification, using SSN Verification and the
- A national criminal database search, updated regularly with
more than 300 million criminal records.
- An OFAC terrorist database search.
- A Sex Offender Registry search of all available states
(presently 49, plus Washington, D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico).
Also, most of NCSI’s programs include at least one county
search that generally covers longest and most recent residency in
the past five years. Other components can be added.
“Background screening is a critical element to any hiring,
certification and/or volunteer process because … it gives us
important information about an individual that may be used as part
of an overall process,” Johnson says.
According to the Aquatics International survey, nearly 80
percent of respondents now are doing criminal background checks.
But Johnson and other experts are quick to point out that it cannot
be the “be all, end all” approach.
“Criminal background checks, through any source, have some
limitations. The criminal records system in America is highly
fragmented, with courts housing records at local, county, state and
federal levels,” Johnson says. “As well, if a crime is
not reported and/or processed or if the arrest/charge was dismissed
and/or did not result in a conviction or was later sealed, expunged
or otherwise removed, the record may not be available and/or
In fact, only approximately 5 percent of sex offenders have a
record, according to the CDC and other major law enforcement
agencies. For that reason, good reference checks are another
essential strategy to weed out a potential sex offender.
“References … will almost always know if a candidate
has had prior problems, meaning red flag behaviors or actual
incidents of abuse,” says Kevin Trapani, president/CEO of
The Redwoods Group, Morrisville, N.C.
A good reference check should include a cross section of former
athletes, parents and staffers who have worked with the individual
professionally. The Redwoods Group, which handles insurance and
risk management for organizations, including The Y and Jewish
Community Centers, also requires contact with a close family
“It might seem counterintuitive, but every year we have a few
cases where organizations have spoken to a family member and that
person has said, ‘Couldn’t [my relative] do anything
else but work with kids?’ That raises a red flag and that
individual is not hired,” Trapani says.
Still, nothing is foolproof, and dealing with the issue of child
sexual abuse proactively “puts more of an onus on club owners
and organizations,” notes Dr. Pat Griffin, professor emerita
at the University
of Massachusetts at Amherst and an NCAA recognized educational
consultant who is actively involved with the nonprofit
Women’s Sports Foundation.
For that reason, she says comprehensive policies also should be put
in place, covering things such as mandatory staff training, and
strict enforcement of a two-or- more-coaches-at-all-times rule to
discourage any adult staff member or volunteer from ever being
alone with an athlete.
“One of the difficulties is that you really have to build up
trust, and a sexual predator is extremely good at this,” says
Gareth Hedges, associate general counsel for The Redwoods Group.
“What we have to make sure of when we put rules in place is
to balance that trust with scrutiny by staff and
Parents are key players and must be made aware of all policies as
well, according to experts. They should be educated about the
importance of speaking to their kids about what is appropriate
behavior and what is not an acceptable way for an adult to speak or
“The most common thing we see among victims may be that the
parents weren’t talking to them about [sex abuse] and the
kids weren’t armed with the information that they have the
right to say 'no' to an adult,” Warren says.
Adds de Lench, “[Parents] need to feel comfortable that when
they go to a team meeting or something, that they will have all
their questions answered. If they don’t feel comfortable
asking for changes or raising concerns, they
Changing the status
What will it take to change the status quo and encourage
youth-serving sports organizations such as those in aquatics to
In 1995 when Paul Hickson, a former U.K. Olympic swimming head
coach was convicted of raping and molesting more than one of his
athletes, it was a wake-up call. Since that time, “all 58
national governing bodies of sport in England adopted child
protection policies,” according to a report by Brackenridge
and two other experts.
Certainly, media attention on the USA Swimming cases is having a
similar effect in bringing child sexual abuse out from the shadows
here in the United States.
Scott Blackmun, chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic
Committee said in USA Today that USA Swimming cases
have “sensitized people” to the fact that abuse is
happening, which “they didn’t know or didn’t
think about in the past.”
That’s been the case for Tim Bauer, head coach of The
Woodlands Swim Team, a USA Swimming club in The Woodlands,
Texas. When he drove two of his swimmers to an out-of-town meet a
few years ago, he didn’t think anything of it. “I would
have never [been in the car alone with just one swimmer], but now
I’m realizing that even with two athletes, there should have
been another adult present,” Bauer says. In light of the
lawsuits involving USA Swimming, he says his organization has
decided to evaluate all of its policies and make changes to ensure
the safety of swimmers and coaches.
For its part, USA Swimming has publicly announced a number of
policy changes. The organization’s new 7-point action plan
aims to better safeguard athletes from sexual abuse. Some changes
the plan calls for include:
- Developing comprehensive new guidelines addressing
acceptable coach behavior.
- Enhancing the system for reporting sexual abuse to USA
Swimming and law enforcement.
- Reviewing the current Code of Conduct and background
- Educating athletes, parents, coaches and club leaders on
the issue of sexual abuse.
“There are two points that will absolutely make the most
difference in addressing this societal tragedy, and they go hand in
hand. They are education and reporting,” Chuck Wielgus, USA
Swimming executive director, tells Aquatics International.
“We want to educate our coaches, athletes and parents —
the people who are at the swim clubs interacting with each other,
talking to the athletes — about how to identify inappropriate
behavior and how to report it. It is our goal that our entire
membership knows that truthfully reporting this behavior is not
only acceptable, but is a serious and important
Wielgus notes that since the plan was published, the organization
has acted on implementing changes in several ways. At its House of
Delegates Meeting in September, USA Swimming approved a number of
measures based on the action plan. The background check program was
expanded and, effective Jan. 1, all nonathlete members must pass a
criminal background screening. Furthermore, a revised set of
athlete protection policies was formally adopted, and the rulebook
now includes guidelines for reporting abuse, which has been made
mandatory. The organization has hired an athlete protection
officer, Susan Wossner.
Earlier, the organization partnered with the Child Welfare League
of America, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of agencies formed
in 1920 and dedicated to addressing child welfare issues.
“We take this issue very seriously and are working tirelessly
to find the best and most effective ways in which to address
it,” Wielgus says. “We want to be a leader among
governing bodies in the area of athlete protection, and we have
committed to sharing our programming and key learnings on this
topic. While it’s a difficult and emotional issue, we are not
going to shy away from it. Rather, we are looking for ways to
improve and expand our athlete protection efforts, and to raise the
bar on athlete protection throughout the Olympic
But to raise the bar within aquatics, as Warren notes, “We
need to see more organizations being proactive.”
Jim Everett, CEO of the Treasure Valley YMCA in Boise, Idaho, is one
organization leader who has been working to address child sexual
abuse for some time.
When the first lawsuit against USA Swimming was filed, he wrote an
open letter to all Treasure Valley YMCA members, reassuring parents
and explaining some of his organization’s policies. These
include the following: All staffers, including swim team coaches,
will attend a four-hour YMCA child-abuse prevention training
program within 90 days of their hiring; all employees will undergo
background checks and reference checks; and a staff policy that
instructs employees never to be alone with children, have outside
activities where they would be alone with children, or baby-sit any
child that they have a relationship with through The Y.
“In 99.999 percent of cases, a child’s relationship
with a coach is an extremely positive one, and we certainly have a
responsibility to make sure that’s what we provide,”
Everett says. “People trust their kids to us. One kid is one