On the heels of a civil lawsuit that alleges widespread sexual abuse among swim coaches and the resulting media storm, USA Swimming has begun implementing closely watched plans to address the issue.
“While it is difficult to be in the spotlight on such a tragic issue, we hope that by facing the issue head-on and taking meaningful action to address it, that we can serve as a leader among youth organizations,” said Jamie Fabos Olsen, USA Swimming communications director, via email.
But critics wonder whether the organization is doing enough.
In the midst it all, at least one additional lawsuit has been filed (similar to the first) – alleging that former Kansas City Dolphins swim coach Robert Mirande sexually abused one of his young team members.
Within weeks following the California lawsuit, filed by Attorney Robert Allard in Santa Clara Superior Court, USA Swimming released a “7-Point Action Plan for a Safe and Positive Sport Environment.”
In implementing some of these items, the organization has hired nationally recognized expert Barry Nadell to review its background-screening program; approved creation of a Special Committee on Athlete Protection; and acted to begin establishing a counseling service and reporting hotline.
Dave Salo has been following the developments. As general manager of Club Irvine Novaquatics, and head coach of University of Southern California Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving he says while USA Swimming can provide background screenings and guidelines, in the end protecting young swimmers is in the hands of parents and those at individual clubs.
“If somebody’s [abusing a swimmer] and it’s the first time, no background check is going to catch that,” says Salo. He cautions that parents have to be attentive and clubs have to enforce strict guidelines among staff as to what contact is appropriate.
Those involved in the lawsuits say USA Swimming hasn’t gone far enough in its response. “We firmly believe that USA Swimming has not taken the necessary steps to stop abuse,” said Ed Vasquez, spokesman for Attorney Robert Allard. “The changes promoted two weeks ago are a smoke screen. They are not real and they will not do anything to stop abuse.” Vasquez also represents Attorneys Lynn Johnson, representing the plaintiff in the Kansas City suit, and Jonathan Little, who represents Brooke Taflinger, an Indiana swimmer who’s coach plead guilty to child pornography.
In addition to Vasquez, Mike Saltzstein, a former USA Swimming vice president and Ken Stopkotte, 2009-10 Indiana High School Swimming Coach of the Year, have criticized the organization for not acting quickly or decisively enough to prevent abuses. Stopkotte appeared on an ESPN report.