More than a decade after officials were put on notice about local swimming coaches sexually abusing the young athletes under their power, the governing body of USA Swimming has yet to fully enact protections recommended by their own experts.
“It’s an outrage,” said former Olympic gold medallist Nancy Hogshead-Makar in an interview on the Law and Crime Network program Brian Ross Investigates.
“They are interested in the show, but in not letting all athletes know that the major risk of harm to them is their coach,” she said. “They actively try to avoid it. If somebody is abused they just don’t think it’s their problem.”
USA Swimming announced an initiative in 2010 to enroll its local swim clubs in what’s known as a Safe Sport program, providing training to help parents and athletes spot predatory behavior by coaches.
Yet, an investigation by the Law and Crime Network found only a paltry few teams nationwide have now been certified as Safe Sport teams.
Of teams within a 100 mile radius of the country’s 25 largest cities, only about 45 teams have received the certification, fewer than two per cent of the sport’s some 3,000 USA Swimming teams.
Meanwhile, the number of coaches implicated in the sexual abuse of their young swimmers continues to grow.
The president and CEO of USA Swimming, Tim Hinchey, declined to answer questions about the failure to certify more teams when approached by the Law and Crime Network.
In Congressional testimony, he cited the Safe Sport program as a major initiative to deal with sex abuse scandal. “The Safe Sport recognized club program will enhance athlete protection efforts at the local level,” Hinchey testified.
A Raleigh, North Carolina swim coach, Nathan Weddle, is among the most recent cases of sexual abuse.
Weddle ran his own swim club until he was arrested for the sexual abuse of a 14-year old girl who he was coaching.
“We both knew we shouldn’t be doing it, but we didn’t stop,” he told police in a videotaped confession included in the Law and Crime report. “I didn’t stop.”
Police also charged Weddle’s assistant swim coach and girlfriend, Shannon Foster, who authorities say was aware of the ongoing sexual abuse. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to two years’ probation.
Lawyers for the young woman who was sexually abused say USA Swimming bears some of the blame for its failure to fully institute the Safe Sport program in North Carolina.
“There were no safe sport certified recognized clubs in North Carolina,” said Ian Richardson of the firm Barker and Richardson. And as of this month, there still are not any, he said.
The parents were unaware of safe sport training that might have been available, according to the lawyers. “I think if the parents had seen that and in conjunction with seeing it, had training about what grooming behavior looks like, I think we wouldn’t be sitting here.”
In their response to the Raleigh lawsuit USA Swimming has denied it bears any responsibility for the illegal actions of the coach in North Carolina. He has been added to the list of coaches permanently banned by USA Swimming.
Ariel Tu contributed to this report.