Child Sex-Abuse Victim Demands USA Swimming Change LeadershipEben Novy-Williams
A woman who was sexually abused by her award-winning coach is seeking the ouster of USA Swimming leadership she says knew about her case and did nothing.
Rick Curl, USA Swimming’s developmental coach of the year in 2003, was sentenced yesterday to seven years in prison, for the abuse of Kelley Davies Currin when she was a teenager in the 1980s. Currin released a statement through her attorney calling for the resignations of USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus and Technical Vice President David Berkoff, as well as the banning of former U.S. national team coach Mark Schubert, all of whom she says knew about the abuse before the criminal charges.
Currin said in the statement that USA Swimming’s leadership helped create “a culture that protects predator coaches and vilifies young victims who have the courage to come forward.”
“I have no confidence whatsoever that USA Swimming will protect swimmers from sex abuse,” said Currin, 43. “Its leaders have been given ample opportunity to prove to the country that they are able to put the interests of swimmers ahead of their own. They have failed and failed in the worst of ways.”
Wielgus said today in an open letter to USA Swimming’s 300,000 members that the sport’s national governing body began an immediate investigation into the accusations against Curl when it was first made aware of them through a third party in 2011, and later filed police reports that initiated the criminal proceedings. He said USA Swimming was unaware of any wrongdoing involving Currin before 2011.
“At USA Swimming, we have the highest levels of compassion and concern for abuse victims, but we also must adhere to deliberative processes for those being accused of inappropriate conduct,” Wielgus said.
Currin, a finalist at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials, was abused by Curl for five years, beginning when she was 13, her lawyer Robert Allard said in an e-mail. Her parents found out about the abuse when they read her diary and, after being advised not to file criminal charges, settled with Curl in 1989. The coach paid $150,000 for the family’s silence, Allard said.
Currin said in her statement that Berkoff knew about Curl’s actions in the “late 1980s.” Schubert, she said, knew about the abuse by 1989, when he became her coach at the University of Texas, and told Wielgus on at least three occasions starting in 2007. Wielgus testified that he was aware in 2010 of a settlement between Curl and a former swimmer, according to Currin’s statement.
Currin and USA Swimming disagree on the timeline of events that led to criminal proceedings against Curl. Currin says she approached the governing body in 2011, while Wielgus said USA Swimming first made contact with Currin in April 2012, one year after it began investigating a third-hand report that Curl had an inappropriate relationship with a minor female swimmer in the 1980s and that a confidential legal settlement had been made.
USA Swimming revoked Curl’s membership in September 2012, and he was criminally charged one month later. Curl pleaded guilty in February 2013 to one count of child sexual abuse involving Currin, according to the Washington Post, and was sentenced yesterday at Montgomery County Circuit Court in Rockville, Maryland.
Curl isn’t the first swim coach jailed in a high-profile sexual-abuse proceeding. In 2010, San Jose-area swim coach Andy King was sentenced to 40 years in prison after pleading no contest to 20 molestation charges. Nine months after King’s sentencing, USA Swimming promoted Susan Woessner to the new role of athletic protection officer.
“We said it’s a dark time, but we want to come out of this as a leader in this area,” Woessner said in an interview with Bloomberg News in December 2011. “We re-examined what we were doing beforehand and said, ‘How can we improve it?’”
Woessner is the director of USA Swimming’s Safe Sport Program, formed in 2010 to foster a “fun, healthy and safe environment for all its members,” according to its website. That includes managing the organization’s Code of Conduct; background checks for coaches, officials and volunteers who directly work with children; and education and training programs on prevent abuse.
Since the program’s creation, 36 members have been sanctioned for Code of Conduct violations, with 30 of those banned for life, Wielgus said in his letter.
“We remain committed to responsibly and diligently addressing any issues we have within our organization,” he said.
Currin, now married with four children, closed her statement by urging the U.S. government to intervene if USA Swimming “continues to demonstrate that it cannot regulate itself.”
“Enough is enough,” she said. “I am living proof that we have a deep-rooted problem in the amateur sport of swimming that requires drastic and immediate action.”