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Finally, Congress shows interest in USA Swimming sex abuse scandal

USA Swimming, one of the crown jewel governing bodies of the United States Olympics Committee, has been overwhelmed with sexual abuse allegations by swimmers (often involving the most celebrated coaches in the sport) for years with nary a consequence for the organization.  This abominable lack of accountability has been accomplished by utilizing the sheer weight of the Olympic movement and the fact that the media has been shamefully silent on this matter for too long.

But after a series of recently publicized incidents – most notably the sentencing of legendary swim coach Rick Curl, and a spate of troubles, including past sexual abuse, at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, the home club of Michael Phelps – it appears that accountability may finally be in order for an organization that has acted in much the same fashion as those in the Catholic Church who sought to cover-up their infamous scandal. The office of Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) has requested the GAO to investigate, and on Wednesday Miller’s staff is meeting with representatives of USA Swimming in a fact-gathering session.

{mosads}Speaking of the Catholic Church, in a stunning disclosure last month, USA Swimming admitted to hiring the very powerful California lobbying firm of Nielsen Merksamer to oppose a California Senate bill (SB131) that would have eased the statute of limitations constraints on victims of abuse. USA Swimming literally joined forces with Catholic Church lobbyists to defeat the bill. For USA Swimming to use their member-supported monies in an effort to derail legislation that would assist victims of sexual abuse is a frightening maneuver by a Congressionally created organization.  

California state senator Jim Beall from San Jose, one of the chief sponsors of SB131 stated, “I would suspect that (USA Swimming’s) interest is from a concern that there may be some cases in which they’re culpable. There’s definitely smoke there that there’s a problem. USA Swimming needs to decide if they’re going to stand with the abusers of kids or the kids in their swim clubs. Which side of the street are they going to stand on? Because right now it seems like they’re standing with the molesters and predators, that side of the fence.”

The operative phrase, “Congressionally created organization,” is most crucial as it will give Miller’s office the impetus it needs to launch a full investigation into USA Swimming after their meeting with USA Swimming officials – and their lobbyists – this week. It bears repeating that the USOC was formed by an Act of Congress in 1978; specifically the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, since updated in 1998 via the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, (36 U.S.C. Sec. 220501 et seq. of the United States Code) that officially declared the USOC as a governmentally chartered organization and created the governing bodies of the USOC.

What is perhaps most depressing about this saga is that this is not a new issue and that the government should have been involved years ago. In an April, 2010 report, ABC 20/20 did a fine job of exposing the history of sexual abuse at USA Swimming. But aside from the occasional story of abuse by a swimming coach, there wasn’t a call for a Congressional investigation.

The sad fact is that nothing has truly changed.

Over the last several years there have been numerous new alleged incidents of sexual abuse by USA Swimming coaches, and the pattern of avoidance and cover-up by USA Swimming officials continues unabated.  Additionally, and perhaps more damning, there have been retaliatory tactics employed against those that want to shed a light on the abuse issue, and a concerted effort to stifle any negative media coverage of USA Swimming. Furthermore, a leaked internal memo from USA Swimming details their PR strategy moving forward, in an attempt to stifle further inquiries into the history of abuse.

When one considers all of this, it begs the question – what took so long for Congress to get involved in the first place?  

Joyce is an award-winning, contributing writer for the Forbes-owned Real Clear Sports. He has also been writing on the USA Swimming sex abuse scandal for nearly two years, most recently for He can reached at


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