Fri. Jun 24th, 2022
When abuse scandals hit, colleges hire "independent" investigators — and the cover-up begins

In the wake of a devastating sequence of experiences by Scott Reid of the Orange County Register concerning the poisonous, bullying tradition of the University of California-Berkeley girls’s swimming program beneath Teri McKeever — onetime head of the U.S. Olympic group workers — probably the most profitable feminine coach within the sport’s historical past might be via.

If even a fraction of the huge allegations of McKeever’s (non-sexual) abuse of her athletes throughout many years are true — throwing tools at them, refusing to acknowledge and correctly deal with their accidents, and even driving a number of of them to ponder suicide (one swimmer says she was mocked to her face when she straight informed McKeever of just about killing herself) — then she deserves to be via.

I come right here, nevertheless, to not make a judgment on Teri McKeever’s employment future. That is the duty, at the least formally, of the San Francisco legislation agency of Munger, Tollos & Olson, which was just lately named to conduct an “exterior investigation.” Exactly how a lot a public college pays for a job like that, out of its state legislature allocations, ever-rising tuition charges, actual property holdings and hedge fund investments, is unknown. University spokesperson Dan Mogulof informed Salon: “We can not anticipate the prices of an ongoing investigation. In addition, as a matter of coverage, we don’t launch whole expenditures till a agency’s work is accomplished.”

RELATED: Dead within the water: The tragic human price of swimming’s abuse scandals

In a press release that many Cal swimmers and their households discovered irritating, athletic director Jim Knowlton mentioned the McKeever investigation might take six months.

In a way, that’s to be anticipated: The playbook of supposed unbiased investigators in conditions like that is to broadcast no playbook. I informed Hailyn Chen, the lawyer co-leading the Cal investigation, that one swimmer has described the construction of the probe as calculatedly passive, with no clear mission to achieve out to accusers for in-depth interviews. (Such interviews, it is value noting, would possibly transcend the coach’s personal malfeasance to the conduct of college directors who, over time, had been knowledgeable of lurid particulars of alleged misconduct but did nothing.) Chen directed me to Mogulof, who mentioned he was barred from answering the query “by legislation and coverage.”

Chen appeared unaware that by passing the buck to the campus flack, she was unintentionally revealing that the “independence” of her agency’s investigation was one thing of a fiction.

There is now a cottage trade of such supposed unbiased investigations of scandals in newbie or school sports activities, which stays largely unexamined. Those who conduct them are sometimes figures of status as a lot as manufacturing, one thing just like the Robert Muellers of the sports-entertainment advanced, whose major operate is to make their patrons look good and themselves even higher.

Those who conduct “unbiased” investigations of sports activities scandals are just like the Robert Muellers of the sports activities world: Their major operate is to make their patrons look good, and themselves even higher.


Probity, or on the very least a convincing simulation of it, is their model. The impression they search to offer is of being upfront, forthright, statesmanlike and tight-lipped — searching for simply the details, ma’am. Such investigations typically ship a few compulsory concrete findings, if solely to maintain the group thirsting for extra. In professional wrestling, the credo of the unhealthy guys goes, “Win if you happen to can, lose if you happen to should — however all the time cheat.” For the unbiased investigators, this might be boiled down  to “Exonerate if you happen to can, indict if you happen to should — however all the time ensure the verify clears.”

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I’ve been following abuses of the non-adult and non-professional (however exceedingly soiled and more and more money-driven) sports activities system for greater than a decade. For probably the most half, these have concerned intercourse crimes in swimming, victimizing principally however not completely ladies, and egregiously avoidable deaths in soccer, chopping quick the lives of boys. The work is grim, typically soul-searing. Challenging the default nice-guy investigators and their refined agendas is a subset of that work, however typically the takeaways may be dosed with comedian aid.

In 2013 my colleague Tim Joyce and I broke the story of a 97-page police report of a mature felony investigation, in Maricopa County, Arizona, of University of Utah swimming coach Greg Winslow, on allegations that he had serially molested an underage feminine swimmer whereas teaching the USA Swimming age-group membership on the campus of Arizona State University. Utah promptly pulled Winslow from the deck of the Pac-12 swimming championships and suspended him. Next, the college employed Michael Glazier to deal with the unbiased investigation.

The web site for Glazier’s Kansas City legislation agency describes him as a distinguished “collegiate sports activities lawyer.” What this implies is that, over time, he has made it to the NCAA shortlist for managing such clean-up operations. As wizardly with equivocal phrases as Harvey Keitel is with disinfectants in “Pulp Fiction,” Glazier and his co-author issued a report concluding that Winslow had performed many unhealthy issues each earlier in his profession and whereas at Utah, largely as a consequence of his alcohol dependancy. (His abuse of the Arizona woman, who adopted him to Utah earlier than returning dwelling and making an attempt suicide, was simply the primary merchandise on a listing of sexual offenses and different misdeeds.) Utah’s athletic director on the time, Chris Hill, introduced that he’d had no thought about any of this.

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Of all of the wimpy unbiased investigations I’ve lined, my private favourite was the 2013 evaluate of USA Swimming’s SafeSport program by the National Child Protection Training Center of Gundersen Health System in Wisconsin. That was a sophisticated, omnibus manufacturing with a nationwide political context — though our society’s starvation for athletic divertissement, and its important indifference to morality and youngster security, are actually bipartisan sentiments.

USA Swimming lined up for D.C.-area coach Rick Curl for many years earlier than he lastly went to jail. The group’s “motion plan” handled the entire thing as a PR headache.


In 2012, USA Swimming’s decades-long cover-up of Washington, D.C.-area coach Rick Curl started unraveling, with portents each ominous and international. Curl had repeatedly abused an underage feminine swimmer, who went on to the University of Texas earlier than her private life cratered. In the intervening sub-criminal manipulations, Curl had been compelled out of his teaching job on the University of Maryland and gone into gainfully employed exile as a coach in Australia. But by 2012 he was again on pool decks within the U.S. when the survivor noticed him in televised protection of the Olympic trials and was enraged.

After a Washington Post reporter informed the story, Curl was arrested, copped a plea and went to jail. The Post editorialized that swimming’s well-documented historical past and ongoing file of abuse required a congressional investigation. Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat, stepped up.

On July 2, 2013, the late and disgraced USA Swimming chief government, Chuck Wielgus, together with president Bruce Stratton, distributed an extended technique memo to the board of administrators, with the topic line “Updated SafeSport Action Plan.” The plan whittled the sexual abuse downside all the way down to a PR headache. Here are some pertinent excerpts:

  • We acknowledge that a number of the points we face in the present day are an rising unlucky truth of life for all youth-serving organizations and that our evolving function and obligations associated to inappropriate conduct by our members is completely with us.” [Emphasis added.]
  • While we imagine that our Safe Sport program is a mannequin for different sports activities and we’re happy with the progress now we have made, we acknowledge that there’s all the time room for enchancment. Therefore, we’ll have interaction a good and unbiased entity to undertake an intensive evaluate of our total Safe Sport Program and supply a report again to us that may consider our program towards the most effective practices of different organizations, in addition to make suggestions for a way USA Swimming’s program may be improved. This evaluate will assist USA Swimming acquire higher public belief with our membership, the media, and most of the people. This is an enormous venture …
  • There is a monetary affect to this plan. By far, the most costly piece would be the unbiased evaluate, but we’re assured that it will likely be value the price so as to have the ability to enhance our program and assist victims of abuse. There can even be prices for media coaching and different PR and communications points of the general plan. In whole, we estimate the bills might run between $100K and $200K. It’s nonetheless early within the quad and we’re hoping to have the ability to discover the funds to cowl the required bills from the Executive and Business Development budgets.

In January 2014, Wielgus and Stratton launched the report by National Child Protection Training Center “knowledgeable” Victor Vieth, with out even sharing it first with the USA Swimming board. There will not be sufficient area on this article to catalog that doc’s intensive betrayal of abuse survivors and the general trigger. (Here’s one: Despite being beseeched by one sufferer’s mom, Vieth refused to speak to her, and 5 days after the report’s publication, USA Swimming dismissed that household’s grievance towards the abusive coach.)

My government abstract paraphrase of the report, solely barely facetious, goes like this: USA Swimming is doing a advantageous job. One particular person we spoke with was sad with the job it is doing. Needless so as to add, there’s all the time room for enchancment! And we hope swimming certainly continues to enhance!

As USA Swimming had hoped, this report blunted the already glacially gradual progress of Rep. Miller’s investigation. Late in 2014 — shortly earlier than saying that he was retiring — Miller despatched a paint-by-numbers letter to FBI Director James Comey (later to grow to be well-known for different causes). As somebody who was in fixed, at instances near-daily contact with Miller’s workers members for greater than a yr, I can attest that the letter contained maybe one p.c of the knowledge and well-documented allegations his workplace had acquired.

For his half, Comey did not even hassle to reply to Miller himself, delegating that process to an assistant. The FBI thanked the congressman for the knowledge and informed him to not fear his fairly little head over abuse allegations in swimming: The bureau was already throughout it.

The FBI tends to strengthen the bogeyman idea: Outside predators will in some way attain pool decks, searching for to hurt youngsters. But virtually each abuse case in swimming entails a coach.

The FBI’s relationship with USA Swimming, the governing physique of Olympic and youth swimming competitors within the U.S., has all the time been, let’s say, a bit skewed. USA Swimming academic conferences selling its SafeSport program have frequently included FBI brokers on panels. These appearances reinforce the bogeyman idea, that’s, the premise that exterior predators could in some way pierce the sides of America’s pool decks, searching for to do hurt to youngsters. In level of truth, virtually each single case of abuse of swimmers entails not a stranger however a well-known particular person: normally the swimmer’s coach.

A gaggle of American gymnasts, together with Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and others much less well-known, are actually suing the FBI for doing nothing  for years with the voluminous complaints about Larry Nassar, USA Gymnastics’ notorious former physician, now in jail after pleading responsible to 10 counts of sexual assault, amongst different expenses. (Nassar allegedly abused as many as 265 younger girls and ladies over an 18-year interval.) Gymnastics richly deserves to be in these headlines. But the FBI’s fumbling of coach abuse allegations, at a naked minimal, is equally outrageous in swimming.

When Miller retired from Congress, he introduced that he would move the baton to a different California consultant, Jackie Speier, because the House Democrats’ new unofficial watchdog for abuse points in youth sports activities

In 2016, a visiting Irish legislator, Maureen O’Sullivan, met with Speier in Washington to debate the two-continent marketing campaign for justice and accountability for George Gibney, a former Irish Olympic swimming head coach and authorized U.S. resident who had grow to be probably the most infamous at-large intercourse felony within the historical past of worldwide sports activities. Speier issued a press release promising to proceed to “monitor” the Gibney case “and search for methods to constructively have interaction on this ongoing authorized course of.”

In 2019, after I met with O’Sullivan and others in Ireland, I despatched Speier a prolonged letter updating the knowledge from my Freedom of Information Act litigation searching for materials from Gibney’s immigration recordsdata, plus potential steps for Irish and U.S. activists involved with the difficulty. Speier didn’t reply, as a substitute forwarding my letter to Rep. Barbara Lee (additionally a California Democrat) with the reason that I lived in Lee’s district and was, she surmised, searching for constituent companies.

Speier, who herself will retire from Congress this yr, didn’t reply to Salon’s questions on whether or not she would appoint a successor because the House Democrats’ youth sports activities abuse level particular person.

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I’ve no particular data of the Teri McKeever situation – that was Scott Reid’s story, and one I hadn’t even seen coming. I’ve, nevertheless, beforehand butted heads with the University of California over its “unbiased investigation” of the soccer group’s energy and conditioning program following the 2014 dying of Ted Agu, a walk-on student-athlete. Agu, who was Black and was identified to hold the sickle cell trait, died after an exertional assault, a well-understood threat of his situation. That occurred throughout an particularly grueling offseason drill directed by Damon Harrington, the energy and conditioning assistant beneath then-head coach Sonny Dykes.

I sued the college beneath the California Public Records Act, resulting in the discharge of a batch of inner college paperwork exposing the cover-up of the circumstances and PR administration of Agu’s dying, which I might describe as unprosecuted manslaughter. Since I used to be the prevailing occasion, the choose dominated that my lawyer, Roy Gordet, was entitled to reimbursement of his charges for 5 years of labor. The events negotiated a determine of $125,000 — at the least till  Cal appealed the decrease court docket judgment to the state Court of Appeal. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has weighed in with a “pal of the court docket” submission on my behalf. Oral arguments lie forward.

The “unbiased evaluate” after Ted Agu’s dying didn’t interview the Cal soccer whistleblower, solely gamers supposedly chosen at random. It discovered no issues with the conditioning program.


After Agu died, one other Cal soccer participant acted as a whistleblower, taking his considerations about Harrington’s deadly teaching strategies, language and tradition first to a deputy athletic director, then a senior vice chancellor and in the end to the campus police. Yet the following “unbiased evaluate” didn’t interview that younger man, and will not have interviewed any of the opposite gamers who had been ready to air their criticisms of a soccer program through which a teammate had died. Those chosen to be interviewed had been mentioned to have been plucked from a random computer-generated lottery.

University emails would reveal that the co-author of the evaluate, an athletic division crony from UC Davis, Dr. Jeffrey Tanji, spent precisely at some point in Berkeley interviewing soccer gamers. While there, he stayed on the historic Claremont Hotel, just lately renovated as a luxurious resort, the place his spouse joined him. 

Tanji’s report discovered no issues with the soccer conditioning program at Cal. But it struck so many observes as unprofessional and rife with blatant conflicts of curiosity that then-UC Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks, close to the tip of his quick and tempestuous tenure, was in the end compelled to fee a second “unbiased evaluate” of this system, by two sports activities medication specialists.

But earlier than that evaluate might get began, and whereas Agu’s dad and mom had been within the midst of settling their multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit towards the college and sitting down for an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” Dirks modified the principles of the sport. The second evaluate was directed to show the web page and look ahead, with out contemplating no matter errors could or could not have been made up to now. It took years for that report back to be accomplished and revealed — and I’ll affirm that it affords a formidable mannequin for wholesome, science-based soccer conditioning packages and finest practices.

But by then, so far as the general public was involved, the younger man whose dying had sparked the unique controversy was successfully forgotten. Misled by the college, which additionally withheld key paperwork, the native coroner had dominated that Agu’s dying was from a generic cardiac episode. Only later did the coroner admit that he was flawed, and that this had been a basic “sickling” assault that occurred in phases and will virtually actually have been curtailed with well timed intervention.

In different phrases, Ted Agu’s life might have been saved. But if you happen to Google him proper now, you’ll be taught that he died of “hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.” For the University of California, that is the one factor that counts.

Read extra from Irvin Muchnick on abuse scandals in sports activities:

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