It seems clear now that USA Swimming has some serious problems. Long term pressure from investigative journalists from Concussion Inc. and recent work by the Orange County Register have pointed out how little USA-S did to protect the victims, and how much they did to protect the abusers. All this attention has led some to question as to whether USA Swimming needs to be replaced with another organization completely, or at least torn down and built back up again.
Unfortunately, my gut feeling is that the serious moral, ethical, and potentially legal problems that are painfully present aren’t capable of tearing down this organization. It is too entrenched in American swimming, and too intertwined with the US Olympic Committee. In addressing the issues, all that USA-S has to do is clean house, claim that the bad apples are all gone, and then continue with business as usual. And they’ve already started down that road.
Except that their response doesn’t address one very key issue.
USA Swimming broke a cardinal rule in business. They’re not in control of the story.
The idea in business is that you never want stories about your organization to be on the front pages of major newspapers. But if those stories have to be there, you want to be the one telling them. And that’s not what’s happening here.
The recent wave of news uncovered by groups other than USA-S has been brutal.
- Almost 600 swimmers reported being abused
- USA-S carried out shoddy investigations into, or actively covered up, abuse claims
- Clear conflict of interest in at least one investigation
- High ranking USA-S official provided glowing coaching reference for a banned coach
- and the list goes on.
When investigative journalists broke their stories, it made USA Swimming look like they’ve been trying to hide the truth, and gave the overwhelming feeling that there’s more bad news to come. And in all honesty, there probably is more bad news to come. USA-S has given us no reason to trust them.
The problem is that when people distrust an organization, they leave. Sponsors will leave and go to more responsible organizations that better match their desired image. Families will leave and go to sports or activities where they won’t have to worry about the health and safety of their children.
The only way I see for USA Swimming to rescue their reputation is for them to gain control of the story. And the only way to do that is for them to be 100% brutally honest about ALL of their mistakes, and include every detail that they can legally divulge. They have to ensure that no amount of investigative journalism will find another problem.
And then they have to present a detailed plan.
- How they will shed themselves of every employee, contractor and partner who played even the smallest role in this scandal
- How they will handle abuse problems in the future
- How much employees and contractors are/were paid, and how they arrived at these compensation levels
- And how they will restructure USA Swimming to be more supportive of swimmers and the broader swimming community, including disallowing NDAs for any settlements.
Anything less than this may lead to the end of USA Swimming as we know it.