USA Swimming’s Biggest Problem

USA Swimming

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.



2 thoughts on “USA Swimming’s Biggest Problem

  1. Great comments Rick. This is a hard time for all of us — swimmers, coaches, parents, administrators. It’s hard to tell people we are part of such an organization. I would only say this: the percentage of bad apples compared to the normal percentage in society is probably less. That doesn’t make it any better, especially when some of those bad apples are on the top of the barrel and pretend to own the orchard. The number of great coaches and administrators who have had an immensely positive impact on swimmers and society is countless. Generations of great people who coached. The unfortunate number of those who were coaches who didn’t think it was important to be character-driven people have probably killed USA Swimming as a brand. We can do without them. We must do without them. in five minutes we can re-organize for one reason — great swimmers come from all over America — not from some central structure in Colorado Springs. We are the world’s best example of survival of the fittest — of the ability to mutate when necessary since great leaders are everywhere. The single need we have now is to only accept the John Wooden’s to positions of leadership. They are out there. We are out here. And we how love the ideal and love God and the character driven purpose that was supposed to be USA Swimming need to be ready to reorganize into the best of what we have already been. We have earned more God, Silver, and Bronze than any sport ever. Now we have to earn more admiration for a no-compromise character-centered leadership. We can do it and our children, parents, administrators, and coaches will and must accept no less, starting today. It should be seen not as a difficult job. It must be seen as a job that will bring those of character who lead and support such a mission the greatest joy. But it must indeed be a completely new group of people or the very sunshine that feeds our sport will go dark and the sport itself will die.

    Will some great leaders be taken from their positions? Yes. But even they should cheer the new purpose and priority and leaders that must must the orchard. Let everyone of character stand up and come forward.

    1. Thanks Steve,
      As you point out, we have a lot of great people in the swimming community, and the bad apples are just a small percentage. But that small percentage can cause so much harm. And to make things much, much worse, USA-S shielded the abusers and amplified the amount of harm they could do.
      My concern is that USA-S won’t take the very hard steps required to gain back the public trust, and that they’ll somehow use connections, built-in influence, and USOC to retain their central role in US swimming. If that happens, there isn’t much we can do to change their behaviour. Because even now, the present leadership is still hiding behind the rules.

I love comments, especially when they disagree with my view.

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