In the wake of lawsuits against USA Swimming because of alleged sexual misconduct toward female athletes by their male coaches, veteran swimming officials Ken Stopkotte and Michael Saltzstein say that they have been denied work and important positions at meets because they spoke out against it. Stopkotte and Saltzstein have filed a complaint saying that because they protested what they saw as a “culture of sexual misconduct by coaches,” they have been victims of retaliation by USA Swimming.
Since the Beijing Olympics in 2008, USA Swimming has faced at least four civil cases, all dealing with some form of sexual harassment on the part of male coaches toward female swimmers. The latest case was filed in late April; a 21-year-old female swimmer from Kansas claimed that her coach sexually “groomed her, and made sexual comments and suggestions,” from the summer of 2006 to the winter of 2007. At the time, she was 17. In January, Andrew King, a coach whose career spanned 40 years, pleaded no contest to charges of molesting a 14-year-old girl, and two other women who he coached in the 1980s and 1990s. The problem seems to be disturbingly widespread: according to an ABC News 20/20 report that aired earlier in April, at least 36 coaches have been banned over the past ten years by the NGB for sexual misconduct. Other coaches admitted to videotaping female swimmers while they showered.
Saltzstein had suggested a variety of interventions to prevent further behavior of this kind, including “requiring two adults to be present for any interaction with a youth swimmer, prohibiting any coach from giving prerace rubdowns to an athlete unless certified to do so and requiring the reporting of any abuse as a condition of USA Swimming membership.”
Stopkotte says that he was deemed ineligible to coach a team after speaking to reporters from 20/20. According to the complaint, neither Saltzstein nor Stopkotte were given the opportunity for a hearing with USA Swimming.
The most disturbing part of this, for me, is the inherent power imbalance between coaches and swimmers, especially when the swimmers are very young women. And regardless of whether Stopkotte and Saltzstein are being targeted for their actions (there’s no way to know at this point), they certainly should be commended for speaking out. Young women placed in intensive and physically taxing sports may not know what their boundaries are allowed to be, especially if their coaches are much older; in situations like that, it may be very hard to say no (and they may not even know that they can). In the wake of all of these allegations, USA Swimming owes it to its athletes to investigate this problem swiftly and rigorously.
Photo from Flickr.