Swim Coaches Caught

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

ABC News and San Jose Mercury News have reported the sex crimes scandal of 36 USA Swimming coaches abusing their athletes over the last decade…and compares the crimes to those of the Catholic Church in that USA Swimming allegedly covered for the perpetrators and allowed them to keep coaching.

I also am a victim of sexual abuse by my swim coach. USA Swimming conducted an investigation on my case and reported to me, after months of extensive interviews, that although my recounting of the events was entirely credible, they could not establish the kind of evidence that would support a criminal prosecution. And short of criminal proceedings, they deemed it inappropriate to keep him from coaching young girls up and down the coast of Florida, where he molested many.

It seems to me, whether it be the Catholic Church or USA Swimming, that when multiple reports of a predator are credible and consistent, there must be some action to keep these deviants from their easy access to impressionable young people who are often away from their families and look up to these preachers, teachers, and coaches as veritable demi-gods. There must be actions when criminal prosecution is not a possibility.

In 2006, Ft. Lauderdale police ran a sting on my former coach on the phone, hoping to record an admission on his part, but he got suspicious and hung up. It was explained to me by the lead detective on the case that, since the statute of limitations for sexual assault had expired by many years, at this point he could only be prosecuted for a capital crime. And the parameters of a capital crime in Florida are such that he must be guilty by the letter of the law back when the crimes were perpetrated. Well, this lead detective educated me on the shocking misogyny expressed by the laws regarding rape and sexual assault in Florida of the 1960's. He read me the case of a woman who was handcuffed to the steering wheel of her car, sodomized, and left bleeding on the side of the road. She was unsuccessful in prosecuting the perp because he had not held a weapon within two inches of her head, the requirement for the DA's side at that time.

Listen, my days are filled with joy and privilege. But every life has its hardships. Every single one of us knows heartache. My down time was being molested at a time I was dreaming of becoming the best swimmer in the world, by the coach who I thought admired me and shared in my dream. I was terrified. I was humiliated. I was confused. And I can tell you that I had no earthly concept of just how deep the imprint would burn, how long the emotional ramifications would endure.

Sexual abuse is an epidemic in our society. The statistic most quoted is two in five American women have been sexually abused by someone they know, one in five for men. But if those are the stats for those who have spoken up, the real numbers are much higher. If I give a speech to 1,200 people and mention my sexual abuse history, I would say a minimum of 100 of those individuals come to me afterwards to say they too are survivors. The same thing happened to them.

The driving point of ABC and the San Jose Mercury News is that one of the glaring reasons this epidemic exists is that there are institutions that protect and rationalize these predators' unconscionable behavior.

At the same time that my perpetrator was being honored as "Man of the Year" in my old home town, an anonymous letter arrived in the mail to me here in Los Angeles. A picture of the coach in the newspaper was stapled to a piece of notebook paper and a single line had been written in pencil at the top. The line read "Isn't Anyone Ever Going to Stop This Man?"

What we're finding is that it's not at all easy to stop these creeps, but progress would surely be more possible with some proactive steps by the institutions who govern them.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

Banner image: Handout/ABC News



Diana Nyad