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Petition calls for USA Swimming exec's Hall of Fame induction to be rescinded

Eric Adelson
Yahoo Sports

Nineteen women claiming to be survivors of sexual abuse by U.S. swim coaches are petitioning the International Swimming Hall of Fame to rescind its June 14 induction of USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus.

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Chuck Wielgus speaks during a news conference prior to the 2012 Olympic Games. (AP)

Chuck Wielgus speaks during a news conference prior to the 2012 Olympic Games. (AP)

"We are survivors and childhood sexual abuse victims of USA Swimming coaches," the six-page petition begins. It goes on to provide a long list of allegations stating that Wielgus, who has led USA Swimming for 17 years, did far too little to curtail an epidemic of sexual abuse cases involving children in the swimming community.

"Many of these coaches had well-known, long histories of sexual abuse," the letter states, "yet Wielgus enabled these men to continue to coach for years."

In an interview with Yahoo Sports, Kelley Currin, one of the 19 petitioners, called Wielgus' selection for induction "a slap in the face of abuse victims."

"It's baffling," she said. "He has clearly shown that he is not an effective leader for an organization that has not done everything it can to protect athletes."

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, senior director of advocacy at the Women's Sports Foundation, authored the petition on behalf of the 19 women. The letter lists several allegations of inaction and even obfuscation on Wielgus' part, backed up by court documents with Wielgus' own testimony. The petition states Wielgus' policies were "hostile to victims."

Among the allegations:

• That Wielgus "covered up two separate sexual misconduct complaints against coach Andy King, going so far in one of them to direct the club to keep the matter 'confidential' and that he would not conduct an investigation.

King is currently serving a 40-year sentence for abusing more than a dozen girls.

• That when Wielgus discovered that a USA Swimming employee, Everett Uchiyama, had "molested a swimmer," Wielgus allowed him to resign "quietly and secretly," and that a USA Swimming press release announcing the resignation made "no mention of [Uchiyama's] sexual abuse."

No charges were ever filed against Uchiyama.

• That despite knowledge that Rick Curl, a USA Swimming coach, had molested swimmer Kelly Davies Currin starting at age 13, Wielgus allowed Curl to coach young swimmers.

In 2013, Curl was sentenced to seven years in prison for sexual abuse.

"We're not saying it's his fault that these things happened," Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic gold medalist, told Yahoo Sports. "We're saying he knew about these issues and didn't do anything about it."

In a statement from five current and past presidents, USA Swimming strongly refutes the claims made in the petition and backs Wielgus.

"Each of us has worked directly with Chuck Wielgus over the past 17 years and we wholeheartedly stand behind him and his outstanding accomplishments," the statement said. "His integrity and leadership have been inspirational to us, and we have seen first-hand his positive impact on USA Swimming's 400,000 members that include athletes, parents, volunteers, coaches and staff.

"Without hesitation, we attest that Chuck is a man of impeccable character who consistently exhibits a value system steeped in ethics and personal accountability. A stalwart leader in the sport of swimming and amateur athletics, he possesses a history of honesty, compassion and success that merits his induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame."

USA Swimming also released a detailed account of its actions in several of the sex abuse cases, along with a "personal note" from Wielgus, which states in part, "For me personally, the abuse by coaches in the sport has weighed heavily on me more than any other topic. We all wish we had a do-over at periods in life and that was one for me."

A call and email to Bruce Wigo, the president of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., was not immediately returned, but he wrote in an email to USA Today: "The petition raises disturbing, grave questions that we take most seriously," Wigo said, adding that the Hall of Fame "is reviewing the petition."

At least one member of the board of the Hall of Fame is against Wielgus' induction. Terry Carlisle, who has coached swimming at the high school and college level for 25 years, told Yahoo Sports he will be at the induction ceremony in June and "I hope I don't see Chuck Wielgus."

"This has been happening for a long, long time," Carlisle said of the sexual abuse issues within USA Swimming. "It's very much like the Penn State situation. They know this abuse is going on. What they do is the administrators pretend they're not really aware of it. Administrators in sports don't act unless there's real criticism."

Carlisle said he asked the Hall of Fame in February not to induct Wielgus.

"I was really concerned that if we inducted him and this thing exploded," Carlisle said, "the Hall of Fame would be under a lot of shame."

Carlisle's name is on the petition as a "supporter," along with Hall of Fame swim coach Randy Reese, and several others. One of the petitioners is legendary long-distance swimmer Dyana Nyad, herself a victim of sexual abuse by an Olympian swim coach. Nyad's abuse, like those of the other petitioners, happened before Wielgus' tenure. But the victims believe Wielgus' inaction has led to further abuse.

Caren McKay, who says she was abused beginning at age 13, told Yahoo Sports she was "flabbergasted" that Wielgus was up for induction. She said she reported her former coach, Andy King, to the police in 2009, and was never contacted by anyone at USA Swimming.

"It makes it seem like what happened was insignificant," McKay said. "There was a time when he could have made changes and didn't."

In its release, USA Swimming calls many of the statements made in the petition "untrue" and "intentionally misleading."

Earlier this year, USA Swimming released an independent review of its Safe Sport program and appointed a task force to review the findings and offer recommendations.

For Hogshead-Makar and the petitioners, the steps Wielgus has taken have come too late.

"He's only done so at the point of a gun," she said. "That's not leadership and it's not Hall of Fame material."

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