Kobritz: USA swimming hasn’t changed
BEYOND THE LINES
A civil case currently underway in Stockton, California against U.S.A. Swimming clearly shows the “new” governing body is the same as the old governing body.
The plaintiff in the case claims her coach at the Stockton Swim Club, Shunichi Fujishima, began sexually abusing her in 2017 when she was 12 years old. Fujishima pled guilty this summer to criminal charges of sexual abuse and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, leaving no doubt the allegations in the civil suit are true. The questions for the jury are: what did the swimming organization know about Fujishima’s predatory tendencies, and should it be held accountable for his actions? On both counts, the evidence in the case is damning.
As part of their preparation for trial, plaintiff’s attorneys deposed Tim Hinchey III, who was hired to lead the national governing body for swimming in 2017. Hinchey’s predecessor, Chuck Wielgus, resigned under fire after two decades in office for turning a blind eye to numerous and repeated allegations of sexual abuse by coaches.
In his deposition, Hinchey denied knowing any details of the Fujishima case. He also said there was no way for U.S.A. Swimming to verify coaches had been trained in sexual abuse prevention, despite the fact his organization certifies coaches who are required to complete a course on protecting athletes from abuse. While its main goals are to promote the sport and cultivate competitive success, U.S.A. Swimming’s website states, “…training our members in abuse prevention and mandatory reporting is just as important as creating policies.”
During the investigation of Fujishima, documents surfaced indicating that Hinchey and other senior officials had seen copies of written accusations by a parent of another young swimmer against another coach with the Stockton Swim Club. The parent claimed the coach had sent sexually inappropriate messages to her child and had committed statutory rape.
In response to the parent’s accusations, Susan Woessner, a former senior executive of U.S.A. Swimming, reminded the coach in an email, “you agreed on the phone that your behavior could be perceived as inappropriate and told me that it won’t happen again.” In her own deposition, Woessner said if Hinchey disagreed with her warning to the coach, “he could let us know he wanted an investigation to go forward.”
Isabelle McLemore, Senior Communications Director for the governing body, said, “We cannot stress enough that athletes’ health and safety is U.S.A. Swimming’s No. 1 priority. It has been, it continues to be and we work to improve it every single day. The athletes are the core of everything we do, and we take that very seriously.” Sure they do.
Actions speak louder than words and based on Hinchey’s responses in the deposition, it’s clear U.S.A. Swimming has learned nothing. Despite a 100-person central staff and a $40 million annual budget, the organization remains unchanged. Its 400,000 members, the vast majority of whom are children, are still at risk from sexual predators.
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.