Friday, March 19, 2010

Olympic Gold medalist alledges sexual abuse in Lawsuit Filed by, Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard Law Firm, naming 'USA Swimming!'

Above is a screen-shot of the complaint filed against USA Swimming in regards to USA Swimming, Pacific Swimming and San Jose Aquatics (Santa Clara County Superior Court, Case #109CV149813)

This snippet from the complaint press release only scratches the surface:

Olympic gold medal winner Deena Deardurff Schmidt [4x00 Gold in the 1972 Olympics - Tony] claims that starting at age 11 and continuing for four years, she was repeatedly molested by her former swimming coach, now in the Hall of Fame. Deardurff-Schmidt claims that she reported this abuse to US Swimming management on two occasions and both times no action was taken. The complaint alleges that King and other coaches are part of a culture in youth swimming throughout the nation that ignores the swimmers' cries for help.


Then the complaint gets more lurid and more pathetic. Personally, I couldn't finish it.

This is the second lawsuit filed against USA Swimming in just 2-years. Both lawsuits are way serious: An antitrust claim and now a myriad of allegations regarding child abuse.

In no way can I take responsibility for this story growing as big as it deserves. There is one brave person who can though, a swim coach who has sacrificed a lot of his time, effort and is courageous enough to face a gauntlet of lawyers if the time comes. His name will come out.

Two major media networks are going to be covering this mess and I suspect if USA Swimming does not take the high road immediately, such as implementing a Boy Scouts of America policy in regards to preventing child abuse and/or false allegations, the Senate of these United States will. Think about it; it is an election year.

It is not a stretch to think that the Senate will bypass the USOC and get involved in a very serious way, I kid you not. A lot of Senators are up for reelection this year including California Senator Barbara Boxer who represents the state where the victims reside.


Hadar Aviram said...

I'm no tort expert, but I teach law when I'm not in the pool, so here are my two cents (this is not legal advice and should not be taken as such).

It's rather obvious why US Swimming is sued in addition to King; that's where the deep pockets are, which is why the plaintiff faces the need to connect U.S. Swimming to her personal complaint in a meaningful way. This raises serious issues of causality, and issues of the duties U.S. Swimming has with regard to its coaches' behavior. Basically, it appears that the plaintiff is trying to tie U.S. Swimming in several ways:

1) lack of proper certification for its coaches, particularly thorough background checks;
2) lack of willingness to examine complaints;
3) a "general culture" condoning this sort of behavior.

My sense is that (1) is probably the strongest claim if there is proof relating particularly to King, according to which his particular history could've been discovered had there been reasonable proceedings against him. (2) would be most helpful if such complaints were made with regard to King directly, and were not investigated prior to the incidents the plaintiff suffered from. That way, one could make the argument that U.S. swimming's omission to investigate, and possibly fire King, contributed directly to the abuse of the plaintiff.

(3) is a stickier matter, and frankly, is probably best dealt with as an organizational matter than through an individual's law suit. Proving a "culture" of abuse of minors is not an easy matter, even though it seems there's plenty of evidence out there of coaches dating their swimmers. The issue of consent is easier to resolve with regard to minors than with regard to collegiate swimmers (even though the hierarchy there might negate consent anyway). I think the whole thing could have been framed more tightly in the arguments.

More generally speaking, I'm missing a lot of context here, because I did not swim competitively in high school or college. What is it like? Is there really a culture of condoning this sort of "relationships"?

Tony Austin said...

Does swimming have a Catholic Priest problem? I don't know; we just might?

As for certification: lots of age group swimming operations are mom & pop organizations who want to get kids swimming. They go to USA Swimming as the National Governing Body and say, teach us, certify us, mentor us. Then USA Swimming gives them checklists to do and how to set up operation and thy move forward.

Back ground checks are a waste a time, it is sort like the TSA: have they really stopped motivated people from gettin onto planes.

The best way for them is to simply create a child protection policy the first time they got an allegation of sex abuse, whether it was real or not, and move forward with it. Such as no one on ones, having a ratio of parents there during workouts or trips... Stuff that the Boy Scouts are doing.

BTW, swimming is so fun and you meet the nicest people in masters. Since it is a low gravity sport, you age much slower. i.e. Mike Freshley said it best: "Show me a runner who is 70-years-old and he looks like like 90. Show me a swimmer who is 70-years-old and he looks like 50.

Hadar Aviram said...

That was sort of my impression. Except, having read the Natalie Coughlin book and spoken to some pals of mine who swam competitively in high school and college, apparently teams for young people are a really grueling experience (and in some cases a hotbed for eating disorders etc), and very different from our amazing experience as adults.

I imagine that, if this comes out in favor of the plaintiffs, there will be a set of regulations involved with starting a swim team etc. After all, some of the coaches mentioned (or hinted at) were not running mom-and-pop shops, but training people for the olympics; those folks are probably more closely affiliated with, and possibly supervised by, US Swimming.

Tony Austin said...

Hadar, If the USA Swimming clams up; or rather continues to clam up, we will have a perceived "Catholic Priest" problem.