Saturday, September 15, 2012

USA SWIMMING CONVENTION: A coach can still date their swimmers if over 18-year-old!

Rule-16 or R-16, "Paragraph C" was voted down today at the USA Swimming Convention:

(c) Any sexual or romantic relationship between an adult athlete and any other member (excluding a pre-existing relationship between spouses or life partners) who has a coaching responsibility or other position of authority over such athlete, even if it is a consensual relationship between adults.  
Here is a link of all the Rules being submitted for approval: [Link

I am not impressed, and I am more than disappointed so I am going to use this disappointment to vocalize my opinion.

There is a legal term called undue influence. The easy definition is that when a person takes advantage of their position of power over another person. Think of it as a situation where free will to bargain is not possible or that the person beneath the presumed power of authority is essentially being controlled unwittingly, unknowingly or both.

Examples would include a priest exerting their will via "God" over a parishioner. A lawyer exerting their "legal expertise" over a dying client's last will and testament and finally a coach exerting their authority, complements, and promises of an Olympic future over a swimmer under their tutelage.

With that in mind, note this: The average USA Swimming member is a white-female between the ages of 12-to-14. Very few USA Swimming members walk onto a deck aged 18-years-old. This is not a professional environment filled with adults. The professional relationship between a coach/swimmer begins between or around the ages of 12-14-years-of-age. Thus, most USA Swimming coaches will have guided their swimmers from puberty and barely into adulthood. Consequently, and on that 18th birthday, I suspect some or a few unscrupulous coaches will have probably been grooming that preferred swimmer for that 18-year-old "due-date" and try to exert some undue influence over that swimmer.

How about that Mr. John Leonard, CEO of the American Swimming Coaches of America (ASCA) who married one of his swimmers and latter divorced?

It is my opinion that section of R-16 paragraph "C" failed to pass because of the lobbying from John Leonard and the fact that the majority of both ASCA and USA Swimming certified coaches are men. It would be interesting to do a survey on how the women coaches voted.

It is my advice to the Local Swim Clubs to make a de facto rule to protect your swimmers and your business from lawsuits by making "R-16 paragraph C" a rule of employment that each coach must sign and agree upon. You can still be sued once that swimmer is 18-years-old if they use an undue influence complaint and the person filing the complaint may be the very swimmer that was seduced.

Comments please!


Anonymous said...

Am in agreement with you on this one; "coach - swimmer" sex (because it is sex we are talking about here, not friendship) should be treated like "teacher - pupil" sex ie totally out of order regardless of age.

Anonymous said...

Pat Hogan (under oath) about his first marriage to a swimmer, "The relationship began to develop after she was 17."

With Hogan as an example of the leadership in our sport, it disappoints but doesn't surprise me that this failed.

We won't see real change and real protection for athletes until the organization changes hands.

Uchiyama didn't marry his under age swimmer/girlfriend - banned.

Hogan did marry his underage swimmer/girlfriend - not even investigated.

If the "Rumor of the Convention" is true, Hogan replaced Will Colebank who is in jail for child porn and exploitation. USA Swimming did nothing on that case either.

As coaches, swimmers and parents we deserve far more in every department than USA Swimming provides.

Anonymous said...

I understand your point of view, the problem is that it's more complicated and infringes on adults rights to choose who they want to date.

Say a 16 year old girl started dating a 17 year old boy. At 20, the boy decides to stop swimming and start coaching the team he swam on. His 19 year old girlfriend still swims on the team. Should they have to break up? Should he not be allowed to coach on the team if he wants to maintain the relationship?

Ricky Berens announced his retirement. What if Dave Salo offered him an assistant coaching job with the Trojan Swim Club (a USA Swimming Club) - should he not be allowed to take the job because he dates Rebecca Soni?

The rules and regulations need to apply to everyone, therefore, this rule would be impossible to enforce on a nondiscriminative basis.

What might work would be a reporting system, where complaints about sexual harrassment are taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

Both of the examples you give are nullified by the language included in the proposed legislation that included an exception for 'pre-existing relationships.'.

Tony Austin said...

Our judicial system is waking up to scenarios like that and creating 3-year windows.

Your point about Rickey Berens is solid but but Rebecca Soni is at college level not at the LSC level.

USA Swimming has about 300,000 members and overwhelming majority are children; In fact not just a overwhelming majority, but one that is in the high 90-percentile. The purpose of the no dating your swimmer rule would have prevented more abuse than harmed relationships in my opinion. It' my opinion we will see future problems down the road.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 3:58

The language states (excluding a pre-existing relationship between spouses or life partners).

The examples I provided would not be exempt under the above wording.


The Trojan Swim Club is a USA Swimming Club and different from the USC Athletic team. They may all work out together, but they are two separate teams. The Trojan Swim Club is part of the LSC.

FAST club team had groups something like 15-25 years old.

Golden West Swim Club offers reduced rates for College swimmers.

Many clubs have reduced rates for college swimmers who still want to swim with their clubs during the summer and on breaks from College.

The proposed legislation just wouldn't fit all situations. The three year rule you are quoting is for adult/minor relationships.

I don't agree with a 22 year old girl dating a 80 year old man, but that's my opinion.

The intent of the proposal was honorable, but I understand why it was not passed the way it is written.

Tony Austin said...

Anon at 3:59 PM

You are my noble opposition with a strong case.

Tony Austin said...

I recently saw the article about the "tremendous Progress" USA Swimming has made in regards to sex abuse within the sport. It read like a press release because that is what it was, a pre-convention press release. It will be "peer reviewed" viciously this week.

Susan Woesner has the most moral authority up there at Colorado Springs so they obviously put her up as their moral compass. USA Swimming has made progress for sure! Two years ago not only were they doing absolutely nothing but they sitting on evidence and "keeping it between you and me" to quote an infamous email.

In 2010 they were quite "Papal" in relationship to today but they have improved but they are not gold standard. They still have miles-and-miles to go but they started that journey because of people commenting on this blog both anonymously and with their real names.

This is the first blog ever to do a "voter card" for a USA Swimming convention and though it did not come out the way I wanted, every comment here was read by dozens and dozens of important people in such important places like Colorado Springs, Greensboro, Rancho Palos Verdes, San Antonio. It was even followed closely in London of all places. (Say hello to Craig Lord everybody!)

You guys in the comments section effected the debate and you were read often. Be proud of yourselves.

The more sunshine you put on these people, and to my critics the more sunshine you put on me, we will all get what we all want: a kid safe sport and a non profit that is world class. Right now, we have a lot of work to do.

Thank you so much for reading this blog post.

Anonymous said...

I was at the House of Delegates meeting today. Surprisingly, a lot of the vocal discussion against this proposal came from athletes themselves.

I do not think anyone in the room supports a 30-yr-old with a 14-yr-old. Examples athletes used all pertained to post grads, and while most adults understand that post grads make up a minute percentage of USAS athletes, many of the athlete reps do not.

In defense of USA general counsel board member John Morse, he did explain that in a college scenario, a professor could not date a student, regardless of age. Adults get this; I'm not sure the athletes did.

There were a few "USA Swimming can't tell me who I can and cannot love" statements or questions about being both a coach and athlete (remember Michael Phelps was a volunteer assistant at Michigan).

As much as some of us would like to burn the USAS board at any opportunity, the House of Delegates voted this one down, despite staff and committee members wanting otherwise.

Tony Austin said...

Wow, that is good to know. I thought otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Lawyers can't date their clients
Therapists can't date their clients
Doctors can't date their patients
Professors can't date their students
Bosses can't date their employees

This is standard professional practice across any organization where there is a superior- subordinate relationship.

What make swimming exempt from this professional standard?

Tony Austin said...

Something so obvious and I missed those societal norms. I suppose this is up to the LSCs to make as policies.

Anonymous said...

7:39 anonymous:

None of what you state is against the law everywhere. You use the word "can't" but that is not the case.

There may be individual companies/schools that will sack the individual who dates a subordinate, but it isn't against the law.

There may be some states that have a ban against one or two of the scenarios in your list, but I can guarantee you no state has a law that says "bosses can't date their employees."

"Shouldn't" would have been a more proper word to use.

Anonymous said...

I'm not suggesting a law. These prohibitions are part of
The professional code of ethics for each of the above organizations. I'm curious what your argument is for why coaches should be exempt from the same ethical standard.

Tony Austin said...

Somebody explained it this way to me in a chat - if you broke that rule you would be banned for life hence they backed off of passing it.

like you said 9:04 - Not only could it be an ethical rule but perhaps it could be made into and insurance rule? i.e. the insurance company won't pay out in situations such as those.

Anonymous said...

It wouldn't be an offense that would result in a ban. This is an example of how misinformation and assumption impedes progress.

Anonymous said...

I think the current rules do not allow a dating relationship until a 2 year window has elapsed (say a coach dates a 20 year old former swimmer after they quite swimming for the club at age 18) and only then if there is no evidence of an arrangment etc.

I was not at the meeting but a coaching friend of mine was and they said it was definately an adult to an adult situation that was disliked. Although a different organization take a Masters Swimmer dating their coach just a lot of varying circumstances to consider.

One club I know is putting into its employemanual a version of the current rules but adapting it to coaches dating parents. Not to downplay the abuse from coach to athlete but the coach to parent dating thing is widespread as well and has the same sort of feeling of having undo influence over the athlete.

Not sure if that is the answer but it is not infringing on an adults right to choose as if they choose date or fall in love with someone they should not then they can also choose a different job.

Tony Austin said...

There are 300,000 members in USA Swimming. These moments of "adult love" between two consenting adults are a rare anomaly rather than a near norm or a majority.

Those that are in the love; (and I stress that there are a rare few - read as RARE FEW), will have to be acceptable casualties for the greater good in my opinion.

The upper management at USA Swimming is disgraceful and they are allowed to be and they get paid to get away it.

Take a look at the "amFAR" form 990. A non-profit group that underwrites HIV research. The CEO makes about half of what Chuck Wielgus makes but around 2/3's of the money get goes tot the subject of their non profit.

How much money does USA Swimming take in go to the kids and Olympic team?

I say infringe and get pushy. I hope Masters Swimming CLubs take this rule up on their own as well. A debacle at a local Masters team in Westwood convinced me of that.

Anonymous said...

I have a question, I'm not sure if anyone can answer it for me. But to set the record straight, right now a coach and a swimmer who is over 18 are allowed to date?
And if this is not true, then in any case would a swimmer over 18, be allowed to date a coach who is coaching in another state, one that would not show any type of favoritism. Also the side of pre existing relationships, are those legal if both are adults even if one is a swimmer and another is a coach?

Anonymous said...

I have a question, I'm not sure if anyone can answer it for me. But to set the record straight, right now a coach and a swimmer who is over 18 are allowed to date?
And if this is not true, then in any case would a swimmer over 18, be allowed to date a coach who is coaching in another state, one that would not show any type of favoritism. Also the side of pre existing relationships, are those legal if both are adults even if one is a swimmer and another is a coach?

Tony Austin said...

I read the rule as consulting adults can do what they want but personally I think it is poor form for a coach to date swimmer.

I am in a minority.

Anonymous said...


What about the case of if a swimmer is initially dating someone, and they later decide to become a coach when they are done swimming, i know it is a case that doesnt come up often, but thus if they are both over 18 it is allowed?

Tony Austin said...

Respectfully it sound like you are in a bit of an emotional quandary over this.

Here is a link to the USA swimming code of conduct - there are no rules regarding adults.

Note, if you want to talk privately without the rest of the commenters here reading what you are asking, either contact me by email, or go find a buried post someone in the blog that is a few years old, has no comments in it, post anon, and I will do my best to help you out...