FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida, May 29. WITHIN the past few days, a protest letter of former sex abuse victims in the sport of swimming has lodged a protest to the International Swimming Hall of Fame due to the imminent induction of USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus into the Class of 2014. ISHOF is currently reviewing the letter.
“The petition raises disturbing, grave questions that we take most seriously,” ISHOF CEO Bruce Wigo told Swimming World. “The International Swimming Hall of Fame has great compassion and empathy for all survivors of sexual abuse and we are fully supportive of any effort that helps make our sport safe for young athletes. We have received and currently are reviewing the petition.”
ISHOF decided to induct Wielgus as an Honor Contributor in the Class of 2014 during the 50th Annual Honoree Induction Ceremony on June 14 at the Marriott Resort Fort Lauderdale Harbor Beach.
With Senior Director of Advocacy Nancy Hogshead-Makar at the helm, the Women’s Sports Foundation has worked with a group of what the protest letter calls “Victims of Coaching Sexual Abuse,” as well as a whole host of other supporters to ask ISHOF to change its mind regarding its decision to induct Wielgus this year.
The protest letter, that includes co-signatures from Diana Nyad, Deena Deardurff Schmidt, Kelly Davies, Caren McKay, Suzette Moran, Brooke Taflinger, Jancy Thompson, Caren Bonnet, Stephanie Tyler Vieira, Anna Strzempko, Katie Kelly, Laura Tocheny, Michele Kurtzman Greenfield, Laurie Priest, Julia Thompson, Allyson Turner, Gretchen Ash, Anonymous victim of Everett Uchiyama and Debra Denithorne-Grodensky as those identified as victims of abuse, lays out reasoning that Wielgus was an active participant in covering up some of the sexual abuse scandals of the past decade.
The opening statement of the document found in full below is as follows:
We are survivors and childhood sexual abuse victims of USA Swimming coaches. We are stalwarts of our sport; as current and former swimmers, coaches and family members and advocates of victims who are impacted by the sexual abuse scandal rocking the swimming world.
We’ve been told that the ISHOF Board of Directors did not have information or materials regarding Chuck Wielgus’ handling of sexual abuse prior to voting. These materials have been assembled for you to re-consider your prior vote.
Together, and with these materials, we are asking that the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) immediately rescind the upcoming June 13, 2014 induction of USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus to its Hall of Fame.
Chuck Wielgus has been the Executive Director of USA Swimming for 17 years, earning $908,432.00 in 2012, (Exh. 1, p.2) yet he has not shown leadership in combating sexual abuse in the sport of swimming for most of that time. As of May 1, 2014, more than 100 USA Swimming coaches have been banned for life, making this one of the worst sexual abuse scandals in the US Olympics sports world. Many of these coaches had well-known, long histories of sexual abuse, yet Wielgus enabled these men to continue to coach for years. Not until Wielgus was heavily pressured by the United States Congress, by heart-breaking media stories on the unrelenting parade of victims, by lawsuits, and by new United States Olympic Committee (USOC) rules, did USA Swimming start to protect victims. In short, when it comes to sexual abuse, Chuck Wielgus has not been a leader in protecting victims; he has instead responded to outside pressure, and only after other avenues of obfuscation have been exhausted.
USA Swimming has countered the protest with a succinct, supportive, response from the current and former presidents of the organization dating back to 1998.
“Each of us has worked directly with Chuck Wielgus over the past 17 years and we wholeheartedly stand behind him and his outstanding accomplishments. 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.”
Carol Zaleski, USA Swimming President (1994-98)
Dale Neuburger, USA Swimming President (1998-2002)
Ron Van Pool, USA Swimming President (2002-06)
Jim Wood, USA Swimming President (2006-10)
Bruce Stratton, USA Swimming President (2010-Present)
Full protest letter