COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, August 30. HEADLINES have circulated on the Internet that insinuate a congressional investigation into USA Swimming’s practices. Chuck Wielgus, the executive director of USA Swimming, felt the need to post his thoughts about what he has read regarding the situation. We are presenting that public letter to you here in its entirety:
Perception is reality, and never more so than in today’s high-tech world. Social media, blogs, and user comments on articles are part of our culture and have given us new communication mediums we never had before. I enjoy most of these emerging vehicles, but I also view them with a critical eye to determine what is well-reported fact-based news and what is personal commentary. Taking a complex subject and boiling it down to 140 characters can leave a lot of uncovered ground and create an open road for misinformation that leads to misinterpretation.
I may be dating myself, but in the newspaper business it’s historically been clear what constitutes a news story vs. an editorial. A news story provides evenly-balanced and hard factual reporting, while an editorial gives writers the freedom to offer personal commentary on various topics. Today, we find social media, news, editorial and blogs all seemingly blending together in the wash of daily information, and this can easily blur the lines for the average reader.
We are experiencing some of this right now. I have seen headlines and tweets about “Congress Investigating USA Swimming” and that simply doesn’t accurately reflect what is going on. It’s true that USA Swimming and the USOC had an initial meeting Wednesday with the staff of the Committee on Education & the Workforce, of which Rep. George Miller’s (D-Calif.) is the ranking minority member. This was an informational meeting and Congressman Miller was not in attendance.
The fact is that USA Swimming pro-actively asked for the meeting. The meeting was cordial, informative and constructive. The staff members were well-informed, interested and asked a lot of smart questions related to our Safe Sport efforts, as well as those across the entire Olympic movement. USA Swimming’s Director of Safe Sport, Susan Woessner, also talked in great lengths about USA Swimming’s program which national media outlets such as NPR have called “the flagship program within the Olympic movement.”
We know that sometimes the writers don’t create the headlines, but instead their editors often come up with the catchy headline that runs with the story. From there, it’s easy to share or re-tweet headlines and take them as fact. But that’s not always an accurate portrayal of what is really going on.
An informational meeting and an investigation are two very different things. Our meeting was an information-sharing meeting and we hope it will be the first of more to come about this important issue facing youth sports today. A spokesperson for the House Committee on Education & the Workforce called it a “productive meeting” and characterized it as “very early in the fact-finding” according to the Associated Press. The folks in DC will be talking with many other youth sports organizations, not just USA Swimming.
I view these meetings as a great opportunity for USA Swimming to both share what we’ve done and learn from others. The fact that USA Swimming has also commissioned an independent review of its Safe Sport Program at the same time that we had an information meeting in Washington DC is purely coincidental. In fact, the meeting in Washington DC was originally scheduled for July 19 and rescheduled at the request of the Committee staff.
This independent review will be led by Victor Vieth, executive director of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center. This review will bring in one of the nation’s foremost experts on the prevention of child neglect and abuse and give him the unencumbered opportunity to review our entire program. My hope is that Mr. Vieth’s final report (to be submitted next January) will both validate the things we are doing well and identify areas where we can make improvements.
Our Safe Sport efforts are constantly evolving and we will continue to move forward to make our program as strong as it possibly can be. From informational meetings with Congress to our independent third-party review, these are just some of the important steps we are taking to increase awareness and reduce the risk of abuse in our sport.
If you would like to learn more about our Safe Sport program, I would encourage you to visit www.usaswimming.org/protect.