Olympian Caroline Burckle Accuses Bob Bowman, Sean Hutchison for Sending “Sexually Graphic Texts” – Bowman Confirms Apology

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2008 Olympian Caroline Burckle has spoken out about an incident in 2011, where she states that she received aggressive text messages from coaches Bob Bowman and Sean Hutchison.

Burckle swam for Hutchison from 2009 till her retirement at FAST in California. Hutchison is also currently being sued by another former Olympian, Ariana Kukors, for sexual abuse and grooming.

According to The Orange County Register, Burckle was at her Los Angeles home on May 16, 2011 when she began receiving “a series of sexually graphic text messages and a voice mail on her phone.” The messages allegedly came from a phone that belonged to Bowman.

“They were so aggressive…I was disgusted. I felt violated, felt sad too. This was a sport that I had just left and loved and so I felt very sad.” 

“I was a 24-year-old female swimmer who had retired way too young but was sick of all the (garbage). I wanted to change lives and do different things but felt trapped.” 

Following the incident, Burckle reported and forwarded the messages and voice message to Jack Roach, then national team assistant coach, who sent it along to newly appointed National Team Director Frank Busch.

According to The Orange County Register, Busch sent a letter to Bowman on June 3, 2011 stressing,

“It is important you understand the severity of this situation.

It has been reported to me that on the evening of May 16, 2011 a former USA Swimming member athlete received a series of innappropriate and suggestive text messages and a voicemail from a phone belonging to you.

Firstly, the swimmer has experienced significant mental distress as a result. Pending a conversation between you and me, I would like for you to appropriately address this with her so that she put the incident behind her. 

Secondly, please be aware that if the content of the texts and voicemails had been directed to a current USA Swimming member athlete, this behavior would be considered a potential violation of USA Swimming Code of conduct 304.3.7.7 ‘any sexual conduct, advance or other innappropriate sexually oriented behavior or action directed towards an athlete by (i) a coach member or other non-athlete member, or (ii) any other adult participating in any capacity whatsoever in the affairs or activities of USA Swimming (whether such adult is a member or not). Any nonconsensual physical sexual conduct, or pattern of unwelcome advances or other sexual harassment in connection with or incidental to a USA Swimming-related activity by any person participating in the affairs or activities of USA Swimming (Whether such person is a member or not) directed toward any member or other person participating in the affiars of activities of USA Swimming.

I am willing to include a response letter from you detailing your recollection of the situation as well as your plan of action to ensure this was an isolated event never to be repeated. Any further reports of such activity will be addressed through the National Board of Review.”

Burckle explained to The Orange County Register that she has felt haunted by in the 2011 incident for years and is now speaking up to help change the culture within the sport of swimming and Olympic sports.

“For me it’s the principle of it. It’s about giving people the respect they deserve and should have to ask for. It’s about creating a feeling of support within your (sports) community, athletes you feel respected and supported. It’s about empowering a younger generation of athletes. Athletes shouldn’t have to act a certain way to please their male coach.” 

Bowman later apologized to Burckle for the event, however, she never heard from Hutchison. Bowman would later go on to be named to the 2012 Olympic coaching staff and be named Head Coach of the men’s Olympic team in 2016. He currently serves as the head coach for the Arizona State University Sun Devils.

When contacted by Swimming World, Coach Bowman said, “I regret the exercise of poor judgment in being involved one evening 7 years ago with inappropriate communications.  I promptly apologized to the person to whom the communications were sent and my apology was accepted. I have nothing further to say at this time”.

USA Swimming released the following statement:

“USA Swimming feels strongly that no one should ever have to endure unwanted, inappropriate communication and that everyone should be treated respectfully and appropriately. In 2011, USA Swimming was made aware of inappropriate texts sent to an adult former member athlete by a member coach. The organization does not condone this type of communication no matter the relationship between the parties. The issue was addressed by USA Swimming, and warning letters were issued to the offending parties, which also included a non-athlete member in the presence of the coach.”

Swimming World Reached out to Frank Busch and Bob Bowman for comment and at the reporting of this news, neither has replied at this time. 

35 Comments

35 comments

  1. Sylvia White

    I don’t see ANY evidence in this article to indicate Bob Bowman was involved!!!!

    • Kara Muscillo

      God I hope not. He is the swimming “father” to so many.

    • Sylvia White

      Kara Muscillo this is so frustrating. Seems like they try to latch on to the biggest name to get exposure. But at who’s expense? Why drag Bowman’s name into this????

      • avatar
        CB

        The Orange County register original article stated that the messages were sent from Bowman’s phone but that BOTH coaches were involved in writing and sending the messages

      • avatar
        Dash

        Umm, perhaps you all should read the full article and that Bob Bowman apologized to her for the texts? Is that not proof that he did it?

    • Meg McLaughlin

      Uhhh the messages came from his phone??

    • Sylvia White

      Meg McLaughlin I read that. But the information seems incomplete. How do you explain they were sent from both Bob Bowman and Hutchinson, from Bob Bowman’s phone, when they were both at the same place? I respect your solidarity with her. But to me, from the article, it does not sound like Bob Bowman was harassing her. It sounds like Hutchinson has issues with boundaries to say the least. Was using Bob Bowman’s phone and possibly together with Bowman texting her. However we don’t know the content of these texts, we just know together they Hutchinson and Bowman were texting her on Bowman’s phone. I think it’s a big leap to say Bowman was sexually harassing her. But, maybe when the content is released I’ll be the one who’s wrong. I truly hope that is not the case. It just seems that in both her incident and Ariana’s the common offender is Hutchinson. And in both cases a 3rd bigger name (Schubert and now Bowman) are somehow brought into it.

    • Meg McLaughlin

      Sylvia White It appears they’re looking to emphasize that aside from Hutchinson and his own obvious issues, Bob Bowman is now connected to some wrong doing. Who the heck knows all the details just from this article, but it’s clear at this point from the text evidence that was included that Bob did have some level of involvement since he did apologize for whatever wrong doing he involved himself in. If there’s anything that we’ve learned from recent events like the one at MSU (and now even OSU), is that a person might not have “done anything wrong” but they knew all about it and turned a blind eye.

    • Sylvia White

      Meg McLaughlin true that in those instances they were doing exactly what you said. I think what we have in common is that we are both disgusted by that behavior on innocent girls. It is that exact reason that this article frustrates me. This woman was 24 years old when this occurred. I find it wreck less to try to categorize what she describes to what those poor girls endured. For many reasons it is not the same. Starting with, those gymnasts were children, she was not a child. Those gymnasts were under the direct supervision of all involved, this individual was retired at the time of the incident. We can’t afford to let everyone say they are having the same experience and let sexual misconduct, abuse and harassment become diluted to a catch phrase people take lightly. That is completely unfair to true victims.

      I also think it’s important to not just tarnish someone’s reputation, using their name to tie them to gain attention and support using alarming terminology to create a tsunami of support without being completely forthright about what really really happened.

      Anyway, that’s simply my point of view. As a woman, I can truly respect and appreciate that your intent is looking out for one another. 😊

      • avatar
        Swim Mom

        I completely agree with you, Sylvia!!! Spot on…👍🏼

    • Stephanie Davis

      I find it strange that, despite being a woman, you choose to defend sexual predation despite the evidence, just bc you hope it’s not true. It’s quite common for girls/women to hesitate or not come forward at all after sexual abuse, especially in a male dominated justice system that protects its own. Next you’ll say, it’s just boys being boys.

    • Sylvia White

      Stephanie Davis I find it strange that you pretend to defend women but are so quick to speak to me in a way that would drive me away rather than find the common ground. I’m sorry you think that asking for evidence is defending sexual predation. I would never ever dismiss sexual predation with an excuse of boys will be boys.

      The law does not consider isolated instances sexual harassment, it has to be more systematic. There are certain criteria that must be met for it to legally be considered sexual harassment. That is a big accusation to make against someone. It has to be more than once, one day. Bob Bowman apologizing isn’t necessarily admitting he was sexually harassing her. It could also mean he is acknowledging she was clearly unhappy with what was said. Which in my opinion shows character. So now we are going to teach men, if they say something they never meant to be offensive but our personal idea of appropriate is grazed, they better not apologize because that is an admission to whatever accusation made? That doesn’t seem fair. Based on that article, without any content of the texts, I don’t think it’s fair to assume she was sexually harassed. Furthermore I think it is totally out of line to assume she was victimized in the same way the US Gymnasts were. I am not saying Bob Bowman was perfect and did nothing wrong. I do think it’s very important that as women, we don’t start mislabeling serious matters and desensitizing ourselves and society to issues by lumping everything into the same category. When we cry sexual harassment when it doesn’t meet the true legal criteria, it slowly becomes a catch phrase that doesn’t hold the same seriousness it would if we held one another accountable to calling things what they really are. It’s ok to say, I did not appreciate being spoken to that way. I suppose it’s fine to go to the media and say, I did not like a text I received, I expect to be treated differently. What I don’t agree with is just automatically labeling something as sexual harassment so lightly and the only evidence is someone else saying it was. If that is defending sexual predation than I apologize to you, not because I actually am but because I’m sorry you perceive that to be my stance even though it truly is not.

      • avatar
        Swim Mom

        Well said, Sylvia!

    • Stephanie Davis

      Cry sexual harassment?? I tend to give people who have the courage to come forward with claims of sexual harassment the benefit of the doubt because I’m a compassionate person.

    • Sylvia White

      Stephanie Davis 😊 we tried to understand one another’s view points. Clearly we are not going to agree. Thank you for sharing your ideas, I wish you nothing but the best.

    • Ronna Frndz

      There are always three sides to a story. The media usually leaves the truth out.

    • Carole Machol-Atler

      Did you read the article? Bowman apologized. Why would one apologize if nothing happened?

    • Sylvia White

      Carole Machol-Atler I did read the article. That’s why I don’t believe based on the evidence of the article this is harassment. Have you looked up the legal definition of sexual harassment?

      Bowman apologizing doesn’t mean he sexually harassed her. It means he’s acknowledging her feelings and apologizing. It doesn’t mean he’s admitting to sexually harassing her. Apologizing when someone is offended by your words or actions is the right thing and doesn’t mean that you broke the law.

    • Stephanie Davis

      Sylvia White, because USA Swimming chose not to sanction him at the time because of his behaviors doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I think many organizations are realizing mistakes and trying to create a better climate for women, trying to set things right. This much needed and increased support is why more women who were sexually abused in the past are now coming forward to support other women in their position and prevent future mistakes.

    • avatar
      Dash

      Umm, perhaps you all should read the full article and that Bob Bowman apologized to her for the texts? Is that not proof that he did it?

  2. avatar
    Leander

    I understand teenagers sexting. I mean, it’s wrong, but I understand, and there are worst things they could be doing.

    But, a couple of much older men should not be sexting a much younger woman over whom they hold a great deal of power. Fry them.

    • avatar
      Swim dadio.

      And everyone loved Bill Cosby too, some people are devious in their private lives. just saying.

  3. Stephanie Davis

    From reading the article, I would believe Carolyn’s version. Tough to believe that despite evidence on her cell phone, sanctions, and an apology from him that this isn’t true. Even seemingly good people can make mistakes and this sounds like one of them 😞

  4. Pat Laughlin

    USA SWIMMING needs to get a handle on this! Big time, NOT OK!

  5. avatar
    Why Now-Out of Curiosity

    After reading the article again, it seems like it was merely an accusation, a statement and not a lawsuit. Perhaps, because there was no basis that the incident was a crime.

    I don’t really know what is behind this coming out now. If it is to help nail Hutchison or merely, to stay relevant using “Bob Bowman” in the news. .

    Basically, she was hit on by older men via phone. It was wrong and creepy but I don’t see how it could have been a crime, since she was 24, an adult and technically, was no longer a member of USA swimming. There might have been a relationship there between her and Hutchison since she swam on his team. What prompted the incident is the question?!

    So, I am not sure if Bob would even release another apology or response as it is not a lawsuit wherein he is compelled to reply. If in fact, Bob had already apologized, what was the extent of the apology? People apologize all the time regardless of the degree of their involvement in an incident, and/or whether they are guilty or not.

    USA Swimming might be in question here because of the previous complaint against Hutchison prior to this incident that was reported to them, and it seems USA Swimming didn’t do anything about it again besides the letter exchanges.

    Could she have gone to the police and report the incident? But then again, what was the crime…🤔

  6. Lauren Tureskis

    What next!!!!!!! These top coaches taking advantage!! Shame on them!!!!

  7. avatar
    JLL

    She always has such a big smile on her face – now that’s empowering.

    Just think if she hadn’t received that inappropriate text message seven short years ago how different or not her life would be today. If a text message can send you out of a sport you love then maybe you shouldn’t be in that sport. #regrets

  8. avatar

    Bob posted a public tweet regarding silence in response to the article yesterday.
    It’s disappointing he can’t follow his own advice privately.
    Based on my own interactions with him, he’s highly temperamental and can be really abusive; especially with his phone.
    The article confirms that he wrote messages to her and was required to apologize. Hopefully, the content of the messages is made public, so the people who pay his salary at a public institution can make an informed decision about whether or not he should continue interacting with college students.
    If you write a book called “The Golden Rules” at least try to follow the original Golden Rule.

    • avatar

      I think what comes out next will be very interesting. Heads may roll!

  9. avatar
    former swim mom

    I think what comes out next will be very interesting. Heads may roll!

Author: Taylor Brien

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Taylor Brien is the Assistant Operations Manager and a staff writer at Swimming World. A native of Bettendorf, IA and a 2015 graduate of Illinois College, she has covered a variety of events since joining the SW team in 2015, including the NCAA Championships, World Championships, Olympic Trials, and 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

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