Colorado Springs-based USA Swimming allowed coaches to sexually prey on children on swim clubs and urged a country club in Colorado Springs to hire a coach with a history of sexual misconduct, according to lawsuits filed on behalf of six women who claim they were sexually abused as minors.
The lawsuits claim that USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming in the United States, did not act to protect the female competitors in the 1980s, despite clear signs and warnings of sexual abuse by the three coaches named as co-defendants.
The coaches began grooming children for sexual abuse when they were as young as 12, the lawsuits allege. The sexual abuse left the young swimmers devastated and resulted in one of the swimmers having an abortion after her coach impregnated her, according to the lawsuits.
Named as defendants in the lawsuits are some of the coaching profession’s former top stars who have since fallen from grace after disclosures of sexual abuse.
The lawsuits, filed in California courts, allege that USA Swimming’s top officials, including former executive director the late Chuck Wielgus, knew of predatory behavior by the coaches but failed to act. Lack of action, along with lax standards by local associations and the swim clubs, allowed a culture of abuse to persist that resulted in dozens of minors falling victim to sexual abuse, the lawsuits state.
“Despite years of knowledge of childhood sexual abuse in the sport of swimming, USA Swimming did not implement any child abuse prevention policies or procedures, including basic measures such as mandatory background checks or codes of conduct, for several years,” according to one of the lawsuits.
USA Swimming did not directly respond to allegations in the litigation, but a spokeswoman for the organization, Isabelle McLemore, noted in a statement that the three coaches named as defendants have been banned by USA Swimming. “The organization and its current leadership remain committed to providing a safe environment and positive culture for all its members,” according to the statement.
The lawsuits were filed this month by San Jose-based lawyer, B. Robert Allard, on behalf of the women. They are believed to be the first major litigation under a new California law extending time limits for childhood sexual abuse victims to confront in court their abusers and the organizations they allege protected them. The new law allowed a three-year window to file past claims that had expired under previous limitation statutes. During a Wednesday news conference, Allard and three of the women he represents called for USA Swimming to conduct an internal investigation to track down culpable officials.
“There are people who remain in leadership today within USA Swimming who go way back,” Allard said. “If it means blowing things up to replace these people with good people, then that’s what we have to do. That’s where it starts.”
The women asked that USA Swimming mandate sexual abuse prevention training for athletes participating in swim clubs. Participation is now voluntary for minor children and their families. Training on such issues is required for coaches.
The named defendants include Mitchell Ivey, who won a silver medal in the 1968 Olympics and a bronze medal in the 1972 Olympics. Ivey, who was banned from coaching by USA Swimming in 2013, is accused in the lawsuit of impregnating a 17-year-old plaintiff, prompting her to get an abortion.
“I’ve suffered from years of depression and low self-esteem and panic attacks,” said Suzette Moran, the woman, now 53, who claims she was impregnated by Ivey. “I still suffer today. It will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Four of the plaintiffs claim they were abused by former California swim coach Andrew King, who is now serving a 40-year prison sentence for sexually abusing more than a dozen young girls.
One of the plaintiffs, Debbie Grodensky, said she was molested at 16 at the 1984 U.S. Championships in Fort Lauderdale, according to that lawsuit. King asked her to marry him that year, the lawsuit states. She now maintains that her dreams of Olympic stardom were dashed by him and that she remains haunted by the sexual abuse.
The lawsuit states King impregnated another girl, who is not a plaintiff in the case, when she was 14, resulting in her undergoing an abortion. Another lawsuit includes allegations of sexual abuse by Everett Uchiyama, former USA Swimming national director, who has been banned for life from the sport.
The Uchiyama lawsuit states that Tracy Palermo, now 46, alerted USA Swimming on Jan. 24, 2006, that Uchiyama began sexually abusing her when she was a 14-year-old member of his swim team in Orange County, Calif. That accusation led to his resignation two days later under a confidential agreement, but Uchiyama still landed a job at The Country Club of Colorado nearly a year later, according to the lawsuit.
Pat Hogan, a longtime top USA Swimming official, who has since been forced out, urged the country club to hire Uchiyama as its director of aquatics because he was “fantastic,” a “great people person,” and “most popular employee in org,” the lawsuit states. Hogan made no mention that Uchiyama had been banned by USA Swimming and told the country club he quit voluntarily.
“USA Swimming did not make Uchiyama’s ban public until late 2010 when it feared the media would blast the organization for covering up Uchiyama’s behavior,” the lawsuit states.
Uchiyama resigned from the country club in 2010, after his lifetime ban by USA Swimming became public.