USA Swimming's decision to hire a powerful lobbying firm to fight a California bill meant to help sex-abuse victims turned out to be money well spent: Last Saturday, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 131, which would have given some victims who had been barred by the statute of limitations a one-year window to sue. USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus said his concerns with the bill included its targeting of nonprofits and "the difficulties in being able to defend ourselves against things that happened decades ago." Brown agreed, writing, "There comes a time when an individual or an organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits."
Under SB 131, USA Swimming and other private organizations could have been sued by adults who had been abused as children, claiming that the organizations had harbored the abusers. In recent years USA Swimming has come under fire for its handling of suspected predators. Exposés by ABC's 20/20 and by ESPN's Outside the Lines in 2010 revealed how San Jose--area coach Andy King, abetted by USA Swimming's inadequate background checks, was able to move from club to club and abuse many underage swimmers. In May, Rick Curl, a former Washington, D.C.--area coach who had trained several Olympians, was sentenced to seven years in prison for having sexual relations with an underage swimmer, Kelley Davies Currin, three decades ago. Currin has claimed that some officials within USA Swimming knew about the relationship but did nothing to stop it.
Brown's veto means USA Swimming doesn't have to worry about a now 40-year-old victim in Southern California who has accused former U.S. national team director Everett Uchiyama of a decade of sex abuse that started in the late 1980s, when she was 14 and he was her coach at Southern California Aquatics in Tustin, Calif. The victim's father says he contacted the head of USA Swimming's local swim committee to express his concerns about Uchiyama around '90, but that there was no follow-up. Years later the victim realized that what she had considered her "secret relationship" with her coach was actually abuse, and in January 2006 she sent an email to USA Swimming detailing the misconduct.
Facing allegations, Uchiyama resigned from USA Swimming and was banned from the organization. But USA Swimming never disclosed why Uchiyama left, didn't make its list of banned coaches public until 2010 and did no further investigation into the allegations. In 2007, Uchiyama was hired at the Country Club of Colorado, where he eventually became aquatics director. On May 26, 2010, the day after the banned-coaches list became public, Uchiyama resigned from the country club. The club said it hadn't known about the allegations, nor had Pat Hogan, USA Swimming's club development managing director, who recommended Uchiyama during the club's background check. (Uchiyama did not return phone calls seeking comment. Wielgus says that his office didn't learn of the relationship until '06, and that after Uchiyama was gone, the victim "expressed both appreciation and satisfaction with the outcome.")
USA Swimming, which has beefed up its athlete-protection program since 2010, may have dodged a bullet with the scuttling of SB 131. But the scrutiny into its methods won't end with the veto. In June, Congressman George Miller (D., Calif.) asked the federal General Accountability Office to look into state-by-state reporting laws and how youth sports organizations handle sex-abuse allegations. "SB 131 may have died," says the bill's sponsor Jim Beall, "but the cause to stop childhood sexual abuse and those who cover it up does not end today."
Banned Coaches Since Going Public
USA Swimming revealed its list of banned coaches in May 2010. Since then the number of coaches on the list has increased 79%.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SI PREMEDIA. PHOTO: LES AND DAVE JACOBS/CULTURA RF/GETTY IMAGES (SWIMMER)