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Chasing the Ambulance

Nov 15, 2014  - Casey Barrett

Somewhere, the devil is smiling. Or to quote Al Pacino playing the personified Dark One in the Devil’s Advocate: “Lawyers are the devil’s ministry.”

Oh yes, the lawyers are tossing back shots of whiskey and beaming with the news. Outside magazine just gave them the bully’s pulpit. Then, Slate Magazine picked up the story, and quoted yours truly. Imagine my surprise. I haven’t been posting much lately, but suddenly traffic to this site was spiking. Curious, says I, let’s take a look at the old Word Press Dashboard, figure out where all these hits are coming from. Ah, but of course, the story that wouldn’t die: “The Worst Kept Secret in Washington”, published the day the Rick Curl scandal broke, back in the summer of 2012.

Since then, that story, about Curl’s criminal relationship with a teenage swimmer named Kelley Currin back in the 80s, has been read twice as many times as any other piece ever published on Cap & Goggles. For good reason, I suppose. It addressed not only the horror of sex abuse between too many coaches and young swimmers, but the sport’s dirtiest little secret: it’s never been much of a secret. Since the time I was twelve years old, I’ve heard the rumors. Many of which weren’t rumors at all. Somewhere along the line, beneath the unseemly surface, it became part of the culture.

It wasn’t just swimming, of course. Inappropriate relations between coaches and young athletes are legion. They happen in every sport. Yet, swimming seemed to take it to another level of misconduct. Why? Well, you don’t have to look too far. This is a sport where the athletes are mostly naked, wet, breathing heavy, and quite literally, staring up in positions of subservience at their coaches above them on deck. The sexualized nature of the sport is impossible to miss. Plenty of unscrupulous coaches have taken advantage of it in unconscionable, downright evil ways.

But let’s hit pause on the pile-on for a second. Outside magazine has already piled on plenty, as well meaning and outraged as the story was. When I say ‘plenty’, I mean too many. Hell, one is too many. But let’s make no mistake: ‘plenty’ remains the minuscule minority of a proud and noble profession. And while we’re at it, let’s make something else clear: no other national governing body has reacted with more vigilance and commitment to change than USA Swimming, ever since this story took on a life of its own four years ago.

You can say that’s overdue, and perhaps you’re right. You can say you don’t trust swim coaches, as a profession, and you’d be guilty of gross generalization, but if you were ever touched by abuse, I wouldn’t blame you.

Still, there is another side to this dark story that has yet to be called out of the shadows. The lawyers so passionately, and publicly, defending the victims. Robert Allard, here’s looking at you. I have full respect for those who represent the law, and even more for those who stand alongside victims and demand justice for the sins committed upon them. What is unworthy of respect is the eager shamelessness in disparaging an entire profession and an entire governing body. Men and women overflowing with integrity, who devote their lives to helping young athletes achieve their dreams.

In a video link alongside that Outside story, here’s what Robert Allard had to say about swim coaches: “Frankly there may be coaches out there who disagree, but I don’t think it takes a whole heck of a lot to be a swim coach. You’re out there on the pool deck and you’re saying, ‘swim some laps back and forth, I know something about swim technique, and here you go.’ It’s relatively easy for someone to come into the world and say ‘I’m a swim coach and I’m going to be watching over swim activities.’ Unlike a football coach who’s calling plays and intimately involved and so forth and so on.”

And so forth and so on, Allard makes clear that he lacks even the most basic knowledge or respect for a profession he appears to be intent on destroying. His fellow attorney, Jonathan Little, who is also active in these litigations, had this to say: “It’s widely accepted in USA Swimming. You’re a 15-year-old kid… you like the sport, maybe you want to coach someday, and your coach or a coach at a nearby club is having relationships with his teenage swimmers. So, when you turn 30 or 40 and you’re coaching, it’s not abnormal that you have relationships with your teenage swimmers.”

Come again? To cross examine Mr. Little a little: So, what you’re saying is that pedophilia is passed down based on observation? That it’s learned behavior, and that an otherwise noble young man could be so poisoned by evil witnessed that he will go on to take advantage of young teenage athletes “ because that’s what he saw his coach do growing up? Sorry, but I’m not buying it. Instead, this sounds to me like an attempt to demonize an entire profession “ and the organization that represents it “ rather than go after the real bad guys, those evil fuckers who actually prey upon their underage athletes. Why cast such a large and ill-informed net? Well, because lawyers follow the money. The sick and twisted fuck, Andy King, who raped dozens of young swimmers over the course of decades “ it’s not enough to see him rot in prison, hopefully for eternity. There needs to be financial retribution, to make it worth the lawyers’ time.

Of course, the pot always loves to call the kettle black. To hear Jonathan Little tell it: “They have unlimited streams of money. The athletes live in poverty. And nobody cares. That’s the problem with the Olympics “ nobody cares.” Adds Allard: “We’re talking a tremendous, tremendous amount of money, and people who are getting rich. Many, many, many people… So, I’m gonna sacrifice this little girl for the good of the sport. And all the while their pockets are being lined with money, and they’re being flown to the Olympic Games for weeks at a time with their families, and they’re eating at these lavish restaurants and they’re staying at five-star hotels. They’re living like kings basically.”

Um, actually, no. Facts are rather important in the law profession, and there is almost nothing factual in those statements. Libelous and clueless maybe, but not factual. However, their sentiments do go a long ways in explaining why they’ve put a bull’s eye on the back of not just the entire coaching profession, not just on USA Swimming, but on all national governing bodies in America. Because tapping into any unlimited stream of money sure sounds nice, doesn’t it?

I’ve been contacted personally by representatives of some of these attorneys in the past. My stories seem to indicate that we share a common mission. And we do, in the most basic sense. A pedophile coach who preys on young athletes deserves to be exposed and shamed and treated with the harshest punishments available. There is no place for these folks in society, full stop. But funny things happen on the righteous road, don’t they? It’s unacceptable to look the other way, and that goes for the parents of athletes who hear these same rumors and choose to do nothing, because their kids are getting results in the water.

At very least, the lawyers involved in this mess must be applauded for helping to shine a light on a horrendous problem. The victims need help, and they deserve to see justice done.

But when the lawyers climb up on their pulpits, and national magazines start publishing their words as gospel, keep your antenna up for motive. And don’t believe everything you read.