Six women are filing a lawsuit against USA Swimming alleging the organization knew of sexual abuse they endured from coaches while they were teenagers and claiming the organization continued to provide these coaches access to children, their attorney said Wednesday. The allegations center on the misconduct of specific coaches and reportedly complicit individuals, but they also suggest USA Swimming permits a culture of child sexual abuse among its staff.
During a virtual news conference, attorney Robert Allard said the six women were “subjected to atrocious acts” while involved with USA Swimming and “have been severely damaged as a result.” During his remarks, Allard also denounced USA Swimming’s previous efforts to scuttle California legislation to extend the statute of limitations for child abuse crimes in the state. The extension was signed into law last October.
Three of the women filing the lawsuit in Alameda County, California, spoke publicly Wednesday. Each identified herself and each is named in the allegations filed against USA Swimming. They are calling for USA Swimming President Tim Hinchey to investigate claims of sexual misconduct and expel all USA officials who engaged in or permitted child sexual abuse.
Andy King, center, the former USA Swimming coach now serving time for sexual abuse, is shown with one of his teams from the 1980s. He is one of multiple officials named in a new lawsuit alleging USA Swimming knew several coaches were preying on children and did little to stop it.
Debra Grodensky, 51, claims USA Swimming ignored abuse she suffered at the hands of Andy King, a disgraced former USA Swimming coach currently serving a 40-year sentence for child molestation. Grodensky, who said King began molesting her when she was a teenager in the 1980s, claimed he got close to her by convincing her parents she should “abandon all extracurricular activities” and take up swimming.
“It’s important to understand that the grooming process is not limited to sexual abuse victims only,” Grodensky said Wednesday.
“He gained control of anyone involved in my endeavors.”
Grodensky said “hundreds” of people were aware King abused her, but she claimed a culture of misconduct silenced her suffering. “It was that culture that permitted Andy King to abuse me for years without consequence,” she said. Specifically, Grodensky is among many who have accused now-deceased former USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus of keeping King’s child abuse secret during his tenure. In an apologetic 2014 blog post, Wielgus said he wished his eyes “had been more open to the individual stories of the horrors of sexual abuse.”
On Wednesday, Grodensky was joined by Suzette Moran and Tracy Palmero, both former swimmers making similar claims against USA Swimming officials and alleging a culture of predation exists in the organization.
I believe other coaches on the team knew and did nothing. Tracy Palmero
Moran, 53, said she was sexually abused by former USA Swimming coach Mitch Ivey when she was 16. “I hold USA Swimming accountable for the criminal behavior of Mitch Ivey,” Moran said, who claimed Ivey was protected by “a culture that allowed coaches to sexually abuse swimmers for their own gratification.”
USA issued a lifetime ban to Ivey for sexual misconduct in 2013, several years after his involvement with Moran was documented in a 1993 episode of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” Moran said Wednesday that Ivey impregnated her when she was 17 and told her to have an abortion before the 1984 Olympic trials, “killing my dreams.”
Tracy Palmero, 46, said USA Swimming needs to “clean house” for ignoring sexual abuse, which included her own alleged abuse in the early 1990s by former USA Swimming director Everett Uchiyama. Although USA Swimming reportedly issued a lifetime ban to Uchiyama in 2006 for sexual misconduct, the organization didn’t announce the ban until 2010, after Palmero and her father went public with her allegations.
“I believe other coaches on the team knew and did nothing,” Palmero said Wednesday. As national team director, Uchiyama was responsible for selecting the national team, which gave him leverage over aspiring athletes.
Palmero said the four-year period in which USA Swimming had apparently banned Uchiyama but failed to announce it was the result of a backroom deal. When she detailed her allegations to Wielgus when she came forward in 2006, she said, Wielgus had the coach sign a “secret confidential agreement admitting to the abuse and resigning.”
Before Uchiyama resigned, Pat Hogan, the former USA Swimming managing director for club development, reportedly wrote Uchiyama a recommendation to work at a ritzy aquatics club in Colorado. Uchiyama was named aquatics director of the Country Club of Colorado the following month.
“I had dreams,” Palmero said during the conference. “Everett took away those dreams.”
Hogan and Susan Woessner, another top director ensnared in allegations she ignored sexual abuse, resigned amid turmoil over the scandal in 2018.
In a statement to HuffPost, USA Swimming said it is “aware of the information publicly released today in California” and it fully supports survivors of sexual abuse along their healing journey.”
USA Swimming is just the most recent U.S. Olympic sport tarred by allegations of rampant sexual abuse. In 2018, Larry Nasser, the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics and for Michigan State University, was convicted on several charges of sexual abuse stemming from hundreds of allegations, many of which came from athletes Nasser frequently treated. Many prominent gymnasts, including Simone Biles, have denounced USA Gymnastics for failing to protect athletes from years of sexual predation.
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