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USA Swimming CEO Offers Apology to Sexual-Abuse Victims

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On Friday, USA Swimming CEO Chuck Wielgus offered a formal apology for not doing more to prevent sexual abuse by coaches.

I brought this on myself in April 2010 when I said I had nothing to apologize for on a national television interview. Subsequently, I remained, if not defiant, at least defensive. While USA Swimming developed its groundbreaking Safe Sport Program, I championed the work of our national governing body. I talked about all the good that USA Swimming was doing in the fight to eradicate sexual abuse. But, I never apologized.

As time progressed, I became afraid that my sincerity would be questioned and anything I said or wrote would be judged as just an attempt to put public relations ahead of true remorse. So I remained silent.  

In 2010, ABC's 20/20 ran a feature on alleged sexual abuse by youth swimming coaches against young female swimmers, revealing that 36 coaches had been removed from the organization due to sexual-abuse allegations. Back in the summer of 2012, it was revealed that the founder of the Washington-based Curl-Burke Swim Club had been accused of molesting a teenage swimmer in a 1989 civil lawsuit, the disclosure of which caused USA Swimming to call for an emergency hearing.

The organization launched a new background check program in January 2011 required by all of the organization's coaches and officials. Even coaches and officials who had completed a previous background check with USA Swimming were required to undergo another check by the end of 2011 at the latest.

In his blog post, Wielgus said he told himself "that the good work we were doing was far better than any apology I could offer." However, as he began meeting privately with victims, he realized just how widespread the ramifications of these alleged sexual-abuse cases had become. 

Thus, he offered a formal apology to the victims of sexual abuse:

Going back in time, I wish I knew long before 2010 what I know today. I wish my eyes had been more open to the individual stories of the horrors of sexual abuse. I wish I had known more so perhaps I could have done more.

I cannot undo the past.  I'm sorry, so very sorry.

Last week, the International Swimming Hall of Fame withdrew Wielgus from its latest induction class after the Women's Sports Foundation protested. The foundation praised Wielgus' removal in a statement, saying, "This decision sends a clear and powerful message to all youth-serving organizations, including the Olympic movement: not only must there be zero tolerance for sexual abuse, but also that leaders must do all within their power to protect the victims, perform competent investigations and remove abusers from positions of access and power."

Though Wielgus' apology likely won't assuage the Women Sports Foundation's concerns, it's better late than never.

Photo: USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus spoke during a news conference at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in June of 2012, in Omaha, Neb. (Charlie Neibergall/AP-File)

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