USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus has issued an apology to victims of sexual abuse.
Wielgus wrote the apology on his regular blog, on the heels of an announcement Monday that the International Swimming Hall of Fame would not induct him as had been planned for June 14. ISHOF said the move came after protests from sexual-abuse victims and their supporters.
Wielgus has been an incendiary figure over the past couple years, as incidents of sexual abuse of competitive swimmers by their coaches have come to light. Victims and their supporters have felt that USA Swimming, and Wielgus as its leader, have been slow to investigate claims of sexual abuse and even protected child abusers from justice.
Many have said Wielgus should step down from his post.
Until now, Wielgus would not apologize when asked. He acknowledged that in his blog: “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.”
In 2010, the organization developed its Safe Swimming program, meant to protect children from abuse. It also commissioned a third-party evaluation of the Safe Swimming Program and USA Swimming's general handling of the issue of sexual abuse. The report from that evaluation was released in January.
Wielgus said that as he focused on instituting these fixes, he chose not to apologize as something of a protective measure: “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.”
To a certain extent, though, he also suggested he didn’t know enough at the time, and that he has better learned the plight of the victims: “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.”
But at least one sexual-abuse victim and her attorney publicly rebuffed Wielgus’ apology. Jancy Thompson currently has a sexual misconduct case against USA Swimming and her former coach, Norm Havercroft, in California. Her attorney, B. Robert Allard, has handled several cases involving alleged sexual abuse by swim coaches and has been very vocal in his belief that USA Swimming has not only failed to act, but even covered up for some of the accused.
Both believe Wielgus' apology was given as a means of damage control, and see it as too little, too late.
Thompson and at least some of the 18 other abuse survivors who petitioned that ISHOF refrain from honoring Wielgus plan another protest in the hopes of persuading Congress to look into USA Swimming’s handling of abuse reports.
Wielgus' blog in its entirety can be found here.