Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Call and Response: The War of Words Between USAS and "Splash"

I had a funny "encounter" with USA Swimming President Bruce Stratton while at Nationals. As he was making the rounds on the pool deck, I made eye contact with him while standing alone. He quickly looked away, as if he was on his way to talk to someone behind me. I followed him with my gaze: no one there. He made eye contact with me again and averted his eyes to something past me a second time. He walked across me a second time. Again, no one there. He made eye contact a third time, then stared out at the pool and smiled for a while, before walking away.

Now, I have no idea if Bruce Stratton has any clue who I am. He may very well not, but given what I've written about USA Swimming in this space I think he might. He also might have just been wondering "why is this weird guy staring at me?". When, last week, he wrote an e-mail to all of USA Swimming membership, I considered writing a public response in this blog. After all, Bruce stated in his e-mail that he wanted an "open, constructive" dialogue.

Before I get to anything else,  I want to commend one vital part of the e-mail. USA Swimming has delivered on an excellent education course for coaches and officials. Stratton states that a separate education program for swimmers 11 and older and 10 and under will come in the first part of 2012. My expectations are high, given the quality of the educational component that I took part in earlier this fall. This is another positive step that USA Swimming has taken as an organization.

Earlier in the letter, Stratton takes aim at "anonymous e-mails" that "make disparaging claims about good, honest, hard working staff and volunteers" and discourage victims of abuse from coming forward. I can only imagine that Stratton is referring to the e-mails and website, aka "Splash of Truth". While there are some legitimate criticisms of this website, Stratton's vague paragraph only creates a straw man.

It is easy for Stratton to dismiss an anonymous website. However, there are people (like myself, Tony Austin and others) that have put their names on direct criticisms of his organization. Why has he chosen not to address those criticisms? The only logical conclusions are that either he does not know they exist, or thinks that they aren't worth addressing. Both conclusions are fairly troubling.

The accusation that the anonymous e-mails and website discourage reporting would have some weight if Stratton were willing to acknowledge the faults within his own organization. I, for one, would appreciate USA Swimming being honest instead of pretending to be perfect. There has to this point been zero acknowledgement of any responsibility by any USA Swimming staff or volunteer in this matter. I believe this lack of accountability, the insistence that we "move forward" as an organization with no change in leadership, feeds the "anonymous" attacks. There is a real frustration that the top leadership doesn't see or understand.

That lack of accountability in leadership does far more harm to victim reporting in my opinion. And until there is substantive, honest leadership, it's going to remain in the way of USA Swimming becoming the organization that it truly wants to be.


  1. Why don't you become involved in the organization?

  2. Worthwhile subject, but if you expect me to take you seriously, run the post past an editor. You come off sounding semi-literate.

  3. Anonymous,

    I have considered it. In a previous blog Susan Woessner leveled the same criticism at me. I think it's fair. After our conversation I took the time to review minutes from my LSC meetings. I do not think that attending these would be a more valuable use of my time than writing this blog, among other things.


    I did just read it again and I'm embarrassed that there are some wonky parts. If you really think that this is a worthy topic I'd love to hear what you have to say on it. I'll try and read but I may struggle as I'm only "semi-literate".

  4. Chris,

    Thanks for the blog.
    Thanks for discussing difficult subjects.
    Thanks for trying to make the sport of swimming a better place for everyone.
    Thanks for allowing comments to be posted.
    Thanks for your involvement.
    Thanks for speaking out.

  5. Wow, DA, tough sell you are. Gotta run spell and grammar check next time, I guess.

    I got the gist of what your saying, probably because I'm semi-literate myself. Keep on writing and we will come up with a way that your influence will go beyond the LSC board meetings.

  6. Chris,

    Thank you. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing". Maybe a statement for you to consider as well Dennis.

  7. To become "involved in the organization" in any meaningful way, you need to be appointed to a committee position. Guess who makes the appointments?! That's right, the president of USA this case Bruce Stratton.

    I actually think that your blog, and others like it, are a perfectly acceptable form of providing input into the system. It raises awareness and creates a dialogue. In a lot of ways, the Swim Brief, SCAQ Blog, etc provide a more effective avenue of discussion than the convention.

    Just because someone is critical of the system does not make them the enemy. If I were Bruce, I would appoint as many critics to committee positions as possible. Alas, I don't think that is the prevailing thought process. I have tried to become involved at the committee level, but to no avail. I will keep trying...and writing too.

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