Last week, Irvin Muchnick at concussioninc.net broke the news that sexual abuse charges would be brought against then Utah Head Swimming and Diving coach Greg Winslow. Since then, many more allegations have come out, among them that he punched an assistant coach in the face, was intoxicated at work and harassed swimmers on his team. Many of these things were an open secret in the Swimming world. I can remember hearing about the assistant coach covering up a black eye, but I was several degrees removed from the source. The whole things begs a basic question: how could you purposely injure someone working for you, or any of the incidents chronicled by Muchnick, and not suffer consequences before now? The answer is obvious if you work inside a college athletics department.
Let's start with the coach punching incident, since it's the one I feel most confident actually happened. It is likely that Winslow's assistant never told anyone with the power to punish Winslow about the incident. It is also very likely that the person (in this case Pete Oliszczak, who had swimming under his purview) who was supposed to provide oversight over Winslow was not paying enough attention to notice that the incident happened.
Many athletic departments have a zero tolerance policy for disloyalty, which means that if Winslow's assistant went over his head to report the incident, he was crossing a point of no return. The best possible result he could get would be the removal of Winslow, which would likely result in him losing his job, as well as severing the precious few references the assistant coach has to get another. I say best case result because bringing serious allegations up the line could simply result in the assistant losing his job and references and no consequences for Winslow if Winslow's superiors could find enough gray area even in such a seemingly obvious incident.
There is an inversion of accountability in college athletics. Despite whatever you may read about the big professional feeder sports, in swimming the athletes in my experience are held to a higher standard. There is very little recourse for athletes if they have a problem with anyone rung on the ladder above them. I can remember when I brought abuse allegations against my coach, his superior had already decided without speaking to me that the allegations were false and wanted me to volunteer to leave the team. This is why, when Jerry Sandusky was finally held accountable, information about his misdeeds came streaming out at a rapid pace. The tactic is to deny, deny again and only until overwhelming evidence is brought to bear.
The only solution I see moving forward is for athletic departments is for there to be more effective checks on power all the way up the line. Move away from zero tolerance policies towards disloyalty and empower the least powerful to disagree with those above them. Make it safe and ok to "call out" abuses of power when you see them. I think many people think this would undo the whole system, but to me that sentiment is as antiquated as believing in kings and queens. This kind of culture change may seem a long way off in college athletics, but it's essential if we are to create environments where the abuse alleged against Winslow is far less likely to happen.