By Eric Seidel, CEO
The Media Trainers®
USA Swimming is where future American Olympians are groomed. It also is where some young girls have been sexually abused for years by several dozen coaches.
The executive director of USA Swimming gets an “F” for how he’s handled this crisis, especially through the news media. Instead of displaying outrage and a sense of urgency to address and eradicate this situation, he chooses to minimize, deflect and, in short, practice C-Y-A.
At least 36 USA Swimming coaches have been accused of sexual abuse involving young female swimmers. In one case, when discovered, a coach simply packed up and headed for another town and began coaching teenaged girls again.
In an ABC News 20/20 interview, USA Swimming’s Executive Director Chuck Wielgus claimed: “It’s not nearly as serious in USA Swimming as it might be in the rest of society…” “…I don’t want to be the one to sit here and say 36 is not too many, one is too many, but this is not just a problem that’s isolated to one sport.”
Sadly, this is like a child trying to minimize and deflect bad behavior by saying “they did it, too, and even more than we did “(quotes added). Wielgus resorts to similar spin on the organization’s Web site.
Time and again, organizations and executives fail to learn from the mistakes of others in handling crisis communications. Based on the 20/20 story, USA Swimming’s Wielgus failed both in how the organization has reacted internally and externally to this crisis by portraying a genuine concern and a desire to quickly correct a situation so damaging to the young women involved as well as his group.
Those who support USA Swimming need to take a very close look at its leadership. Dramatic changes appear to be in order.