Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Updated: May 26, 8:14 PM ET
46 coaches on banned list
ESPN.com news services
The sexual abuse scandal at USA Swimming has revealed its biggest name yet -- the former director of the national team.
Everett Uchiyama was on a list released Tuesday by the Colorado-based governing body showing 46 people have received lifetime bans or permanently quit the organization, most for sex-related offenses. The oldest suspension on the list was handed out in 1991, but most occurred in the past decade -- including 11 since the beginning of 2009.
Later in the day, Uchiyama resigned from the Colorado country club where he worked as aquatics director, effective immediately. The club said it got a positive recommendation from USA Swimming and knew nothing about the allegations against him.
A woman who accused Uchiyama of sexual abuse tells The Associated Press that officials need to do more than publicize his lifetime ban.
The alleged victim spoke on condition of anonymity because her name was never revealed during the investigation that followed her claim. She documented a relationship that began when she was 14 and eventually became sexual.
The woman, now in her mid-30s, says the relationship with Uchiyama started not long after she began swimming for him at Southern California Aquatics at age 14.
Her accusations, made in a Jan. 24, 2006, e-mail to USA Swimming, led to his resignation under a confidential agreement three days later.
Uchiyama hastily resigned as national team director on Jan. 27, 2006 without explanation. He was permanently banned from the organization on Jan. 31, 2006, but that didn't stop him from landing a job as director of aquatics at a nearby country club. He began his career at USA Swimming in 1999 as the national team coordinator, and moved up to national team director on an interim basis in December 2002.
The interim title was removed in April 2004, just a few months before the Athens Olympics.
Uchiyama was banned for violating a section in the code of conduct that forbids "any sexual conduct, advance or other inappropriate sexually oriented behavior or action directed towards an athlete by a coach."
The provision also prohibits "any nonconsensual physical sexual conduct, or pattern of unwelcome advances or other sexual harassment in connection with or incidental to a USA Swimming-related activity."
No criminal charges were ever filed. The alleged victim said she talked with two police departments, but both told her the statute of limitations had expired. For the same reason, she never filed a civil lawsuit.
"I'm very happy to see his name is out there," the woman said. "Now everybody will know, because when he resigned he was telling people random things like, 'I just decided to retire from that job.' Obviously, he was not honest about it."
But she criticized USA Swimming for publishing the list Tuesday in small type at the bottom of its website, without alerting the media, and said it's only one step of many needed to deal with the problem of coaches having improper sexual contact with underage swimmers.
"If you look at the USA Swimming website, you would not know where to look, not know where to find it," the woman said. "I was disgusted with the way USA Swimming posted it. It's like they're trying to hide it on their website."
USA Swimming issued a statement Wednesday saying the banned list was released as part of its ongoing efforts to address sexual misconduct within the sport. It was one of four proposals adopted at a board meeting on May 1 to deal with lawsuits and a wave of negative publicity, including a 1972 Olympic champion claiming she was abused and that USA Swimming did nothing about it.
"To foster a safe and positive environment for athletes and provide transparency, USA Swimming has chosen to publish the list of individuals banned for life from our organization," the statement said. "By putting the names out there for all, we hope that other youth sports organizations will benefit from this information."
The national governing body is "committed to ensuring that we have in place strong safeguards for our athletes as we continue the implementation" of a seven-point plan proposed last month by executive director Chuck Wielgus and president Jim Wood, the statement added.
USA Swimming declined to comment on Uchiyama's case specifically, and a message left at his listed number in Colorado Springs, Colo., was not returned.
Uchiyama was hired in January 2007 by the Country Club of Colorado, which is about five miles from USA Swimming's headquarters.
He was still listed on the club's Web site Wednesday afternoon, though someone who answered the phone at Uchiyama's office said he had taken a personal leave. Then, in a terse statement issued late in the afternoon, the club announced his departure and raised serious questions about USA Swimming's contention that it's been victimized by a larger societal problem.
"As is the club's standard practice, hiring protocol was followed when he was initially hired, including a thorough background check prior to his first day of employment. This included a positive reference with USA Swimming," the statement said. "The club was previously unaware of the allegations in today's news report. The Country Club of Colorado takes the welfare of its guests very seriously and took immediate action in regards to this matter."
The alleged victim recalled how Uchiyama gained her trust and gradually turned it into a sexual relationship.
"He would go to social gatherings with us. If the swimmers were going out to dinner, or the swimmers were going out to the movies, he would come along," she said. "He was building that relationship with me. He would hang out a little bit afterward when everybody left. He started building that intimacy piece to the relationship. Basically, that's how he hooked me."
The former swimmer said she developed a mental barrier to help her deal with the relationship, even after it finally ended in her mid-20s.
"It's kind of hard to explain if you've never been through it," she said. "It's almost like you're living in one body with two different people. On the one hand, you're an adult so to speak. You're living life, experiencing things, dating other people. On the other hand, you're stuck in that 14-, 15-year-old girl who had a secret relationship with your coach."
While talking with another coach in 2005, she finally realized how much she had been harmed by her relationship with Uchiyama.
"It clicked for me," she said. "I was a victim. It was not like I was chosen to be a special person. I was a victim of Everett."
The woman said she paid some $3,500 out of her own pocket for therapy, and also suffered from severe headaches caused by the stress of her ordeal. She was eager to get on with her life, but now feels it's important to speak out so others don't have to go through what she did.
"I know there's light at the end up of the tunnel," she said. "People know about it now. Hopefully this will bring about change and help protect other people in the future. That's all I've ever really wanted."
Of the 46 names released by the organization, 36 were punished for sexual misconduct or inappropriate sexual behavior. Two were banned for fraud, deception or dishonesty; two for unspecified felonies; and another for illegal drugs or substances.
No offense was listed in five cases, either because they occurred before the code of conduct went into effect, no section applied to their violation, or the details were not available.
A number of the coaches on the list were convicted in high-profile cases, such as Andrew King, a San Jose, Calif., coach whose story was featured in an ESPN "Outside the Lines" investigation earlier this month. After a 14-year-old victim came forward last year, King pleaded no-contest to 20 counts of molestation and was sentenced to 40 years in a California state prison.
USA Swimming has come under increasing scrutiny for its handling of sexual abuse, with some critics claiming that it covered up wrongdoing by prominent coaches and fostered an environment that allowed youth swimmers to be harmed. The Associated Press reports at least four lawsuits have been filed, and the sport has been subjected to a wave of negative media reports. ESPN has confirmed three lawsuits being filed.
In a plan released last month, USA Swimming said it will develop comprehensive guidelines for acceptable coaching behavior; enhance the system for reporting sexual abuse to the organization and law enforcement; determine if improvements need to be made in the current system of background checks; and develop stronger ties with local clubs that are responsible for hiring coaches.
The plan also calls for a review of USA Swimming's conduct code and the process for sharing coaches' records with member clubs and other youth organizations.
Finally, the governing body said it must educate athletes, parents, coaches and club leaders on what they can do to help.
In March 1972, Olympic champion Deena Deardurff Schmidt revealed that as she trained in the 1960s, she was repeatedly molested by her coach. Despite telling officials at USA Swimming years later, she said, the coach -- whom she wouldn't name -- went on to train more young swimmers and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Her comments came a day after a separate lawsuit was filed in Santa Clara County, Calif., alleging that more than 30 coaches nationwide have engaged in sexual misconduct with young females.
T.J. Quinn is a reporter for ESPN's enterprise/investigative unit, contributed to this report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information from The Associated Press is also included.