Youth swimming coaches, many certified by USA Swimming, the sport's national governing body, have been able to molest young swimmers and then move from town to town, escaping criminal charges and continuing to victimize other under-aged swimmers, an ESPN "Outside the Lines" investigation has found.
ESPN found the abusive coaches, some of whom molested young swimmers for more than 30 years, avoided detection because of a number of factors: USA Swimming and other organizations had inadequate oversight, many local coaches, parents and swimming officials failed to report inappropriate contact they witnessed, and some parents, driven to see their children succeed, ignored or did not recognize what should have been red flags.>
USA Swimming started requiring criminal background checks for its coaches in 2006 and those checks only screened for coaches who have been convicted of a felony. Andy King, 62, a veteran San Jose-area coach, pleaded no-contest last year to 20 molestation charges and is serving a 40-year sentence for more than 30 years of abuse. But King passed USA Swimming's background check and was arrested only because a 14-year-old swimmer in his care stepped forward last year and reported him for molesting her more than 100 times.
"The first time, I was in shock," the girl, now 15, told ESPN. "I didn't know what was happening, I didn't know what was going on or why did he choose me? I didn't know what to do, if I should tell him to stop, cause if I told him to stop what if he hurt me?"
The girl's father said despite his daughter's bravery in coming forward, the family continues to be haunted by the abuse.
"I can't imagine my ever forgetting what has happened with my daughter," he said. "Just about every day I have some thought about what Andy's done to her. And I have thoughts about her health and well being. It will always be with me. I'm sure it will never go away. That is part of the damage that has taken place with this type of crime."
A spokesperson for USA Swimming said the organization is evaluating its process for reporting abusive coaches and might establish a hotline for anonymous tips. The organization said it has banned 36 coaches for life who have been accused of sexual abuse. USA Swimming said it has an annual coach membership of 11,000 to 12,000. Over 10 years, the organization has certified 36,402 coaches.
The "Outside the Lines" investigation is scheduled to appear on May 2 on ESPN.
T.J. Quinn is an investigative reporter for ESPN and ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Greg Amante is a producer for ESPN.