The Chuck Wielgus Blog: I'm Sorry
These are powerful words some people have wanted to hear from me for a long time. I have been criticized in blogs, and most recently in the petition opposing International Swimming Hall of Fame induction, for not apologizing for not having done more to prevent sexual abuse by coaches.
I brought this on myself in April 2010 when I said I had nothing to apologize for on a national television interview. Subsequently, I remained, if not defiant, at least defensive. While USA Swimming developed its groundbreaking Safe Sport Program, I championed the work of our national governing body. I talked about all the good that USA Swimming was doing in the fight to eradicate sexual abuse. But, I never apologized.
As time progressed, I became afraid that my sincerity would be questioned and anything I said or wrote would be judged as just an attempt to put public relations ahead of true remorse. So I remained silent.
While Safe Sport has evolved the past four years, I told myself that the good work we were doing was far better than any apology I could offer. I stood true to the small plaque that has been on my desk for my entire career, “Speak little, do much” and I took solace in this mantra.
I remained immersed in the work and our commitment to eliminate sexual abuse from the sport. We hired professionals with experience who shared their expertise. It was a tremendous education for me. For the first time, I began getting regular updates on specific cases and I started to grasp the depth of pain that others had suffered.
It was enlightening, to say the least, and I, at times, became horrified by the abuse that survivors had endured. I listened to outside authorities, I met privately with victims, and I began having difficult conversations with my own two teenage daughters about appropriate relationships.
Now, when I look back and see how far we’ve come as an organization, I also recognize how far I have come. Before 2010, I knew so little about the issues of sexual abuse in our society. Today, I have a first-hand understanding for just how widespread and devastating the problem is.
The statistics (by the age of 18, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused) were previously just numbers. As I listened to personal stories the statistics began to hit home to me. These weren’t just facts, there were real people. Sadly, I now understand how under-reported sexual abuse is and I think of those who continue to suffer.
These experiences have all helped me to grow, and to know that I would never want my daughters, or anyone for that matter, to ever experience the horrors and nightmares that must come during and in the aftermath of a sexually abusive situation.
And so today, four long years later, I can truthfully say how sorry I am to the victims of sexual abuse.
Going back in time, I wish I knew long before 2010 what I know today. I wish my eyes had been more open to the individual stories of the horrors of sexual abuse. I wish I had known more so perhaps I could have done more.
I cannot undo the past. I’m sorry, so very sorry.
USA Swimming’s Safe Sport Program is now an essential element of our organization’s responsibility to its 400,000 members. We will continue to increase awareness to reduce the risks of sexual abuse within our sport. When unfortunate incidents arise, we’ll provide a safe space for those impacted, help them report the infractions and ensure them that we’ll act accordingly.
Further, we will work hand-in-hand with the U.S. Olympic Committee. We will expand our efforts to work collaboratively with other organizations that share our pledge to eradicate sexual abuse from youth sports. We welcome anyone who wishes to join this vital crusade.
Saying, “I’m sorry” is important, and so is our never-ending vow to keep athletes safe.
Chuck Wielgus can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. All of his blogs are archived at USASwimming.org: click on “News” and then click on “Org News & Blogs”