Tag Archives: swimming

Widespread Abuse in Kids’ Sports Shows How Institutions Enable Predators

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Sexual harassment and abuse existed in our institutions long before recent allegations against men in power like Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and Roy Price came to light. How do institutions protect and enable these predators, and say things like, “Honestly, it was not on my radar,” when abuse surfaces? This is the question Alexandra Starr tackles in her Harper’s Magazine story examining how the U.S. Olympic Committee inadequately addressed sexual abuse in youth athletics. Institutions like the U.S.O.C. have often turned a blind eye to allegations of abuse until they’re forced to address them in court:

Marci Hamilton — the head of Child U.S.A., an organization that works to prevent child abuse and neglect — travels the country drafting legislation and testifying in statehouses on behalf of sexual assault survivors. She told me that, beyond money for therapy, window provisions help provide victims with recognition from the state that a wrong has occurred. “It is validating,” she said. “It can quiet the voices in their heads telling them they were somehow at fault.” For others reticent to come forward, watching people publicly hold their perpetrator accountable is key.

Hamilton has observed that child abuse at the Catholic Church has generated the most attention, but she finds youth athletics to be no less hazardous. “We have reports of abuse in every possible sports organization — whether peewee or little league or high school,” she said. “The extreme power imbalance between a coach and an athlete — not just an adult and child but a coach and an athlete — creates conditions for keeping secrets. And so long as secrets are kept, the perpetrators are protected.” Lawsuits, she added, “are the only way to force these institutions to disclose what’s in their files.” When SafeSport launched, she wrote that “the U.S.O.C. has moved at a glacial pace,” grappling with allegations of assault over the past fifteen years; “its actions have more often protected problematic coaches than children.” She told me, “What always comes out in the end is that the institution knew more about abuse than just about anybody else. They are also the ones most dedicated to silence.”

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In a Swimming Pool, Learning to Trust

Illustration by Giselle Potter

Matt Grant | Longreads | August 2017 | 14 minutes (3,550 words)


I’ve been treading water for almost 10 minutes and my limbs are starting to ache. It’s 5:28 on a humid evening in late July, and there are only two minutes left in the private swimming lesson I’m giving in my family’s backyard pool. Ever since Jacob, who is 7, took his first tentative steps onto the diving board, he has inched towards the end with all the enthusiasm of a death row inmate approaching sentencing. Three feet below, I wait in the center of the deep end, my arms in a wide, welcoming posture. My legs thrash underneath me, working to keep my body afloat.

Today is a big day for Jacob. We both agreed before the lesson started that by the end, he would jump into the deep end. We’ve discussed it for weeks so that he could mentally prepare himself. But it’s clear to me now, as he creeps closer to the rim and stares into the depths below, that he never actually thought I was serious. “It’s too deep,” he says. I can see the fear wracking his body.

“Don’t worry, I’ll catch you,” I say.

“I’m going to drown.”

“No, you’re not.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I’ll catch you. Trust me.”

Jacob hesitates, fingers in mouth. Already at 7, he is large and stocky, with a bit of a belly protruding over the bright lemon-colored face of SpongeBob SquarePants, who beams at me from Jacob’s right thigh. I’ve taught my fair share of difficult students over the years, but I’ve never encountered a pupil quite like Jacob. To say he is resistant would be an understatement. Jacob is terrified of the water, and as far as he’s concerned, that’s just fine with him. The problem is, it’s not fine with Jacob’s mother. A short and narrow woman, she is the opposite of Jacob in every way. She finds me through the YMCA the summer before I leave for college when she comes seeking private lessons for her aqua-phobic son. Jacob has tried several group classes and has so far been unsuccessful, which is another way of saying she’s unhappy with his progress. Jacob’s mother makes it clear to me at our first meeting what she expects.

“I need him swimming laps by the end of the summer,” she says as she stands in my living room, casting accusing glances at her son, who is drawing at the dining table nearby and pretending he doesn’t hear. I’m unsure of what to say. Jacob is afraid to dip his toes in and she wants him to be Ian Thorpe in eight weeks. In a rambling litany, she rattles off everything she has tried so far: lessons wasted, rewards promised and consequences threatened, family vacations on which she literally tried to force him into the water. Nothing has worked. “You’re my last option,” she says, looking at me like I’m Obi-Wan Kenobi. “If you can’t get him to swim, he’s hopeless. I’m not sure what else I can do. He’ll just have to grow up never knowing how.” She lets out a large sigh and shakes her head. She seems a little overdramatic about the whole thing, to be honest. But she’s willing to pay $20 per half-hour lesson, so who am I to judge?

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Learning to Swim in a Sea of Uncertainty

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Katie Prout | Longreads | May 2017 | 12 minutes (2,916 words)


This semester, I’ve been learning to swim. When I told her I didn’t know how, Stephanie laughed at me.

“John can’t swim either,” she said. “The people in your family don’t have enough body fat, you muscle-y freaks.”

Stephanie is John’s wife, my sister-in-law, and Stephanie can swim; she grew up in Michigan’s thumb, a remote place called Port Austin where freighters from Ontario still pull in. We grew up farther south in the state but still, my dad used to take us to watch them, longer than football fields; bigger, he said, than the Titanic. Further in along the boardwalk we’d go, skin sticky against the piping of the metal fence, and my dad would jump into the water my mom forbade us to enter, and come up clean.

When he was born, I hated John’s guts. Eventually, there were six of us kids, but for all of my memory it had just been me and my brother Steve, two years younger, and that was how I liked it. I was three years and 363 days old when my parents brought John home, and from his first adorable cry, the hot hate of cruel little animals coursed through my body, directing my actions toward him for the next two years.
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What It’s Like to Drown

Photo by 29cm (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Fenella Souter reports in detail on what it’s like to drown through the harrowing personal experience of a woman named Merav. In a bid to show off to her boyfriend 40 years ago, Merav jumped into the surf at Gunnamatta Beach in Victoria, Australia, and lived to regret it.

Her first wave is an angry, spine-jarring dumper that hurls her down and holds her down. The returning rush of water sucks her back out, still under, while one of the many fierce rips that run out from this beach takes her in its grasp. When she finally pops up, choking and spluttering, disoriented under a leaden sky, sand in her ears, bikini top hanging around her neck, she’s at least 25 metres from where she went in.

The situation is suddenly crystal clear to her.

An unpatrolled beach, deserted, at 4.30 in the afternoon. A sea whose fury she has seriously underestimated. A boyfriend who can’t save her. She can see his flailing arms, his mouth moving. “Right then and there, I thought, ‘I’m not going to get out of this.’ I didn’t lose all hope, because the will to survive is so much stronger than that but I realised it was so much more dangerous than I had thought. I was already struggling to keep breathing.”

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