The story of former University of Utah swim coach Greg Winslow just keeps growing. A couple of weeks ago, he was named by Arizona State University Police in connection with the alleged sexual abuse of a 15-year-old girl, dating back to when he coached an aquatics team in Arizona. This winter the school looked into allegations of a race-related exchange with a swimmer. Now some parents of Utah swimmers are claiming Winslow has a long history of mistreatment, dating back as far as 2008, yet school officials did little to rectify the situation.
Among the allegations: Winslow compromised the safety of swimmers by ordering them to do drills that caused them to gasp for air and, in some cases, pass out; that he bought beer for a teenager; that he had a drinking problem; and that he indiscriminately punished and even dismissed swimmers for seemingly small infractions.
Utah suspended Winslow in February, following news of the investigation in Arizona, then fired him last week.
A Yahoo! Sports article on Friday said the Office of Equal Opportunity determined this winter that there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed against Winslow. It had reportedly interviewed 50 student-athletes during the investigation and concluded no action would be taken.
The obvious question is why did it take so long to suspend (and later fire) Winslow if so many red flags had gone up? Utah athletics director Chris Hill has declined to comment to media.
Whenever there is an allegation of abuse at any school, there are always conflicting stories. Fifty student interviews is a strong statistic in the U.’s defense. At the same time, parents don’t usually go to the media unless they’re convinced something wrong has happened. Several years ago, a Salt Lake area high school had a mutiny among its athletes, who claimed mistreatment by the coach. At the same time, parents of a number of players fully supported the coach.
Who’s right in these cases depends on whom you believe.
Whether there really was no evidence against Winslow, or the investigation was poorly conducted or coordinated is unclear. But a couple of things are obvious: At very least, the university needs a better reporting system. Also, the University reacted slowly. The Yahoo! article said at least five student-athletes and four sets of parents had voiced concerns by 2010, but no investigation into Winslow was launched until last November. If true, that’s too slow.
The university will insist it did what it should have. It did conduct an investigation last fall on the race-related incident, but didn’t act until other issues arose. Some of those additional allegations weren’t new ones. The lesson here is that when allegations arise, from several sources, they should be thoroughly investigated and acted upon quickly. That apparently didn’t happen. Patiently gathering evidence is one thing, but allowing a situation to sit until it worsens is another. As is often the case, the problems don’t go away. They just get more complicated.