The Rick Curl case is the ethics alarm that won’t stop ringing.
I’ve written about it twice, both times focusing on the devil’s deal made by the victim and her family, who allowed Curl, a renowned D.D. area swimming coach, to get away with sexually molesting a 13-year female swimmer under his supervision and escape either official detection or legal punishment for decades, as the victim’s family decided to accept $150,000 in hush money/ extortion/ settlement from the rapist-coach instead. Curl went on his happy coaching, and maybe child-molesting way—we don’t know if there were other victims or other pay-offs—even to the Olympics, until the girl he molested, Kelley Currin, had a belated attack of conscience at 40 and finally told authorities about what a trusted coach in close contact with girls on a daily basis had done to her, leading to Curl’s arrest last year.
Rick Curl was sentenced to seven years in prison for child sexual abuse at a hearing this week. At that hearing, we learned for the first time that the University of Maryland had been informed about the abuse more than 25 years ago, and probably knew about it before that. Currin had been swimming for the Curl-Burke Swim Club, one of the largest private swim clubs in the country. Curl coached elite young divers and swimmers there, and also at the University of Maryland. At some point after his victim’s parents made Curl sign a letter admitting that he had sex with their daughter and accepted his check, they gave a copy of the letter to the athletic director at Maryland. Curl was then quietly told by the school to go molest girls someplace else. The school did not ensure that Curl was arrested, and it did not warn Curl’s private students or their parents.
The difference between this scenario and what happened at Penn State is moral luck, and not much else. Unlike Jerry Sandusky, Rick Curl may have stopped using children to satisfy his lusts under the guise of being a mentor and teacher, but the University of Maryland, like Currin and her family, didn’t know that. would be the result of them sending him off to continue to coach nubile young ladies in bathing suits. The school, led by its athletic director at the time, may or may not have informed authorities: it now claims that the Maryland attorney general’s office was alerted, while the state challenges the University’s account. But even if the school’s version is accurate, that just places it in the role of Joe Paterno. It reported that a child molester was having daily contact with little girls, nothing was done about it, and it moved on to other things it considered more important, just like “Joe Pa.” How many other victims did Curl have in his clutches over the next two decades and a half? Maybe the answer is “none at all.” That doesn’t make the University’s conduct or, if it was indeed told about Curl, the Maryland authorities’ non-response any less atrocious.
And maybe the answer is “a lot.”
The episode sparks the horrible question: how many schools are like Penn State and Maryland? Could it be that they are the norm, and not the exceptions? I once thought I knew the answer, and now I am no longer certain. It could well be that the culture of our universities, when they discover a child molester in their midst, is to say, “Yikes! Let’s get rid of that guy, but we don’t want people asking a lot of embarrassing questions. Just give him his walking papers and make him someone else’s problem. Who he molests on his own time is not our concern.” Nice.
There is more. Currin, now 43 and apparently trying to make up for decades of callous negligence with current zeal, is demanding the resignation of three U.S. Olympic swimming officials who she says also knew about Curl’s proclivities and did nothing. If true, that lends more credence to the theory that the U.S. amateur athletic scene breeds ethics rot, as well as giving us an example for the ages of the pot calling the kettle blacker. Kelley and her family got cold cash for letting a molester go free; the Olympic swim team got some medals by doing the same. We need to know if the Olympics officials were part of this cover-up, but excuse me if I don’t applaud Kelley Currin for her belated revelations.