Rick Curl, The University Of Maryland, Penn State, and Moral Luck

The Rick Curl case is the ethics alarm that won’t stop ringing.

Could Joe be the rule rather than the exception?

Could Joe be the rule rather than the exception?

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.

___________________________________

Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, Baltimore Sun,

19 thoughts on “Rick Curl, The University Of Maryland, Penn State, and Moral Luck

  1. “If true, that lends more credence to the theory that the U.S. amateur athletic scene breeds ethics rot”

    Jimmy Savile. The Catholic Church. The University of Pennsylvania. The teachers who make appearances on FARK two to three times a week, and so on.

    Occam’s razor would suggest an alternative to that theory: that those with a predilection for diddling kids tend to go where the kids are, and that those who are (in theory) responsible for supervising them are cowards.

    • And lets throw in the Boy Scouts too. And other churches and youth groups, not just the Catholics. And from what I can gather, until fairly recently, the right to bed undergrad women was one of the perquisites of being a young (or even old?) college professor. And sure, they were over 18 but it is a terrible betrayal of the trust that should be part of the teacher-student relationship.

    • “that those with a predilection for diddling kids tend to go where the kids are”

      I’d imagine that would be a logical assumption. But careful in its wording, lest someone assume the converse is true and begin assuming the worst of anyone who goes where the kids are.

    • Sunds right. It’s a cultural problem, perhaps a growing one. I have researched risk-minimization with a Baptist church, and most incidents in such organizations are the result of predators trying to volunteer for positions that get them around kids. Some church leaders are a bit sheltered about how bad it is out there, and fail to assume the worst and properly vet these volunteers. But churches on the whole are getting wise to the situation and taking precautions.

      It’s still inexcusable when an organization allows a culture of covering up incidents when they do occur, like this one. But I would hope that’s not typical.

  2. I wouldn’t call it moral luck. I’d jus call it no integrity. There’s no moral anywhere in this shameful. This woman’s parents were cowards who took a check rather than protect their own daughter or the countless other daughters who were victim’s of this monster.

          • What do you mean, “problems”? It defines an undeniable phenomenon. Conduct is judged more or less “wrong” because of subsequent, unpredictable events outside the control of the actor—that illogical, and moral luck at work. An act is fully defined as ethical or unethical when it takes place—it is absurd, though common, to use what occurs afterwards to define its ethical character. Its EFFECT, damaging or harmless, can be defined, and what the actor is responsible for, but not its ethical character.

    • “Moral” is a qualifier indicating the scenario has everything to do with right or wrong.

      “Luck” indicating that he was ‘lucky’ to not be found out by the law, whereas Sandusky was found out.

      In cases like these, we tend to have an irrational bias in favor of the lucky:

      For example:

      Two drunks drive home.

      Both are engaging in reckless and unethical behavior.

      One hits and kills a kid and is a pariah for life.

      One makes it home and still an upstanding member of the community.

      Moral luck has favored the one who made it home, as they both engaged in WRONG behavior, but only one resulted in negative consequences.

  3. 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.

    So then Joe Paterno did nothing wrong?

    Because if the school did give the coach his walking papers, and informed the Maryland state attorney general’s office (which would have the power to prosecute the coach), it did everything right. And if that places it in the role of Joe Paterno, then what would that say about Joe Paterno?

    • Huh? The school had an obligation to the potential victims to see that action was taken…and so did Paterno. Paterno’s obligation was greater, however, because he was an insider, not an outside reporter.

      • Huh? The school had an obligation to the potential victims to see that action was taken…and so did Paterno. Paterno’s obligation was greater, however, because he was an insider, not an outside reporter.

        If the school did, as it claimed, report the incident to the office of the attorney general, then it did ensure that action was taken- the action being review by appropriate authorities.

        • Nope. He was their employee. They had an obligation to investigate. Would you make the same argument about a serial rapist? A murderer? You report to the press, if there’s no action. You inquire about the reason for the inaction. Legal obligations and ethical obligations are two different things.

          • Why not assume that law enforcement (the people who actually are in charge in investigating these crimes and making arrests) is taking or has already taken appropriate action unless presented with evidence to the contrary?

            We do not have an ethical duty to take proactive steps to ensure that law enforcement is doing its job. Indeed, stepping outside of our proper roles in these cases (which is simply reporting any information to the appropriate authorities and letting them do their jobs) can undermine prosecution of such offenses.

            By the way, did not the debacle over Trayvon Martin start from activist groups presuming to know better than the police when conducting homicide investigations?

  4. The lawyers were paid to preside over the cover up of a crime against a minor. I know that is unethical. Is it legal? One of the attorneys involved in the settlement, Michael D. Mason is now a Circuit Court Judge in Montgomery County, MD.

    • According to the lawyer’s ethical standards it’s ethical if it’s legal. I’m not sure if it’s legal unless some reporting is made to authorities. It’s definitely unethical for the family to make a private settlement that lets a rapist go free.

  5. These stories are awful. As a mother of two daughters, I fear this. I had several friends who were victims of pedophilia, and it ruined their lives forever. The problem often is on the law enforcement side though — and I’m not blaming the authorities, just pointing out the problems of getting a successful conviction. What if this was purely a “he said/she said” story at the time, what if there was no physical proof of any kind, what if the 13 year-old is too emotionally distraught to testify, what if the prosecutor doesn’t want to pursue because of all of this and will just cut a deal instead or perhaps just drop the charges? I hope that as a parent I would pursue anyway, and even if I couldn’t get a conviction, maybe I could start screaming loudly to the press to try and protect other families’ daughters. But I have to weigh that societal moral obligation against the moral/parental obligation to not expose my 13 year-old rape victim daughter to the further emotional rollercoaster of unwanted publicity, more (and difficult) medical examinations, possible ridicule, and defamation lawsuits. For me, it wouldn’t be amount taking hush money (we don’t need or want tainted money), it would be about protecting my daughter. Again, I hope that this never happens to my daughters and if it did, I hope that our family would have the courage and strength to pursue. I’d just like to know more about the facts before I cast the family as extortionists here.

    • This is a very good point. There is a good reason there is a requirement for substantial evidence before conviction in these cases. Remember when people reduced the level of evidence and we had the epidemic of molestation conviction based only little more than children having bad dreams and artificial molestation memories embedded by therapists? That’s how we got Janet Reno as attorney general.

      However, you don’t need to throw out innocent until proven guilty, many of these cases have a lot of evidence and a lot of behavior going on in plain sight. In McCloud, Oklahoma, Kimberly Crain had a makeshift partition permanently set up in front of the classroom computer and webcam in her 3rd grade classroom. She had children undressing in front of the camera during school for a long time. This could not go unnoticed. A friend of ours was brought to tears when one of her client’s mentioned that her daughter and her daughter’s friends at the high school were trying to see who could sleep with the hot new coach. The new coach was our friend’s husband who had left a previous school because of just such behavior by the girls and the other coaches (imagine if high-school students were leaving suggestive messages on your spouses phone). There is a lot of this very evident behavior that is not being addressed. That makes the “he-said-she-said stuff” not worth the trouble, sadly.

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