Clarification: An earlier version of this editorial described Rick Curl as a Hall of Fame swim coach. That description was misleading and perhaps incorrect: Officials at the International Swimming Hall of Fame, the sport’s best-known institution of its type, and the American Swimming Coaches Association say that Mr. Curl had not been inducted into their halls. There are scores of swimming halls of fame, but The Post has identified none into which Mr. Curl was inducted. The following version has been updated.
GRANTED, THERE WERE different laws on the books 25 years ago when the University of Maryland was confronted with evidence of past sexual abuse of a child by its head swimming coach. Granted, the university moved quickly to fire the coach, sought counsel from the state and was solicitous of a desire for confidentiality by the victim’s family. But for its current administration to claim, as it did this week, that the handling of the case was either “reasonable” or “appropriate” is more than a stretch; it’s indefensible, considering that the university’s actions helped allow the coach to have unimpeded contact with other young athletes for more than two decades.
Documents released by the university in the wake of Rick Curl’s sentencing for the sexual abuse of a young swimmer in the 1980s fill in some of the blanks behind the school’s decision not to report the abuse to police even though it had a signed statement from Mr. Curl admitting to sex with a teenage girl. Maryland deserves credit for opening its files; it’s a refreshing contrast to the lack of openness by another institution, USA Swimming, which needs to account for its actions concerning Mr. Curl. But the revelations pose unsettling questions about whose interests university officials were seeking to protect.
Handwritten notes from 1988 show officials reaching the conclusion that it was under no legal obligation to report the abuse, which had occurred before the university hired Mr. Curl in 1987, because the victim had turned 19 and was no longer a minor. An assistant in the state attorneygeneral’s office, briefed about the case after Mr. Curl had been made to resign, concurred. The girl’s parents, who were advised to see an attorney, didn’t want publicity, according to the documents.
Mr. Curl, who reached a 1989 private settlement that paid his victim $150,000 for her silence, continued to coach at the prestigious local swim club he founded, worked for a time in Australia and won induction into the Swimming Hall of Fame. His continued prominent role, including being on deck at the 2012 Olympic trials, caused Kelly Davies Currin, who suffered years of mental-health problems from the five years of abuse that started when she was 13, to break her silence. Yet a university spokesman saw fit to declare: “This is truly an unfortunate and regrettable situation, but we continue to believe that the university’s actions were both reasonable and appropriate at the time.”
We are not unsympathetic to the argument that awareness about confronting sexual abuse was not as strong two decades ago. Laws have been toughened, and today there would be no question of the university’s legal obligation to go to law enforcement authorities.
What bothers us, though, is that no one at the time seemed to think it his or her responsibility to prevent this man from coming into contact with other children. Rather than seeking investigation by those trained in the field, officials simply let Mr. Curl take leave of his job. The University of Maryland was off the hook, and that’s all that seemed to matter.