A longtime coach at the Baltimore swim club that has turned out several Olympians — including Michael Phelps — resigned after an allegation of "inappropriate conduct" with a female athlete was revealed, officials of the sport's national governing body said Friday.
The North Baltimore Aquatic Club reported the coach, who was not identified, to swimming authorities in October 2011, according to USA Swimming, the Colorado-based governing body.
The coach was forced out of the position within 48 hours after club officials became aware of the allegation last fall, and the club contacted Baltimore County authorities, a source with knowledge of the situation said.
USA Swimming said it first received information about the alleged 1975 incident in August 2010, when a woman described the incident in a voice mail message. But the alleged victim did not follow up with an investigator.
Steven A. Allen, a Towson-based lawyer for the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, said he would not comment about former or present employees or coaches for privacy reasons.
"We follow the guidelines of USA Swimming, and we follow all legal guidelines," Allen said. "We are always vigilant to behavior that may be inappropriate in order to detect it or prevent it. It's our goal that a safe environment be provided, and we do everything we can do to ensure that there is a safe environment."
It was unclear whether any charges have been filed in the alleged incident.
As of Friday, USA Swimming had banned nearly 70 individuals, including coaches, from the sport over issues including sexual misconduct.
Rick Curl of Maryland, founder of Washington's pre-eminent swim club, was banned in September after allegations surfaced of a sexual relationship he had in the 1980s with a swimmer when she was 13 and he was 33, according to news reports. He voluntarily gave up his USA Swimming membership and waived his right to a hearing, according USA Swimming.
In 1989, Curl agreed to pay the family of his victim $150,000 over 11 years for "pain and suffering" as part of a nondisclosure agreement, The Washington Post reported. She did not press charges, per the agreement, according to the newspaper.
No other Maryland coaches appear on the list of banned individuals.
Jonathan Little, an Indianapolis-based attorney who has represented victims in cases involving USA Swimming coaches, said a culture of abuse has existed in American swim clubs for decades because officials have failed to act aggressively.
"Swimming needs to have an independent review [of] all claims of sexual misconduct because the leadership of swimming has proven that they are incapable of handling complaints about athlete sexual abuse," Little said Friday.
Phelps and his coach, Bob Bowman, took over the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center after the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Efforts on Friday to reach Phelps and Bowman were unsuccessful.
In recent years, USA Swimming has enacted new policies to confront a growing chorus of allegations of coaches sexually abusing underage swimmers. The reforms include enhanced criminal background checks of coaches, officials and volunteers and mandatory reporting of any inappropriate conduct.
The organization provided to The Baltimore Sun a copy of an email to "parents and friends" that addresses the local allegation. The organization also said it had notified Baltimore County police of the allegation.
"We believe strongly in our responsibility to provide responsible communication on this issue," the organization wrote in the email.
The alleged incident occurred while swimming was governed by the Amateur Athletic Union; USA Swimming, and its code of conduct, were not in existence until 1979, according to Karen Linhart, spokeswoman for the organization. For that reason, USA Swimming said, it could not enforce a violation of any rules.
After the organization received the anonymous voice mail in August 2010, an official returned the call and spoke to the alleged victim, Linhart said. The person provided details of the alleged incident but did not name the coach or give USA Swimming her name, she said.
"Despite not having the coach's name, USA Swimming attempted to initiate an investigation into the conduct described by the unidentified woman," Linhart wrote in an email. "However, our investigator made multiple attempts to contact her which proved unsuccessful over a period of three months."