From top George Gibney in 1988 (left) and in 2019 (right); Irvin Muchnick
Though I have sharply criticised the thoroughness, as well as the lowest-common-denominator quality, of the BBC/Second Captains podcast Where Is George Gibney?, there is no question that this Mark Horgan series succeeded in one significant respect. It has created a space in which other major media outlets can choose, at last, to step up and reexamine the Gibney story, either comprehensively or from the several important angles Horgan consciously ducked.
The biggest breakthrough so far, on the American side, was last month’s coverage in The New York Times (which I reviewed here).
Ed O’Loughlin, a Dublin-based New York Times reporter, became the first mainstream journalist since Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle in 2016 to tackle the global aspect of the protection of Gibney from accountability for more instances of child sexual assault than we’ll ever know.
The New York Times did so by quoting the strong words of federal judge Charles Breyer during my Freedom of Information Act case against the Department of Homeland Security for background material from Gibney’s immigration records.
They whiffed, however, on Judge Breyer’s supportive comment about my hypothesis regarding the role of the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) in engineering the coaching job offer letter for Gibney that enabled his relocation here on a diversity lottery visa. This came shortly after a nepotism-tinged Irish Supreme Court, in 1994, quashed his indictment on 27 counts of illicit carnal knowledge of minors.
Today there is behind-the-scenes drama at ASCA, which is now on its third executive director in 13 months following the retirement of John Leonard, who is perhaps the most pernicious figure in the swimming world’s decades of cover-ups of abusive coaches. Stay tuned for more shortly on the ASCA drama.
Before and after the New York Times story, I have been importuning editors of the Orlando Sentinel to take Gibney coverage to another level. At age 72, Gibney lives in Altamonte Springs, Florida, north of Orlando. And as we know, all politics is local.
In 2010 the Sentinel published fleeting mention of a controversy among Gibney’s neighbours in Orlando, where he then lived and soon lost his home (the reason is not known, but it may well have been part of the universal home mortgage collapses of that period).
The same year – probably not coincidentally – Gibney, holder of permanent resident alien status for a decade and a half at that point – applied unsuccessfully for U.S. citizenship.
He moved into a house in nearby Altamonte Springs with “Brother Pedro” (possibly one of the local Knights of Columbus chapter players who are propping up the elderly Gibney with housing and a job at a hospice).
In 2014 George Diaz, a Sentinel columnist, wrote about the campaign to deny Chuck Wielgus, then the long-time chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s national sport governing body USA Swimming, induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Over a period of years, I pressed Diaz, who advocated for foster children, to write something additionally about the campaign to bring to justice the swimming coach monster in his midst. Diaz never came through before the Sentinel laid him off in 2018.
Most recently, following the conclusion of the podcast series, I pitched Sentinel editor-in-
What are they waiting for? So many local details from the Horgan podcast and the Times article remain unexplored. Among them: Peter Banks, the Tampa-based swimming coach, formerly a Gibney assistant in Ireland, all but admitted to Horgan that he was the person who brokered the American coaching job offer letter that was attached to Gibney’s original visa – and Banks was, at the time, an ASCA official.
Also: The state attorney’s office in Hillsborough County has told me that the statute of limitations does not bar prosecution of Gibney today for his 1991 rape of a 17-year-old Irish swimmer during a Florida training trip — and this overlays and supplements the question of extraditing Gibney for previous crimes in his native country.
Two Sundays ago, the Sunday Independent’s Maeve Sheahan took a corner of the Gibney saga to a breaking development: the imminent release from Arbour Hill prison, after 27 years, of another legacy abuser Irish swimming coach, Frank McCann (“George Gibney case turns spotlight on double murderer Frank McCann — and his dealings with the teenager he coached,” behind paywall).
The Sunday Independent not only reviewed in depth the narrative of McCann’s murders – by burning down their house – of his wife and their 18-month-old baby. As Sheahan writes, the motive “was to conceal the secret that he fathered a child with an underage girl with special needs whom he coached at his swim club”:
“At the time, the enormity and profound cruelty of his crimes overshadowed his grotesque sexual interference with a vulnerable young girl. He received two life sentences for murdering Esther and Jessica but has never been called to account for his treatment of that young girl in his care.”
But there’s more. As Sheahan’s story points out, McCann also was president of the Leinster Branch of the then-Irish Amateur Swimming Association (now Swim Ireland) when the Gibney scandals broke in the early 1990s. As the 1998 Murphy report would point out, McCann made clear to others in the organisation that exposure of the Gibney horrors would not happen on his watch.
Decorously, the Sunday Independent didn’t publish the exact words of Carol Walsh, the coach who brought the matter to McCann after talking with Gibney’s root victim and whistleblower, Chalkie White. McCann, Walsh said, said he “hoped to fuck it wouldn’t break while he was president” and told Walsh “to back off and not get involved.”
Meanwhile, Johnny Watterson, sports columnist of the Irish Times, who deserves all the credit for breaking the Gibney story nearly 30 years ago at the old Sunday Tribune, returned recently with more Mark Horgan hype: “Where is George Gibney? Podcast Releases New photograph’.
Evin Daly, the Irish-American head of the Florida nonprofit One Child International, has been shadowing Gibney for years. Daly took almost all the contemporary photos of Gibney that have run in the Irish media in the last decade-plus. One of them graces the cover of my ebook The George Gibney Chronicles: What the Hunt For the Most Notorious At-Large Sex Criminal in the History of Global Sports Tells Us About the Sports Establishments and Governments on Two Continents.
Watterson also writes:
Watterson knows better than to parrot this bland language from the New York Times. Gibney was not some maintenance worker swabbing the deck at the Apex Recreation Center. He was a coach on the staff of USA Swimming’s sanctioned North Jeffco age-group team.
Indeed, Watterson is the person who first enlightened me on the fact that officers of the Arvada Police Department, who investigated Gibney in 1995, to no end, following a sexual misconduct complaint, was coaching kids there.
It’s time for the Irish and American media alike to start writing all this in plain English. Enough with the impenetrable code.
Irvin writes at Concussion Inc.
Previously: Irvin Muchnick on Broadsheet
Pics: Getty/Mark Horgan