SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Rachel Axon discusses Senate subcommittee hearing where former athletes criticized the national governing bodies for their sport as well as the USOC and others for failing to prevent and stop sexual abuse.
USA TODAY Sports
Text messages from the phone of Olympic swimming coach Bob Bowman, the man who guided Michael Phelps throughout his legendary career, detail an inappropriate sexual exchange in May 2011 with a recently retired Olympic bronze medalist who became increasingly concerned about what Bowman and fellow coach Sean Hutchison were sending her.
“Sean wants you. I want your brother!!” one text from Bowman’s phone reads, according to text messages obtained by the Arizona Republic, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. The Arizona Republic received the messages as part of a public records request from Arizona State University, where Bowman is head swimming coach.
“This is gross, who is this?” was the reply moments later from Caroline Burckle, the then-24-year-old swimmer who reported the incident and forwarded the texts and a voicemail to USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport. Burckle’s brother is Clark Burckle, who was competing in the sport at the time and went on to become a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. Bowman was on the coaching staff of that team.
“The exchange was inappropriate, which is why I apologized for all of it,” Bowman wrote in a message Wednesday to USA TODAY in response to questions about the texts.
“The reference to her brother, however, was swimming related. Her brother was swimming really well at the time and I had interest in coaching him … ” Bowman added. “Clearly, this was not the manner or forum through which I should have communicated, nor should I have allowed any other individuals to communicate through my device, which is what I expressed to her when I apologized to her in a follow up phone conversation. I am deeply sorry for what occurred, have learned from all of this, and am grateful for the good relationship we have today.”
Neither Burckle could be reached for comment on Wednesday.
In 2011, after Caroline Burckle reported the texts and voicemail to USA Swimming, Bowman was put on notice about “the severity of the situation,” according to the Orange County Register, which first reported the story. But Bowman was not punished and then was named to the 2012 U.S. Olympic coaching staff, hired by Arizona State in 2015 and named head coach of the 2016 U.S. men’s Olympic swimming team.
Asked for a comment on Bowman’s status at Arizona State, Bret Hovell, ASU’s associate vice president of media relations and strategic communications, said Wednesday, “ASU can’t comment during an ongoing review.”
Caroline Burckle described the sexually graphic text messages as “aggressive” when she spoke to the Orange County Register. It’s unclear whether the messages released by ASU were the extent of the communication between Burckle and the coaches. However, Bowman told USA TODAY he has given ASU everything he has regarding the exchange with Burckle and has cooperated fully with the university and USA Swimming.
When Burckle asked who was texting her, even though she had already referred to Bowman when the texting began, this was the reply:
“Bob bowman. Who is this hon?”
Minutes later, there’s a text that reads, “This is Sean now how you?”
A few minutes after that, this came from Bowman’s phone: “Yea, baby”
“What’s bout? Sexual tension?”
Burckle asks, “Is this still Sean?”
“Yea baby” came the reply.
Burckle replied: “I’m a little confused as to what is going on, but if this truly is Bob and Sean, this is really inappropriate.”
“How so?” came the reply.
“Just really crossing the line,” Burckle wrote.
“Not really crossing any line dear..”
Then Burckle wrote, “Allright, it’s getting late, if this is bob and Sean, then please don’t text me anymore. But if it’s someone else playing a joke, Please tell Me who it is because I don’t think this is funny.”
Hutchison, a former national team coach, now is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Department of Homeland Security and Washington state law enforcement after allegations were made by world champion swimmer Ariana Kukors that Hutchison sexually assaulted her when she was 16 and continued to have sexual contact with her until she was 24. Kukors has also filed a civil suit against Hutchison and USA Swimming, among others.
Bowman was issued a letter of reprimand by ASU Vice President for Athletics Ray Anderson on July 22. The university continues to review the situation but has not yet taken further action despite strong statements in March from ASU President Michael Crow saying he would fire anyone at the university guilty of inappropriate sexual conduct.
“It is clear that the text messages, which you initiated, were inappropriate and unprofessional,” Anderson wrote in the letter of reprimand to Bowman, which was obtained by the Arizona Republic.
“This letter is a reminder of the importance of abiding by those standards of behavior at all times as a member of the coaching staff at ASU … please note that no incidents like the one discussed above will be tolerated during your tenure as a Sun Devil coach.”
Crow and Anderson have not responded to requests for comment about the matter.