Abusive rowing coach [allegations of abuse of high school athletes aiming for highly selective college athletic hooks]

Sounds like multiple people looked the other way, including parents hoping to get their kid recruited by elite schools. Unfortunately, I don’t have a subscription, so this isn’t a gift link.



Gift link here. Looks like a lot of people were willing to ignore a lot of blatant warning signs because of his track record of getting kids recruited to top schools.



Thanks for the gift link. Yes, multiple enablers. US Rowing knew all about it, but let it continue because of how successful Coach Conal Groom’s athletes were. So many parallels to USA Gymnastics and their complicity in Larry Nassar’s abuse.


This quote is very telling:

“At Lake Union, not much changed. One rower there, Michael Lukas, said he endured Groom’s angry tirades and 30-to-40-hour training weeks on his way to a spot on the Harvard rowing team. When he arrived in Cambridge, though, he was diagnosed with fractured vertebrae, which he said “was directly linked to the intensity” of Groom’s training. He never rowed competitively again and dealt with pain for years. But with a Harvard degree, he said recently, “I definitely came out ahead on the bargain.”

Sure: abuse, extreme mental health issues for many (if not this rower), and possibly lifetime physical damage and pain, but worth it to go to Harvard?

Reminds me of this conviction from a few years ago.

That was atrocious. The coach was terrible, but he was clearly enabled. A lot of children were put at risk by a lot of adults. It’s very sad to hear this type of story.


Either all women rowers are brunettes or Conel had a type.

Hard to believe parents put up with his behavior and let their children be continually abused. The mother who said she told him he needed psychological help yet continued with him is so very sad. Obviously the kids put up with his behavior–everyone including parents who truly are in the protecting role seeming condoned his behavior.

One girl said she had panic attacks because she expected to be yelled at rather than praised by others. Does that carry over to looking for abusive husbands because it’s more comfortable?

These kids start young and impressionable with long hours under the direction of a trainer. Some of his were young as eight. They don’t really belong to mom and dad at some point–they want their sports family and won’t want to quit no matter what. It’s up to parents to make the decisions.

I’d be interested in how many quit the program over the years because of the abuse. And if that is turned into a big plus–“We’re the best. Not everyone can take it.” This is not a necessary type training for the sport–obviously because others are successful without it.

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I found the article beyond disturbing. It really shows the dark underbelly of youth sports. I don’t know how those parents who knowingly subjected their kids to this monster can live with themselves. I suppose they comfort themselves by thinking that because junior made it to Harvard it was all ok - after all he got “results”.


Oh my, that was chilling to read, not least of all because I grew up in the Seattle rowing community and I’ve been in those boat houses, and every year I would be one of the people who would “paint the cut” on a cold night with your feet getting wet before the races on Opening Day. I am quite familiar with the people and their roles in this story.

I have multiple regional medals from NW and Canadian regattas, as well as a national gold medal; our coach was kind, compassionate, empathetic and encouraging - and she was a young athlete out of Brown. We made it as far as we did because of her leadership and grace - a west coast team winning a national a medal over the east coast selection boats at the time was unheard of. It’s fallacious to think that harsh treatment begets superior results in athletes, or anyone; I hope the athletes he abused are able to find support and healing.


I read the article and I don’t judge the parents as harshly because, in many cases like this, they don’t know what to believe or whom to believe.

They aren’t necessarily willingly subjecting their children to child abuse.

The cults of approbation that exist around these coaches makes it nearly impossible to come forward with allegations and be taken seriously. Some accusers and their families face community retaliation and even legal action to counter the accusation. Everyone doesn’t have the resources to handle all of that. Some of these kids also don’t likely have another place to play their sport nearby. It’s not like the abusive coaches advertise that they are abusive.

I know of one false accusation and two child sexual abuser coaches in my community, where I live. Both abusers had/have incredible enabling by the community. Only one guilty one and the one who was falsely accused were forced from the coaching profession.

And it’s not just rowing. It’s in all the sports.

I agree it can be any sport. We know that abusers deliberately put themselves in positions where they will have access to their preferred victims. So ministers, priests, scout leaders, teachers, youth theater directors etc. in addition to coaches all have higher than normal numbers of abusers/pedophiles in their ranks. Some of these organizations have done a better job than others in acknowledging the risk and putting safety measures in place.

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It’s not just youth sports. I recall taking piano lessons as a 9-year-old from a Russian woman from the Moscow Conservatory who was considered one of the best teachers in a major metropolitan area. She would regularly yell at me during my lessons, though occasionally would soften when she would see me trying to hide the tears streaming down my face. I only took lessons from her for one year, as our family moved more than 1k miles away. But even decades later, my parents would say that the teacher’s manner may have been harsh, but she got results, as I never learned/grew as much in piano playing as I did in that one year with her. And I don’t think my parents ever had dreams of me going to a music conservatory or similar…it was just what one did to achieve a high standard.

And there are so many fields where people whose behavior has been beyond the pale that have the behavior excused or overlooked. For instance, a college professor who had made multiple sexual/romantic advances toward undergrads (that were reported to the university) has since had an award named after him, so that every year a student gets an award named after someone with predatory behaviors.

For many, getting results excuses a lot of bad behaviors. Not saying it’s right, but it’s far too common.

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I agree. Bad behavior in many areas is often overlooked if it “gets results” and it goes way beyond sports - I saw plenty of incidents of questionable behavior when I worked in corporate America (always overlooked if the person was a “high performer”).


This guy is the extreme example of abuse in sports. Unfortunately all you have to do is go to almost any mid level competitive sport (soccer, volleyball, basketball) and watch the parents and the coaches if you want to see how this stuff happens. It’s a fine line between yelling to motivate a young person and yelling that is inappropriate. I’ve witnessed way too many examples of terrible coaching (almost but not quite abusive), parents that will do anything get their kid to play on the best team, and parents who are over the top pushing their kids. It’s no wonder this guy has gotten away with this behavior.



This article was posted on swim swam. It sounds like safesport not following up on complaints is common thing these days. Their job is so important–I just have no words for this.

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Yes, seriously problematic. If they cannot investigate reports in a timely fashion, they should stop taking new reports. Because otherwise athletes and their families get a false sense that “something is being done.” If they knew that in reality little to nothing was being done, they would at least have the opportunity to take their cases elsewhere – to the police or wherever.