SafeSport bans Wittig from rowing
An organization that investigates sexual misconduct within the U.S. Olympics programs has decided to permanently ban Larry Wittig, the Tamaqua Area School Board president, from participating in any United States Rowing Association events.
Wittig, a former University of Pennsylvania rowing coach, faced allegations brought up by a woman named Annette DeMichele, who was a part of the Penn rowing team decades ago in the early 1980s. She reported the situation to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which opened the investigation in February 2017.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, DeMichele claimed to have a year-and-a-half sexual relationship with Wittig.
After an Inquirer article broke in December 2017, Wittig admitted to the Times News that he had sex with a student when he was coaching the rowing team at the University of Pennsylvania more than 30 years ago.
His accuser said it was consensual at the time, but now, looking back, she felt she was unduly influenced by him.
DeMichele was 17 and Wittig was 32. He was married at the time.
Wittig was the coach of Penn’s women’s team at the time, while DeMichele chose to row for the men’s team. In addition to coaching Penn, Wittig has coached many Olympic caliber athletes during his career all over the world.
“As it relates to SafeSport, I was unfairly judged,” Wittig said. “In the morality part of things; guilty. Guilty of having an illicit affair. Cannot go back and change that. I can’t change circumstances of how we got together either. And that’s an absolute lie on her part.”
Wittig mentioned that he recently delivered a four-and-a-half-hour testimony, and that he had been pushing for SafeSport to look into this situation for quite some time since the allegations were made public. According to the SafeSport website, the decision regarding his status was made on Sept. 27.
“I’m being accused of an inappropriate relationship. Inappropriate, yes. As it relates to sport, no. And this was all about the sport. Did I use my position to gain some kind of upper-hand within? The answer is absolutely no. I was not her coach at the time of the affair. I had no authority over her whatsoever.”
Wittig plans to appeal through JAMS, which according to its website, is “the world’s largest private alternative dispute resolution provider.” The organization handles roughly 15,000 annual cases.
“All of the witnesses, none of them appeared in person or under oath,” Wittig said.
“In the appellate process, they will have to appear in person. I would suggest that I would never subject my family, friends or myself to this kind of public scrutiny again if I didn’t feel that I was going to be having a significantly different outcome from the appellate process.”
Wittig has been the president of the Tamaqua Area School Board since 1995. According to a Times News article published in 2017, DeMichele has a law degree and a doctorate in clinical psychology. She said she decided to share her story because she was inspired by the women who have in recent months told their own stories of sexual harassment at the hands of powerful men in politics, entertainment and the media.
Wittig also served on the state Board of Education, where he was the outgoing chairman of the board. When the news broke, Wittig said he drove to Harrisburg to submit a letter of resignation for the position after two decades on the board.
“This is not new,” Wittig said. “The fact that a ruling came down as to me participating in sports, while devastating to me, does not change who I am, does not change my ability to conduct business at the school district or my morality for the past 37 or 38 years.”
According to its website, “The U.S. Center for SafeSport is the first and only national organization of its kind focused on ending all forms of abuse in sport. An independent nonprofit headquartered in Denver, the center is funded by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, outside donations and grants from the Department of Justice. The center provides consultation to sport entities on prevention techniques and policies, while developing best practices and educational programs focused on promoting athlete well-being and ending emotional and physical abuse in sports.”
The agency will not comment on specific cases. The only public information is one line on the website that says Wittig is permanently ineligible.
“It’s the center’s policy not to comment on specific matters. We do this to protect the integrity of the process and the privacy of the individuals involved, including parties reporting abuse,” according to Dan Hill, center spokesman.
The violation is listed as “sexual misconduct involving a minor.”