The board of directors of US Speedskating is meeting this weekend in Salt Lake City, as a report has surfaced about another investigation into sexual misconduct by Olympic skater Andy Gabel.
As part of that meeting, the organization's Hall of Fame Committee was to meet Friday afternoon. In front of it is a proposal to have Andy Gabel removed from the sport's Hall of Fame, located at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee. He was accused by two skaters earlier this year of inappropriate sexual contact when they were both minors, and teammates of Gabel. [Updated: The board of US Speedskating tabled the motion at its meeting.]
The request for action was made by three members of US Speedskating – Rob Plum of the Leading Edge Shorttrack Club in Rockville, Maryland, Pat Rodowsky, a Level II speedskating official, and Carl Cepuran, head coach at the Glen Ellyn Speed Skating Club in northern Illinois. Cepuran says the group simply objects to Gabel’s continued presence in the Hall. "We just feel that it is incredibly inappropriate and sends the wrong message to everybody in the sport," Cepuran tells WUWM.
Gabel has already stepped down from his roles in the International Skating Union and US Speedskating's Hall of Fame committee in the wake of the controversy. But Cepuran says this additional step would carry a powerful message that US Speedskating is trying to put the wrongs of the past behind it.
"You know, the Hall of Fame – it's kind of like a symbol for the whole sport," Cepuran says. "And it also kind of represents kind of like the safety deposit box of memories and positive things. I mean, you only want to put good stuff in there that's going to reflect well.
"Because if future generations are going to look back, and say, you know, look in that Hall of Fame and that museum and look to learn about the past and about the culture and history – it’s not like you want to hide your problems, but you also don’t want to put the problems on a pedestal and say, 'You know it doesn’t matter that he did this, as long as he won'."
One person who will be at this weekend’s board meeting is skater Bridie Farrell, who first brought her story of sexual abuse in 1997 and '98 to light on WUWM's Lake Effect in February. Farrell serves on two US Speedskating committees, but has no official role at the meeting in Salt Lake City.
Farrell says she wouldn't shy away from an unofficial role, however.
"I am not afraid to talk to anybody that’s there or shy to talk to anyone there about this issue," she says. "And so an offline conversation – yeah. Sure, I'll do that. But if there's an opportunity to speak, I'm happy to step up to speak.
Farrell was one of two skaters who came forward publicly with stories of sexual misconduct related to Andy Gabel. The other, Nikki Meyer, related a similar story that she says happened when she trained with Gabel at the US Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Michigan in 1991. Those two reports sparked US Speedskating to hire a Chicago law firm to investigate the allegations.
Since then, documents obtained by WUWM through a Freedom of Information Act request show that Gabel was investigated for possible inappropriate sexual contact with another minor skater at the USOEC in 1990. The name of the other skater was redacted from the documents, but WUWM was able to independently confirm that it was neither Bridie Farrell nor Nikki Meyer, and that the skater was a minor at the time. That investigation was eventually dropped for lack of evidence by Northern Michigan University, which operates the facility.
A spokeswoman for US Speedskating did not return a request for comment about the status of the outside investigation, or whether the organization is aware of the 1990 investigation.
Though the proposal to have Gabel's name removed from the Hall of Fame is before the board, the Hall of Fame is administered separately from the sport's governing body, so it is unclear whether the board could take the action unilaterally. Carl Cepuran says he and his colleagues would drop the formal request if the board or the Hall of Fame took the step voluntarily. But Cepuran says he would be troubled if the matter isn’t resolved.
"Keeping him up there and in there – I would rather see the whole Hall of Fame move someplace else and leave the Pettit entirely, rather than continue to take my skaters up there and go through training and other events," Cepuran says.
The meeting of US Speedskating's Board of Directors is scheduled to run through Sunday.