Jack and Diana

Swimmer Diana Nyad says coach Jack Nelson molested her 40 years ago. Now Nelson´s returning fire.

Jack Nelson´s swimmers have called him a second father. South Florida newspapers call him an icon. His lawyer says he´s ¨a national treasure.¨ And Diana Nyad, his former swimmer, says Nelson was a sexual predator. Nyad, a former distance swimming sensation who now works as a sports journalist, has claimed that Nelson sexually assaulted her and other young women while he was their high school swim coach. But more than 40 years have passed since the alleged incidents, and even if Nyad, now 58, could prove her charges, the statute of limitations has long since expired.

Still, Nyad has prosecuted the former Olympic head coach in the court of public opinion. Her damning accusations against him resurface every few years. Now Nelson, who is 75, is on the offensive, and his first legal maneuver has already kicked off at the Broward County Courthouse.

The latest flap began when a packet of materials that included a sworn statement by Nyad, police reports, and news stories was mysteriously delivered to Fort Lauderdale city commissioners in January. The documents purport to show that Nelson and two other coaches that he hired and retained are guilty of sexual misconduct and other misdeeds.

For three decades, Nelson has contracted with the City of Fort Lauderdale as head of the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team. Thousands of swimmers and Olympic hopefuls have come from around the world to train with him. Though Nelson retired from coaching in 2004, he and his daughter, Mary Jackson, currently have a contract with the city to operate the Jack Nelson Swim School at the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center (FLAC).

Nelson believes that another swim coach, Duffy Dillon, and a Fort Lauderdale attorney, Bob Nichols, gave the packet to city commissioners. So on March 21, Nelson and his daughter, who is director of the Jack Nelson Swim School, sued Dillon and Dillon´s swimming program, Aquatic Management International, for defamation and interference with their business relationship with the City of Fort Lauderdale. The claims of Nyad and others in the packet have jeopardized their contract, according to Nelson´s suit.

Nelson´s complaint dismisses the sexual assault allegations as blatantly false. Nyad´s claims are supported, however, by recent interviews and documents obtained from the State Attorney´s Office.


The packet given to city commissioners paints an alarming picture of Nelson and some of the coaches he supervised.

In 2004, a swimmer in Nelson´s program told Fort Lauderdale police that one of the coaches had child pornography on his computer and that the coach secretly videotaped male swimmers who lived with him as the swimmers undressed in a bathroom. The swimmer claimed he found a video camera hidden in an air conditioning vent. Another swimmer told police the same coach touched him inappropriately. According to the packet, Dillon told Nelson about the boys´ accusations, but Nelson did not go to police. Instead, Dillon´s wife did. Fort Lauderdale police conducted an investigation, but it dead-ended when the coach denied the accusations. Nelson kept the coach on staff.

The same documents describe another of Nelson´s coaches, Cecil Russell, who admitted under oath in 1996 that he helped incinerate the dismembered remains of a murder victim. In 1997, Russell was convicted of steroid trafficking and was banned for life from Canada swimming (and later from U.S. swimming). Nelson hired Russell the same year. Growing up, Russell had been one of Nelson´s swimmers. After Nelson learned of the conviction that led to the bans, he wrote to Canada swimming officials, saying he found Russell to be ¨a man of integrity.¨

Nelson sheltered Russell because Nelson doesn´t make hiring decisions ¨based on what he reads or hears in the newspapers,¨ Nelson´s attorney, Robert Cooke, told New Times last week.

In 2000, in Spain, Russell was arrested on a charge of trafficking in ecstasy. He spent two years in a Spanish prison before being released due to illegally obtained evidence. Extradited to the United States and facing similar charges, he pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute ecstasy and was sentenced to four years in prison.

The Fort Lauderdale City Commission looked over this information and Nyad´s claims and reconsidered whether Jack Nelson was a man it wanted to do business with. It postponed its January 17 vote on the contract for swimming programs at the FLAC and gave the packet to Fort Lauderdale police. Police interviewed Nyad and three other women, then gave their findings to the State Attorney´s Office, which did not file charges. The statute of limitations on any applicable charges had run out, Assistant State Attorney Dennis Nicewander says.

The City Commission had been considering a deal that would grant the Jack Nelson Swim School a contract through January 31, 2008. After the investigation, it would extend the contract with Nelson for only one-month periods.

Dillon also had vied for the city contract to run the swim programs at FLAC. Apparently, there weren´t enough young swimmers to go around, which pitted Dillon, who ran the competitive swim program, against Nelson, who ran the instructional swim program. ¨It was like McDonald´s and Burger King trying to sell the same thing under the same roof,¨ said Stu Marvin, the former FLAC manager.

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2 comments
jackhammer111
jackhammer111

someone answer the question raised by Cooke. What evidence is there? Not word of people who are part of her team. Where is data collect and published by independent sources.

divinemize
divinemize

This is an age-old tactic. Let's drag the accusing woman through the mud in order to take the heat off the accused. Yes, he deserves "his day in court" but these kinds of betrayals of trust run so deep and are such a shock to the person who was attacked, that they doubt their own sanity. Especially is they are a teenager. 

They actually feel some loyalty to the person because their lives are so deeply intertwined with the other. It usually happens with a teacher or coach, someone who spends a lot of time with them and crosses all kinds of boundaries in the course of their work together. There needs to be more professional regulations on coaches...they should never be alone with a student, etc. Common sense things. This is a mess and the idea that they are defending themselves because there is a financial contract at stake makes it all the more disgusting. Does headmaster MacMillan's comment mean nothing?


 
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