Bob Bowman, the longtime coach of Michael Phelps and former CEO of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, on Monday acknowledged “poor judgement” for his role in alleged “inappropriate” text messages that a former U.S. Olympic swimmer said were sent to her from his phone.
Last week The Orange County Register reported allegations from Olympic medalist Caroline Burckle, 32, who said she received text messages and a voicemail from a phone belonging to Bowman in May 2011. The paper reported that Burckle said the messages were sent by Bowman and Sean Hutchison, both former U.S. national team coaches, and that she had been “haunted” by the incident.
She also told The Register that Bowman later apologized to her.
Bowman responded Monday to inquiries from The Baltimore Sun, saying in a statement: “I regret the exercise of poor judgment in being involved one evening seven years ago with inappropriate communications.
“I promptly apologized to the person to whom the communications were sent, and my apology was accepted,” he continued. “I have nothing further to say at this time.”
The Register quoted a June 2011 letter from USA Swimming national team director Frank Busch to Bowman in which the director said the text messages and voicemail were “inappropriate and suggestive.”
He wrote that it was important Bowman “understand the severity of this situation,” according to the report, and that “the swimmer has experienced significant mental distress as a result” of the incident, The Register reported.
The newspaper did not quote the text or voicemail messages themselves.
In a statement to The Sun, USA Swimming said that in 2011, the organization “was made aware of inappropriate texts sent to an adult former member athlete by a member coach.
“The organization does not condone this type of communication no matter the relationship between the parties,” the statement said. “The issue was addressed by USA Swimming, and warning letters were issued to the offending parties, which also included a non-athlete member in the presence of the coach.”
Burckle told The Register that the 2011 messages “tainted my relationship with my sport.” She said she came forward because she wants the next generation of athletes to “feel safe and empowered in their sport.”
Bowman served as the head coach of the 2016 Olympic swimming team. He has coached Phelps — who grew up in Towson and has won 28 Olympic medals — since the swimmer was 11.
Bowman coached Phelps at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, where he served as CEO from 2008 to 2015. When Bowman left the club to become head coach of Arizona State University’s men’s and women’s swimming teams, Phelps followed him out west.
In an unsigned statement, an Arizona State University spokesperson said the school did not learn about the 2011 complaint to USA Swimming until it received a press inquiry on July 19.
“ASU was not aware of this complaint at the time of Mr. Bowman’s hiring in 2015,” the spokesperson said.
Ray Anderson, the university’s vice president of athletics, conducted a recent review, which the spokesperson said “indicates that ASU has not received any allegations of misconduct from ASU students, faculty or staff, or non-ASU affiliated individuals related to Mr. Bowman.”
Anderson wrote in a letter to Bowman that the text message exchange “was inappropriate and unprofessional and that no such incidents will be tolerated at ASU,” the spokesperson said.
Busch, Burckle and a spokesman for Phelps’ sports agency, Octagon, have not responded to requests for comment. A lawyer for Hutchison, who was accused by another former swimmer in February of sexually abusing her for years, also did not respond to a request for comment. Hutchison has denied those claims.