Bob Bowman apologizes for sexually graphic texts to female Olympian

IRVINE, Calif. -- Bob Bowman, the longtime coach of retired 23-time Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, has acknowledged and apologized for sexually graphic text messages that were sent from his cellphone to former Olympic swimmer Caroline Burckle in 2011.

The text exchange was first reported by the Orange County Register.

At the time, Bowman was a coach for the U.S. national team, along with Sean Hutchison, who was also said to be involved in the texting.

Burckle told the Register in a recent story that the messages "were so aggressive."

She said she reported the incident and forwarded the texts and a voice message to then-USA Swimming national team assistant coach Jack Roach, who forwarded them to then-national team director Frank Busch, who was Bowman's boss.

Busch put Bowman on notice about the incident in a June 3, 2011, letter that stressed, "It is important you understand the severity of this situation," according to the Register.

Burckle said Bowman apologized to her, but she never heard from Hutchison.

Three months later, Bowman was named an assistant on the U.S. Olympic coaching staff for the 2012 London Games. He served as head men's coach at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

USA Swimming president Tim Hinchey said Wednesday night he disagreed with Busch's handling of the incident, but added he can't "turn back the clock" to right what he perceives as a wrong.

"If this happened today with one of our coaches, I can't see pointing them to an Olympic team," said Hinchey, who as of Wednesday night said he had not yet spoken to Bowman about the incident. "Regardless of age, gender, athlete, non-athlete, nobody deserves to have communications like that. And from a USA Swimming perspective, we are not going to condone that type of communication to anybody."

Hinchey, the former Colorado Rapids president who was named the head of USA Swimming in June 2017, said that if such a situation would have occurred under his watch at the Rapids, "I'd like to think on some level he wouldn't be working for the Rapids."  

However, Hinchey said he has no reservations about Bowman continuing to work with U.S. swimmers.

He said a decision on whether Bowman would be named a coach for the 2019 World Championship team or 2020 Olympic team would fall to national team director Lindsay Mintenko.

"I haven't had an opportunity to talk to Tim about the situation yet, and so it would be premature to give a comment about what he talked about today," Mintenko said. "It's kind of a team effort when we have these discussions. If it comes to it, we'll cross that bridge."

In February, Hinchey sent a memo to USA Swimming members outlining a zero-tolerance policy for any sort of sexual misconduct.

"This is our expectation and accountability for everyone involved in US Swimming," he added Wednesday. "I have to live up to it. I will judged, and I'll be accountable to that mission going forward. I'm the father of six kids. These things matter to me. I'm just not going to let it go."

Bowman currently coaches Arizona State's men's and women's teams, and after a recent review by the university, ASU said he has been warned that similar behavior won't be tolerated. The university said in a statement that it was unaware of the incident when Bowman was hired in 2015.

"I regret the exercise of poor judgment in being involved one evening seven years ago with inappropriate communications," Bowman said in a text to The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I promptly apologized to the person to whom the communications were sent and my apology was accepted."

Bowman is in Irvine, California, this week to coach Arizona State swimmers competing in the U.S. national championships.

In February, former world champion swimmer Ariana Kukors accused Hutchison of sexually abusing her for years, and she has filed a civil suit against him, USA Swimming and former national team director Mark Schubert, among others. Hutchison has said it was a consensual relationship.

Hinchey confirmed that Hutchison is no longer a member of USA Swimming.

Burckle won a bronze medal as part of the U.S. 4x200-meter freestyle relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The next year, she trained under Hutchison in Fullerton, California, before retiring in 2010 at age 24.

Now 32, she said she is speaking out in an effort to change the culture within swimming and Olympic sports.

"For me, it's the principle of it," Burckle told the Register. "It's about giving people the respect they deserve and shouldn't have to ask for."

Ray Anderson, Arizona State's vice president of athletics, reviewed the matter involving Bowman after being alerted to it by the Register's report. During an interview with Anderson, Bowman confirmed his involvement in the text messaging, the university's statement said.

ASU said Bowman apologized to Burckle, whom it didn't name, in front of Busch, who recommended Bowman to ASU when it was hiring a coach.

Anderson said ASU hasn't received any allegations of misconduct related to Bowman from students, faculty or staff.

USA Swimming said in a statement that in 2011 it was made aware of inappropriate texts sent to an adult former member athlete by a member coach. It didn't name Burckle or Bowman.

"The organization does not condone this type of communication no matter the relationship between the parties," USA Swimming 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."

ESPN's Wayne Drehs and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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