Diana’s Op-Ed Goes Live

The New York Times Opinion section’s Facebook Live event with Diana Nyad on Saturday left plenty to talk about. I’d expect nothing less from a storyteller of Nyad’s caliber.

Diana Nyad’s conversation with Alicia Wittmeyer of the New York Times is the most disturbing thing I’ve heard from her. That’s saying a lot given the quantity of Nyad material that I’ve listened to in the last few years. The smugness, the fluidity of truth, the Trumpian rhetoric—it’s all there. But now she’s using her own alleged abuse to latch on to others’ horror in order to satisfy her own needs.

Nyad’s stories often shift from telling to telling. This time was no different.

One Afternoon

  • Op-Ed: Nyad writes that the first episode of the alleged abuse took place at a very specific time on a very specific day at a very specific place, none of which could possibly be true (see previous post ).
  • Facebook: Nyad moves to the much more vague and defensible, “one afternoon.”

The Rule of Three

  • Op-Ed: Diana claims to have spoken with a woman whose father started molesting her when she was three years old.
  • Facebook: Nyad now claims to have spoken with “…a girl who was three years old molested by her father then her grandfather.”
  • FIND A WAY: the three-year-old, this time, is in Dachau. “At age three, she was forced to perform these heinous acts many times a day” (p. 135).

Sociopaths Under Every Rock, Almost

  • Op-Ed: Nyad doesn’t mention the sociopathy of her alleged abuser.
  • Facebook: “I had a coach, extremely charismatic, as a lot of these sociopaths are. That’s how they get away with this.”
  • FIND A WAY: He “was alive with a life-affirming sparkle. He was a showman extraordinaire, the ultimate charmer. He was also an angry tyrant and, worse, a man without a conscience” (p. 28).
    Everyone told her that he “…is the most charismatic person I’ve ever met in my life” (p. 32).

In both of the FIND A WAY cases, she’s talking about her father, not he-who-must-not-be-named. In Diana’s telling, they sound awfully similar.

It’s not about JACK NELSON, so I’m not going to mention JACK NELSON

One of Donald Trump’s favorite figures of speech during the 2016 election was apophasis, i.e. emphasizing a point by pretending to deny it. “I was going to say ‘dummy’ Bush; I won’t say it. I won’t say it,” Trump said. By making a point of not mentioning her alleged abuser’s name, Nyad makes him much more present than he might otherwise have been.

“I didn’t write this piece about him. But if you want to bring me his head on a platter, please feel free.” (She didn’t really say that second sentence.) Here are some examples from the Facebook session which demonstrate exactly how much it’s not about Jack:

  • “My molester may get thrown out of the Swimming Hall of Fame, as he should be….”
  • “Frankly, if he gets thrown out of the Swimming Hall of Fame, I will find that justice. Not for me—how about Mark Spitz, how about the great swimmers of all time who are in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Do they deserve to have their Olympic medals and their United States uniforms, under glass, right down the corridor from Jack Nelson? He’s a pedophile. And now he’s deceased. So, you know, I’m not out to ruin his family, I’m not out to ruin anything.
  • “‘You know, it’s about time we had justice and we got this guy, his name vilified and get this guy and get him out of the Swimming Hall of Fame.’  Maybe that’s gonna happen. Frankly, I’m not leading that charge. I’m gonna let other people lead it.”
  • “…I’ve heard from several people now, because of the Times piece, who were molested by this same Jack Nelson.  So I barely need to be in the crusade to get him persecuted.” [Oops–Freudian slip.]
  • “I didn’t write it about him. I wrote it about me…. It’s a public record anyway. It’s out there.”

Clearly not about him.


Despite Nyad having written and spoken about these allegations for years, no one has corroborated them.

And she sure has a jones for the International Swimming Hall of Fame, an institution which, contrary to some of her publicity materials (see, for example, Athlete Promotionsbiography.com) has never seen fit to make her a member. They did, however, once give her an award for her media work.

Update: On Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast yesterday, while talking about the op-ed, and after an introduction which included her membership in the Swimming Hall of Fame, Nyad declared:

You know what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna start a national registry, I’m gonna start the National Archive of Sexual Abuse. I’m gonna be called Survivor #1.

Of course she is.

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