Summer is almost over for most schools around the country with school sports and open amateur sports programs beginning across the United States. New sports season can often mean new coaches, supporting staff and new teammates.
As every parent prepares their young athlete for the new sports season, they get all the right equipment and make sure their children have everything they need to be successful for training and competition. Parents purchase the new team gear and may stock up on the latest trend in “energy” products to keep young athletes refreshed and hydrated in the field of play. Parents do as much as they can to ensure their children have whatever they needs to make the team, be successful at training and are in the best position they can be to win their races or contests.
As parent engage in this preparation, seldom do they consider the dark side of sports -- sexual abuse, bullying and harassment. If asked about the issue, most parents believe these are things they don’t happen in their school or their children’s youth sport program. At best, parents might say they’ve watched the latest educational video and know what to look for.
Even when parents have watched that video and feel educated about sexual abuse, bullying and harassment, when that behavior is right in front of them, they are at a loss with regard to what they should do, Without policies and procedures in place to address these issues, individuals who abuse our children continue operating in the sports system simply because there aren’t mechanisms established to confront and penalize misconduct and ultimately to ban such individuals from continuing to work with our children.
Today Rick Curl was sentenced for 7 years for the sexual abuse of Kelley Currin that happen almost 30 years ago. Rick has been a free man and participating in life like the rest of us for the past 30 years without any consequence for his actions of sexually abusing this minor swimmer at the time in question.
Why didn’t something happen sooner? Something did happen. The family settled a confidential case with an undisclosed amount and a gag order was imposed to prevent anyone from discussing the case. Life was meant to go on as normal and all is good. After all Rick Curl was a good coach. He produced Olympians and successful swimmers throughout the collegiate system.
This week the Cal Ripken Sr Foundation came together with NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) to discuss Safe to Compete and address sexual abuse in Sports.
What did we learn that would make sports a better place and a safe and positive environment for all athletes?
The highlight of the conference was that there seems to be a general consensus in the room; to unify background checks. There is a need to the fill the gaps to expose the abuser that continually beats the system and fall through the cracks because of inconsistencies across agencies that maintain felony files. Another issue that was raised is the ability to flag coaches/volunteers that had a sexual abuse charge dismissed that pertained to a minor. If a system can be put in place to install a more meaningful database that all people can draw from so we have a better chance of identifying abusers who have left organizations before suspension, termination or completion of investigations.
Another highlight was data around gender equity in sports leadership. In sports where the board of directors is 50/50 there is significantly less sexual abuse.
The low lights of the conference were the lack of knowledge about and sensitivity to sexual abuse in competitive sports. There seems to have been a misconception about the number of unprotected athletes that we are talking about-- there are 60 million young athletes in open amateur sport community-based multisport organizations.
What wasn't touched on or insufficiently addressed is the multiple levels of abuse that an athlete experiences, many of which are often justified in the guise of "sport" – abuse like physical punishment and verbal and emotional abuse. The problem became bigger as we realized that we don't understand why these commonly acceptable sport behaviors constitute abuse. With the growing number of women now in sports, this demographic is even more susceptible to all aspects of abuse especially sexual abuse and harassment. A study that came out of Japanese Olympic Committee found that 12% of Judo athlete complained about some sort of abuse or sexual harassment according to the BBC Sports. This number doesn't account for those don't feel safe to speak up or ones that don't know want abuse is.
In closing, on another low light is the imbalance of women in leadership roles as sports coaches as well as on the boards of leagues and associations.
We can make a difference today by adopting effective and thorough policies already available atSafe4Athletes.org/4-clubs . We need to know that the culture of abuse in sports will not be addressed through the court system which will handle only the most egregious cases. Each of us at the local program level must be protectors. This means we must educate our coaches, athletes and parents and we must adopt and enforce policies. We cannot wait for someone else to act.
Since the Sandusky case we have all been made aware that sexual abuse of a young child by a coach is possible. Yet, more attention to the subject and types of sexual abuse in sports needs to be committed to addressing this topic and to developing an infrastructure that supports the needs of the athletes for a safe and positive environment in sports.
The world of sports is complex in regards to the coach-athlete relationship. Although a large proportion of US children participate in youth sport (40 Million), we do not give appropriate attention to analysis of the four differing types of sexual abuse in sports; pedophilia, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and athlete domestic violence.
By Katherine Starr
The NCAA levied a $60 million sanction against Penn State University after reviewing the outcome of the Freeh report which identified the failures of the institution to protect the victims and putting the institution’s needs above the law. Penn State was obligated to comply with child welfare laws and Title IX; it failed. Laws were in place. In the case of Title IX, the institution had required policies and procedures in place. The institution did all of the things it was supposed to do on paper and ultimately, but ultimately this was no more than “lip service” to its legal and ethical obligations. The lesson to be learned from Penn State is a pretty simple one. The organization reflects the values and ethics of its leadership. When a law like Title IX gets passed, whether it is the sexual harassment provisions of the law or its athletics participation requirements, if the institution does not embraces its purpose, educate its staff and make certain that all employees clearly understand their obligations – then Sandusky happens. No one in the formal leadership – presidents and senior administrators – or in the informal power club – Paterno, made it clear that compliance with the law was an expected zero tolerance obligation.
PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO THE AMATEUR SPORT ACT TO ADVANCE ATHLETE WELFARE AND SAFETY
by Katherine Starr
Unlike athletes and students in schools and colleges who are protected by Title IX’s sexual harassment and abuse provisions, athletes in open amateur sports are currently unprotected from coach or sport leader misconduct except by criminal law. While the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has promulgated recommended policies, it does not require its national sport governing bodies (NGBs) nor the local organizations and coaches who are members of these championship conducting entities, to have such protections in place. Thus, children and adult participants in non-school youth sports programs nationwide are vulnerable to pedophiles and unethical coaches who use parent and athlete respect for their positions to manipulate their athletes to engage in inappropriate relationships and sexual exploitation.
Training to be an elite athlete requires discipline and focus beyond what any of us can imagine if we haven’t had such experience ourselves. Parents must bring that same discipline and focus to child/athlete protection and be committed to ensuring a safe and positive environment sports environment.
Taking short cuts is intentionally skipping a responsibility in the hope that no one will notice or someone else will do it. An athlete knows that skipping a work-out or eliminating ten more repetitions at practice is the difference between winning and losing. When the well being of our children is at stake, short-cuts simply cannot be acceptable.
Taking short cuts in practice is often frowned upon by teammates. If team members have to do an entire workout to the best of their ability, then every team member commits to achieving this goal. The pressure around teams to be individually accountable is so strong it’s at the heart of the sport and the basis of the sport work ethic. As long this pressure on each other stays within safe and positive and doesn’t extend it’s self into bullying (more on that issue at www.safe4athletes.org), the result is impressive. Similarly, parents need to pressure each other to be concerned about issues of athlete welfare.