Safe4Athletes had the privilege to take part in an Al Jazeera interview on The Stream - The high price of Olympic glory on January 9.

The broadcast included Attorney Jonathan Little, Dr. Mitch Abrams Ph.D and Nancy Hogshead-Makar.  The program examines how more athletes are coming forward and openly talking about the abuse they received from their coaches, whether it’s psychological or physical abuse, with several high profile cases making headlines.  Allegations of abuse are not limited to the U.S.  That’s exactly the reason Safe4Athletes pushes for more stringent policies that protect athletes from abusive coaches, whether they are Olympians or in club sports.  


Safe4Athletes is dedicated to athlete welfare -- where every athlete is provided a safe and positive environment free of sexual abuse, bullying and harassment.


USA Swimming supposedly hired an outside firm, the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center, to give an assessment of its Safe Sport program and address how well the internal program has performed when it comes to investigating allegations of athlete sexual abuse.

There was mention of addressing the USA Swimming population of almost 350,000 members and requiring them to act as mandatory reporters, being on the look out for abuse in the home. There was also mention of the fact that swimmers expose much of their body when in swimming suits so that abuse in the home might be more widely recognized. 

All these issues are important but they miss the mark when it comes to understanding the power dynamic between the coach and the athlete.  It is critical to address coaches’ behaviors that are professionally unacceptable but tolerated for fear the coach will retaliation by withdrawing teaching attention or selection for competition. The report also fails to understand the role that parents play in pushing their child to success and encouraging their children to do whatever the coach tells them to do.  

Parents come to Safe4Athletes daily asking for advice and help on how to address the coach’s misuse of power in the  sports environment.   These answers and solutions are within reach if the sports program has implemented the Safe4Athletes   program because policies specifically prohibit grooming, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical and sexual abuse as well as bullying behaviors. There are clear and concise definitions and actions to be taken in response to such behaviors.  These administrative actions are swift because they happen  at the local level.  There is no risk of delay or reports being lost in the bureaucracy of the national organization.

 When such a locally administered program is not in place, parents and athletes have little recourse unless they go to USA Swimming and file a complaint which can take in some cases years or offer no resolution at all. What do parents and abused athletes   do in the meantime--Sit around in frustration or find another place to train?  The negative choices in such a situation are endless.  Lack of swift and certain resolution causes frustration amongst the teammates and the parents alike. 

Dec 31, 2013  Reprint from Swim News:

In the wake of a series of sex and abuse stories, what really matters to swimmers and to our swimming community? Sure swimming fast and winning medals is fun and exciting. It makes us feel good about ourselves...for a moment. But the real long term benefits of swimming, sustained good feelings, come only from a career that is filled with goals that are striven for in failure and success, positive relationships we make along the way, and appreciating the journey of swimming, not just a fleeting moment atop the podium. 

Yet most of our sports' rules don't focus on how swimming shapes our lives. Instead they focus on some idea of fairness, of protecting ourselves from “cheaters” in the pool, whether they are those who dope (and those who help them do it) or those who cut corners on strokes and turns. But we consistently fail to effectively protect ourselves from harm, whether through overuse injury, mental exhaustion, or worse, physical abuse from a coach or peer. We don't do enough proactively to create an atmosphere, a reality, that allows us to grow and thrive as swimmers and as people. 
Wednesday, 06 November 2013 06:56

Has Bullying been Normalized in Sports?

Written by

This week, Richie Incognito, a Miami Dolphins NFL player, was suspended indefinitely for bullying his teammate, Jonathon Martin.

We need to ask ourselves why the cries of Jonathon Martin took so long to hear.  Where were his teammates, coaches, and the rest of people in the Dolphins organization? While the players have a code of conduct to which they have to adhere, why did it take the actions of Jonathon Martin feeling like he had to quit before someone heard him.

When you listen to players’ comments, they seem to go both ways, in defense of the behavior or complete shock from the organization.  Yet, despite the fact that the Dolphins coaching staff    and club infrastructure is in place with the entire NFL above them, apparently, it was not safe for Jonathon Martin to speak up and have the situation resolved before it  got to the point of needing to quit.

 Has bullying become so normalized that we can’t see the forest thru the trees? If we think that this is an isolated incident, and only related to Richie Incognito and the Miami Dolphins, then we are blind to what is really going on in sport.  At every level of sports there is bullying and it exists in a sport culture where teammates do not report abuse for fear of being chastised by coaches and fellow players.

 The focus of Safe4Athletes is to give every athlete a voice, including Jonathon Martin.  Jonathon should be able to practice and play his sport with the freedom and liberty that is afforded workers in the workplace.

 While the Safe4Athletes policies and procedures have been implemented at the open amateur and school/college levels of sports to address abuse, bullying, and harassment, we now see the need for such policies at the professional level for adult men and women to have a safe and positive experience while remaining competitive? 

 At every level of competition, including the NFL and other professional sports, there needs to be an identified safe place where athletes experiencing abuse, bullying, and harassment can go without fear of retribution from teammates, coaches, or management.  The Safe4Athletes model  requires the designation of an “athlete welfare advocate” (or team of athlete welfare advocates)    to address athletes’ safety needs. This advocate is necessary because of the huge power differential between athletes  and coaches, owners, and managers.  Even in the pros, athletes are “low men on the totem pole”.

 The athlete welfare advocate, coupled with an investigation that is activated when these issues arise, allows  the sports club  to   hear their athletes and give them a voice through a third party that can protect them from retaliation.

 We need to teach our athletes how to speak up and we need to listen to our athletes when they do have the courage to speak up.

 We need to pull our heads out of the sand and hear ALL our ATHLETES from Pop Warner to the NFL.   We need to make room for our athletes to speak out and we all need   to be better listeners.  We all need to realize that  listening is not always with our ears.  We have to observe players’ behaviors, challenge hostile and bullying actions and read the feelings of distressed athletes.  We must be more diligent at each of our sports programs.

 Let’s all hear and help every Jonathon Martin that is being bullied out there.

To learn more about adopting Safe4Athletes in your sports club and giving every athlete a voice, see our 4-Clubs Page


You are here: Home Blog
Every athlete deserves a safe and positive sports environment. SPEAK UP if the way you are being treated feels wrong. 
If you need advice in sorting through a situation or concern. SAFE4ATHLETES is here to help.

Safe4Athletes: PO Box 650, Santa Monica, CA 90406 - Tax ID-46-2290559