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
By Katherine Starr – President & Founder Safe4Athletes
Since the Sandusky case we have jumped on the bandwagon in sports and addressed child sexual abuse in sports. We show videos of adolescent aged girls and boys being targeted and abused. Without a doubt, we react emotionally and with revulsion to something so horrific as the taking the innocence of a young child.
Yet, that isn’t the whole truth when discussing coach-athlete sexual abuse. If you look at the list of banned swim coaches on the USA Swimming website, there isn’t one coached banned for a sexual abuse who was accused of having a relationship with a swimmer under the age of 13.
We wouldn’t know that based on the education videos that we are forced to watch in order to be certified in some capacity in sports. These videos only depict young children being cultivated by acquaintance pedophiles.
Why aren’t we seeing videos of an 17-yr-old voicing how a close relationship with his or her coach went from athlete affection as a reward for their hard work on the practice field to molestation or, from the psyche and perspective of the artfully manipulated athlete, “a loving relationship.” This scenario just doesn’t pull at our heartstrings in the same way. Why aren’t we seeing a video of a 25-year-old, who we assume is a consenting adult, talking about such a relationship? We react with even less sympathy in this case, if any at all.
If we truly want to address sexual abuse and harassment in sports we need to call it what it is, an abuse of power between the coach and the athlete that occurs at all ages. We are misled if educational materials imply something else.
If we look at the minimum age requirements to compete in the Olympics by sport, one would find that age requirements correlate to the vulnerability of athlete sexual abuse. The lower end sports that begin to peak around 13/14 like gymnastics, swimming and taekwondo is also the age where the “coach-athlete relationship” begins and coaches start to get banned for their inappropriate relationships with their athletes.
When you look at some of the old minimum-age sports like Team Handball, Cycling and Weightlifting that have age requirements of 17-or 18-years-old, we hear less about these cases, as it is presumed that there was consent with the coach at that point.
If you look at the website of listed organizations with a list of banned coaches, they are the ones with the younger age limits to compete at the international level.
Reprint from SwimSwam: Braden Keith | August 28th, 2013
Location: Page 96 – 304.3 Code of Conduct
Proposed by: Safe Sport Committee
Purpose: To comply with the Minimum Standards for Safe Sport mandated by the USOC; if not adopted by an NGB by 12/31/2013, the NGB risks losing USOC high performance funding. USA Swimming meets or exceeds all of the Safe Sport Minimum Standards except the one regarding athlete-coach romantic or sexual relationships which began during the sport relationship and involves an imbalance of power.
Recommendation: The Rules and Regulations Committee recommends approval, subject to an investigation by the Safe Sport Committee regarding the minimum standards set by the USOC.
Effective Date: Immediately
304.3 The following shall be considered violations of the USA Swimming Code of Conduct:
.8 A [unchanged]
- Romantic or sexual relationships, even if it is a consensual relationship between adults, which began during the swimming relationship, between athletes or other participants and those individuals (i) having direct supervisory or evaluative control, or (ii) who are in a position of power and trust over the athlete or other participant. Except in circumstances where no imbalance of power exists, coaches have this direct supervisory or evaluative control and are in a position of power and trust over those athletes or participants they coach. The prohibition on romantic or sexual relationships does not include those relationships where it can be demonstrated that there is no imbalance of power. For example, this prohibition does not apply to a relationship between two spouses or life partners which existed prior to the swimming relationship. For factors that may be relevant to determining whether an imbalance of power exists, consult the USOC’s Athlete Protection Policy.
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.
New York, NY—June 25, 2013—The United States Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs (USAIGC) has announced it will formally adopt mandatory Safe4Atheles guidelines and policies Association-wide. The announcement came at the USAIGC/IAIGC World Championships in Palm Springs, California earlier this week.
Effective immediately, the USAIGC has made it mandatory for all member clubs to complete a 100% background check on all employees & club owners by the end of 2013.
“On behalf of our club owners and their students, I am very proud that we have taken this essential move to make Safe4Athletes’ policies a reality for every one of our member clubs,” said USAIGC President Paul Spadero. “USAIGC Clubs are now setting the standard in athlete and children’s safety and welfare. Through this process, our member clubs will collectively provide a safe gymnastics club environment.”
“The USAIGC is the first gymnastics organization to proactively take an ‘athlete first’ approach,” said Safe4Athletes Founder and former Olympic swimmer, Katherine Starr. “It’s an organization that is already taking a balanced sports/education lifestyle approach with its college gymnastics compulsory program track. Now they are taking the important step of protecting every one of their athletes from misconduct as well.”
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.
USA Swimming Safe Sport Handbook
There are a lot of great reasons to swim – at any level. As a life‐long activity, people often swim to have fun and spend time with friends. Swimming also encourages a healthy lifestyle and builds self‐confidence. Swimmers even benefit from the sport out of the water. They learn goal‐setting, teamwork and time management skills. Unfortunately, sports, including swimming, can also be a high‐risk environment for misconduct, including physical and sexual abuse. All forms of misconduct are intolerable and in direct conflict with the values of USA Swimming. Misconduct may damage an athlete’s psychological well‐being. Athletes who have been mistreated experience social embarrassment, emotional turmoil, psychological scars, loss of self‐esteem and negative impacts on their relationships with family, friends and the sport. Misconduct often hurts an athlete’s competitive performance and may cause him or her to drop out of our sport entirely. USA Swimming is committed to fostering a fun, healthy and safe sport enviornment for all its members. We all must recognize that the safety of swimmers lies with all those involved in the sport and is not the sole responsibility of any one person at the club, LSC, or national level.
Complete Handbook available for download
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.