Saturday, 09 June 2012 17:38

Safe4Athletes Appeal for Change


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.  

  • “Over the past decade, 159 coaches in Washington have been fired or reprimanded for sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to rape. Nearly all were male coaches victimizing girls. At least 98 of these coaches continued to coach or teach.” (Seattle Times, Dec  2003)1
  • USA Gymnastics lists 82 coaches permanently ineligible for membership due to conduct determined to be inconsistent with the best interest of the sport and the athletes being served  (USAGymorg, 2011) 2
  • USA swimming has had some equally disturbing statistics they released a report in May 2010 that listed 46 coaches that have been handed down a lifetime ban from the sport mostly for sexual misconduct. (ESPN, 2010)3

One of the most comprehensive studies of sexual abuse in sport was done in Canada, with a survey of that country’s Olympic athletes about their experiences in sport.4 In the study, 22 percent of the athletes responding reported that they had engaged in sexual intercourse with an authority figure in sport.5  Nearly 9 percent of respondents reported experiencing a forcible sexual encounter.6

Coaches spend more time every day with their athletes than teachers do. Coaches, unlike child health care workers, travel with their athletes. Teachers and child health care workers are held to stringent standards -- as they should be -- in regard to their behavior around children. Many schools require that doors be kept open when teachers counsel students, and mandate that parents be present for medical examinations  . Any suspicion of abuse is required by law to be reported. And yet there are no guidelines or laws that dictate appropriate behavior when it comes to coaches and athletes in non-school sports.

Title IX affords great protections to athletes and students in schools and colleges because they are recipients of federal funds and sexual harassment prohibitions are a condition of funding.  The athletes operating under the USOC and its NGBs have no similar protections even though the federal government has given the USOC exclusive rights to the IOC rings as the official National Olympic Committee - a charter that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually that is used to fund the NGBs and their programs.

While the USOC has taken steps to address some of these issues by appointing a task force to study the problem and producinga recommended coaches code of ethics and educational materials, there is no requirement that policies and procedures prohibiting sexual harassment and abuse be adopted.  The USOC maintains that it does not have   the clear authority to enforce or require such measures.  Thus millions of young athletes are left vulnerable to powerful coaches who would misuse their position of trust and power.

Precedent for common policy exists.  For instance, the USOC has taken a strong stand against the use of performance enhancing drugs, requiring all NGBs to adopt a common prohibition and Congress has funded  an independent agency (USADA) to handle testing and enforcement.  No such prohibition exists with regard to sexual misconduct and the obligation to ensure  athlete safety and welfare.

It makes sense to deal with this national issue by amending the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act to require the USOC to establish a common coaching ethics code that must be adopted by every national sport governing body and its individual and organizational members as a condition of recognition as an NGB.  The following amendment is proposed to add a new §220522 eligibility requirement:

§220522.  Eligibility Requirements.

  1. GENERAL.—An amateur sports organization is eligible to be recognized, or to continue to be recognized, as a national governing body only if it—


(16) Requires its staff and volunteers, and its individual and organizational members to adhere to and enforce the USOC Coaching Ethics Code, including the banning of any staff member, volunteer, or other member engaging in sexual or other misconduct that endangers the health and welfare of athletes.”


  1. Seattle Times. (2003), Coaches Who Prey: The Abuse of Girls and the System that Allows It. Available at:
  2. USA Gymnastics (2011)

Available at:

  1. ESPN: (2010) 46 Coaches on the Banned USA Swimming List

Available at:

  1. 1.14 See Grant Wahl et al., “Passion Plays,” Sports Illustrated, Sept. 10, 2001, (accessed July 29, 2011).
  2. 2. 15 Further elaboration of the AAUP recommendations can be found on their website, at
  3. For example, the University of Vermont has an athleticss department policy banning amorous relationships between all coaches and all student-athletes in the athletics program. University of Vermont, Amorous Relationships with Students, Policy V., Oct. 14, 2008 (accessed Aug. 22, 2011).
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