Displaying items by tag: coach athlete abuse http://www.safe4athletes.org Mon, 23 Jan 2017 19:13:49 -0800 en-gb Safe4Athletes Appeal for Change http://www.safe4athletes.org/blog/item/45-safe4athletes-appeal-for-change http://www.safe4athletes.org/blog/item/45-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: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/news/local/coaches/news/dayone.html
  2. USA Gymnastics (2011)

Available at: http://usagym.org/pages/aboutus/pages/permanently_ineligible_members.html

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

Available at: http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/swimming/news/story?id=5220940

  1. 1.14 See Grant Wahl et al., “Passion Plays,” Sports Illustrated, Sept. 10, 2001, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1023662/1/index.ht (accessed July 29, 2011).
  2. 2. 15 Further elaboration of the AAUP recommendations can be found on their website, at http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/programs/legal/topics/sex-harass-policies.htm.
  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 http://www.uvm.edu/policies/general_html/student_relation.pdf (accessed Aug. 22, 2011).
katherine.starr2@gmail.com (Katherine Starr) Safe4Athletes Blog Sat, 09 Jun 2012 17:38:22 -0700
Athlete/Parent Short Cuts Lead to Athlete Suffering in the Long Run http://www.safe4athletes.org/blog/item/1-athlete-parent-short-cuts-lead-to-athlete-suffering-in-the-long-run http://www.safe4athletes.org/blog/item/1-athlete-parent-short-cuts-lead-to-athlete-suffering-in-the-long-run


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.

Yet, accountability and commitment doesn’t seem to translate to  parents once they give up their child to the care of a youth sports program.  There is an assumption that supervision is provided by coaches of unquestionable integrity and club policies exist to protect young athletes.    A short cut happens when the parent doesn’t check to make sure this is true.  It seems that every child/athlete is competing for the “time” of a parent with parents constantly juggling the needs of all their children or one child and full-time job, whatever the case maybe.  So it is easy to understand when parents don’t take the time to check on issues such as staff background checks or athlete protection policies.  Many parents think that working to get their club to adopt athlete welfare policies will be too time-consuming or complicated.   

Every time a parent makes a decision to not be present, not to check or to ignore a potential threat because the parent doesn’t see an immediate harm, these short cuts   can add up over time to increase the vulnerability of the child/athlete and putting  athlete welfare at risk.

This is especially true when the parent/athlete doesn’t understand the consequences of an action. A common mistake is a parent making a decision about child safety based on a coach’s pleasant demeanor, interpreting changes in their child’s demeanor as the “growing pains of a teenager or making a determination that it is okay for a coach  to be alone with the child/athlete because they may think sport training or competition requires it.  While such circumstances maybe not produce a negative result the first time, the second time and even the tenth time, it isn’t smart to gamble with the safety of a child. When it’s not okay is the “first” time that “you” the parent become complacent entrusting your child to a pedophile who happens to be a coach.  It is in that moment that everything changes for both the child/athlete and the coach dynamic. 

Short cuts happen when we don’t understand that someone is capable of sexual abuse of children or taking advantage of his or her powerful relationship with an athlete who is a consenting adult, looks and acts like a normal adult who is just like us.  We cannot count on an athlete being able to confront this powerful person or to even speak to his or her parents about a coach’s behavior when they are fearful of the parent not believing them or the coach withdrawing playing time, affection or instruction.  

Policies and practices such as making sure the local sports program has an adult designated as an Athlete Welfare Advocate is an example of a safety mechanism that parents can put in place to give their children/athletes a voice.   A young athlete needs to be able to go to a caring adult who will allow them a place to voice concerns and help them think through situations when they are unsure of the reaction of a parent to a concern.  It is too much to expect that most children are capable of speaking to parents when they fear they will be blamed for not doing exactly what the coach demands.  There must be a safe place and unbiased person within the club who promises confidentiality and acting on behalf of the athletes to address an unspeakable problem.  There must be a person within the club to educate all athletes about acceptable and unacceptable coach-athlete and athlete-to-athlete conduct and that it is expected to report and be protected from such transgressions.   Yet, few clubs have this safety officer or educational program in place.

To learn more about becoming or creating the volunteer position of “athlete welfare advocate” in your sports program or the other athlete protection policies that every youth sport program should have in place, go to Safe4Athletes and find out how to implement a Safe4Athletes program for your local sports program.

katherine.starr2@gmail.com (Katherine Starr) Safe4Athletes Blog Sat, 06 Oct 2012 11:19:05 -0700