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.
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.
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.
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.