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Safe4Athletes

Dec 31, 2013  Reprint from Swim News: http://www.swimnews.com/news/view/10305

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

 

GARDEN GROVE, California, September 14. THE USA Swimming House of Delegates met today as part of the United States Aquatic Sports Convention being held in Garden Grove this weekend. While several more technical rules were being voted on, the most high-profile proposals involved the Safe Sport program. 

R-10, R-12, R-13 and R-14 all focused on strengthening the rulebook when it comes to protecting children from rogue members who may look to prey on them, and closing some other loopholes to be found in the Safe Sport rules 

R-12 proposed, for the second year in a row, that consensual adult relationships between coaches and athletes be banned from the sport, where coaches have direct control over the athlete. Not only is this standard regarding sexual harassment laws throughout the country, it also is required by the United States Olympic Committee. This item was previously voted down by the House of Delegates, but passed today with zero discussion. 

If this item had not been passed, it would have led to a showdown with the USOC regarding high performance funding as well as potential issues with USA Swimming continuing to be certified as the national governing body for the sport of swimming. 

With some initial discussion following the proposal passing being concerned about currently married couples now being in violation, USA Swimming reminded its membership that it does not include pre-existing relationships. 

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. 

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Every athlete deserves a safe and positive sports environment. SPEAK UP if the way you are being treated feels wrong. 
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