Jock Talk: Time for USOC to step up
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So, you've spent the past few days reeling from one revelation and allegation after another about individuals in power wreaking havoc on young lives in their grasp with abuse. Abuse of varying forms, but mostly involving sexual assault, rape, or sexual intimidation. Famous and infamous folks from chefs to politicians to actors - more and more we hear the voices and learn the experiences of those who have too often lived years of silence and misguided shame because of the actions of people in charge who feel a bizarre sense of entitlement.
Perhaps you were shocked last weekend to see the story on television of three-time Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman, who, like several other gymnastic stars, says she was repeatedly abused by former Olympic team doctor Larry Nassar. Nassar pleaded guilty in July to federal charges of receiving child pornography and faces nearly three-dozen Michigan state criminal sexual conduct charges, the result of allegations made by dozens of women.
But you shouldn't be. Most notably, allegations are being made in U.S. swimming and gymnastics that abuse in those sports is widespread; a culture exists in which federations, administrators, and fellow coaches seem more concerned with covering colleagues' butts than with the well-being of the athletes they are supposed to be helping; and athletes have spent years holding in their terrible secrets, finding only deaf, uncaring ears on the rare occasions they have spoken up.
"Why are we looking at, 'Why didn't the girls speak up?'" Raisman told "60 Minutes." "Why not look at the culture? What did USA Gymnastics do, and Larry Nassar do, to manipulate these girls so much that they are so afraid to speak up?"
Now, as #metoo makes its way through social media, empowering more and more women to speak out and fight for decency and justice it's high time the U.S. Olympic Committee, the umbrella organization that holds vast influence over dozens of sports federations in the country, to take up the cause with more than the timid, ineffective PR blurbs it has regurgitated in the past.
In 2012, the USOC passed a resolution demanding the sports governing bodies disallow romantic or sexual relationships between coaches and athletes and create processes for removing abusive coaches. It told activists it would create public relations tools to help raise awareness of the program and the problem of abuse in sports.
Sounds good. But want to see what it came up with to warn parents and athletes about the danger of physical, verbal, psychological, and sexual abuses by coaches and what they should do if they run into abuse? Then check out Team USA's YouTube.com account and do a search in it for the word "commitment."
You will find half a dozen videos of about 45 to 90 seconds featuring boys and girls, for the most part light complexioned, all from a single filming session on a sunny, grassy playground, answering questions about why they love sports. The films, posted three years ago, are charmingly titled "Why Do You Like Sports," "Why Kids Should Play Sports," "Life Without Sports," "Why Your Coach Is Great," "How Do You Celebrate After A Game," and "Make the Commitment with Team USA."
Not a single mention or even suggestion of abuse until a tagline at the end of each video urges the viewer to check out Team USA's Stop Abuse in Sport campaign, whose homepage tells us that it was a one-year campaign that ended in 2014. As of Monday, the films combined had drawn just 26 comments, mostly from anti-sports trolls and a few people who find the children "adorable." No sign they are even aware the videos are supposed to trigger action to fight abuse.
The legacy files from the campaign are, for lack of a better word, lame. On an athletes page there is a menu called "reporting," which sounds promising. It pulls up a page that offers a link to toll free numbers to report child abuse - but the link doesn't work. And the page itself begins with these words: "If you're ready to report ..."
"If" you're ready to report? Wow - kind of explains why Jerry Sandusky got away with his predations for so long: people weren't "ready" to report a creepy old guy in the shower shoving his business into a kid's face. Look, you hold off on reporting something you see or know while you're coaching or teaching in a school system around here, and you are fired. Period.
Oh, look: here's a "Take Action" selection that offers a link to free downloads. Maybe we can find resource materials there. Nope - that link doesn't work either.
It can be just as frustrating for athletes and parents to seek some resources on their own. There's a site called www.safe4athletes.org. Its blog has not been updated since 2015 and many of the resource links have been made inactive.
But there are good resources out there: you just have to dig. For example, http://www.positivecoach.org has several videos and other materials concerning child abuse in sports and proactive steps parents can take to fight it.
But let's face it: the Olympics are the most significant sports leader out there and perfectly positioned to lead. It's about time they did so. An inactive project from three years ago won't cut it when the next predatory coach comes along.