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United States Center for SafeSport Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Center_for_SafeSport

United States Center for
SafeSport
NicknameSafeSport
FormationMarch 2017 (5 years ago)
Type501c(3) nonprofit
Purposetasked with addressing sexual abuse of minors and amateur athletes in the US in Olympic sports.
Location
Originsestablished under the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017
Region served
United States
Servicesassess sexual abuse and sexual misconduct complaints; impose sanctions, up to lifetime bans; provide public central database of disciplinary cases
Chief Executive Officer
Ju’Riese Colón
12 independent board members
Budget (2021)
$23 million[1]
FundingUS Olympic & Paralympic Committee, national governing bodies, a federal grant, etc.
Staff (2020)
91
Volunteers (2020)
3
Websiteuscenterforsafesport.org

The United States Center for SafeSport is an American 501c(3) nonprofit organization established in 2017 under the auspices of the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017. SafeSport is tasked with addressing the problem of sexual abuse of minors and amateur athletes in Olympic sports in the United States.[2][3][4] Its primary focus, as to which it has exclusive jurisdiction in the US, is to review allegations of sexual misconduct, and to impose sanctions up to lifetime banning of a person from involvement in all Olympic sports.[5] One function of SafeSport is to provide a public central database of sanctioned individuals across all sports.[6][7]

In 2019-20, the Center imposed temporary measures in 6% of cases - those where the charges were most serious and demanded to be addressed most urgently. In 71% of cases in which final sanctions were imposed, they consisted of some level of suspension or ineligibility. As of October 2021, the Center had sanctioned 1,100 people, with the most serious sanctions being permanent ineligibility. SafeSport has been criticized by athletes such as gymnastic Olympic gold medal winner Aly Raisman ("it's a complete mess, and the priority doesn't seem to be the safety and well-being of athletes"), and by politicians such as U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal ("There is simply no way that SafeSport can be given a passing grade") and Jerry Moran (SafeSport must be more transparent, and every athlete-victim he visited with: "had little or no confidence in SafeSport").[8]

Sexual misconduct investigations[edit]

Responsibilities and operations[edit]

SafeSport's primary responsibility, as to which it has exclusive jurisdiction in the United States, is to review allegations of sexual misconduct, and to impose sanctions up to lifetime banning of a person from involvement in all Olympic sports.[5] In the case of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct, the Center’s exclusive jurisdiction means that none of the other U.S. Olympic or Paralympic organizations have authority to investigate sexual misconduct in their own ranks.[9] There is no statute of limitations.[10] Reporting to SafeSport, both online and by telephone, is key to its mission.[11]

Upon receiving a report, Center staff considers the number of individuals who allege that they have experienced misconduct, whether they were minors, the number of witnesses, and the volume of and difficulty in obtaining evidence.[12] The severity of abuse and misconduct can range from inappropriate conduct (such as butt slapping), to rape and forcible sexual assault.[12] On a discretionary basis, SafeSport also reviews and acts on allegations other than those of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct, such as emotional abuse, bullying, and harassment.[5] SafeSport collaborates with law enforcement on report investigations.[13]

Database[edit]

Upon SafeSport disciplining an individual, its Centralized Disciplinary Database provides public online access to published actions regarding sanctioned individuals, and their current status.[6][14] In the database, the Center publishes the names only of those sanctioned adults who the Center believes pose a potential risk to US Olympic and Paralympic athletes and affiliated organizations.[12] If a sanction has run its course, the sanctioned person's name is removed from the public database, often leaving no public record of the allegation and sanction.[6] As a result of the cloak of confidentiality applied by SafeSport, the nature and severity of the alleged misconduct, the evidence gathered by investigators, and whatever aggravating or mitigating factors might have influenced an arbitrator's decision on appeal are - barring leaks - unknown and unavailable to anyone Other than the involved parties and SafeSport.[6]

Education[edit]

The Center also provides education to US Olympic and Paralympic organizations.

Funding[edit]

In 2019, the Center had a budget of $10.5 million; U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Jerry Moran proposed measures to increase funding of the SafeSport program in 2019, which were adopted in 2020, more than doubling its funding to $23 million.[15][16][1][17][18] Its first CEO, Shellie Pfohl, resigned in 2019, and said that the Center had been "inundated" with more than 1,800 reports of sexual misconduct or sexual abuse, and lacked the resources to deal with all the cases.[19] In October 2020 the Center had approximately 1,200 open investigations, and about half of its staff were devoted to clearing that backlog; by October 2021, it had resolved 40% of its backlog.[20][16] In 2020 the Center had 91 employees, 57 contractors, 13 outside counsel, and 3 interns.[21]

President Donald Trump signed a new law in October 2020 that requires the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) to provide $20 million of funding to the Center every year.[22] The USOPC, in turn, raised part of that $20 million by charging national federations in accordance with the number of cases their members bring to the Center.[6] The Center also receives money from individual national governing bodies and a federal grant, as well as other sources.[22]

Cases and outcomes[edit]

As of July 2020, the Center had received over 4,000 incident reports of sexual abuse in the three years of its existence.[23] Sexual misconduct claims in U.S. Olympic & Paralympic sports rose 55% between 2018 and 2019, and included 2,770 reports in 2019.[23] As of February 2020, the Center had received almost 5,000 reports from the time it opened, and had sanctioned 627 people; by October 2021, it had sanctioned 1,100 people.[10][16]

Temporary measures[edit]

In the year from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020, the Center imposed temporary measures in 123 of 2,027 cases that were created (6%).[12] The Center imposes temporary measures only when it believes that they are necessary, based on the evidentiary support for the allegations, the severity of the allegations, and/or the perceived risk to athletes or the sport community.[24]

Appeals[edit]

The Center guarantees appeal hearings on temporary suspensions within 72 hours, before an independent arbitrator, if requested by the Respondent.[10] At the hearing before the arbitrator, the Respondent who has been sanctioned, usually with their attorney, argues to have their punishment reduced or revoked.[25] The arbitrator considers the reasonableness of the suspension based on the evidence and the seriousness of the allegations.[10] The arbitrator's decision is issued within 24 hours of the close of the hearing, and is not subject to appeal.[10]

At a temporary measures hearing the arbitrator does not resolve whether the Respondent committed a violation, or what the appropriate sanctions should be if a violation is found.[10] It is not a hearing on the merits. The hearing is strictly limited to determining if there was reasonable cause to impose the temporary measures.[10]

If an arbitrator modifies or denies temporary measures, the Center nevertheless can again impose temporary measures in the same case in the future, if it receives material information that it did not have previously.[10]

In addition, the arbitrator's decision is inadmissible, and is not given any weight, if there is a subsequent final decision with sanctions imposed, which in turn goes to arbitration.[10]

Cases[edit]

The Center refers to an allegation of misconduct as a "case" when the Center has what it deems to be enough information to begin investigating.[26]

In the year from July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020, the Center marked 2,460 cases as "resolved."[26] Most of those cases were "resolved," however, by the Center not taking them on.[12] In those cases, the Center instead booked them as jurisdictional or subject matter closures (e.g., the Center determined that it lacked personal jurisdiction over a respondent, or lacked subject matter jurisdiction over reported behavior).[12] In 424 cases, the Center referred reports of alleged abuse to law enforcement.[26] The Center imposed sanctions in 262 cases; in 71% consisting of some level of suspension or ineligibility.[26] In 95 cases, "ineligibility until further notice" was the most serious sanction imposed by the Center.[26] In 57 cases, "permanent ineligibility" was the most serious sanction imposed by the Center.[26] In 33 cases, the sanction was "suspension for a specified period of time," in 58 cases it was probation, while in 19 cases it was a warning.[26]

From February 2018 through June 2020, 63% of cases opened were resolved in one to three months. However, in 14% of cases it took SafeSport over a year to conclude their investigation-in some of those cases, more time was required where law enforcement was involved, or claimants were reluctant or nonresponsive.[12]

Merits arbitration appeals[edit]

From July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020, of 17 cases referred to Merits Arbitration and decided, 11 of them (65%) resulted in the Center’s findings and sanctions being substantially upheld, 3 cases resulted in them being substantially modified, and 3 cases in them being overturned.[12] In February 2022, ESPN reported that on appeal, 42% of SafeSport's sanctions had been modified, reduced, or removed.[6] SafeSport keeps arbitration decisions confidential, rather than making them available to the public.[6]

Criticisms[edit]

SafeSport has been criticized for not being sufficiently independent from the United States Olympic Committee, from which it receives most of its funding. The Committee has an inherent interest in creating a positive image of US sports and their successful athletes and coaches, and in avoiding liability.[27][9] An example that has been pointed to is that SafeSport was not the first organization to publish a list of banned coaches; critics questioned why the organization created to protect athletes was not leading that effort.[27] It is a claim SafeSport officials denied, but which was the subject of focus of a new law.[27][9][28][15] U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Jerry Moran proposed measures to strengthen oversight of the SafeSport program in 2019, which were adopted in 2020.[15][16][1] Still, in 2022 attorney John Manly said that SafeSport is solely designed to provide public relations cover for the US Olympic Committee, and that it "does an excellent job of keeping the facts secret."[8]

At a September 2021 hearing before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, US former Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman testified: "I don't like SafeSport ... it's a complete mess, and the priority doesn't seem to be the safety and well-being of athletes."[8][6]

New York State Senator & Judiciary Chairman Brad Hoylman wrote a letter to U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell on September 24, 2021, requesting that the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation engage in oversight of SafeSport, and step in to ensure that SafeSport is adequately conducting investigations.[29] He referred to what he called SafeSport's failure to carry out impartial and thorough investigations and ensure the safety of athletes it is charged with protecting.[29] He highlighted the fact that despite serious outstanding allegations of sexual misconduct, sexual coercion, and other violent behaviors by former friends, peers, and current teammates, and an ongoing investigation, fencer Alen Hadzic was allowed to travel to Tokyo as an alternate for the 2021 US Olympic fencing team.[29]

In February 2022, in a Nightline program on criticisms of SafeSport entitled "Sports misconduct watchdog faces crisis of confidence," U.S. Senator Blumenthal said: "There is simply no way that SafeSport can be given a passing grade," that "these young athletes deserve better protection," and that SafeSport does not have his confidence and trust.[8] U.S. Senator Moran said that every athlete-victim he visited with: "had little or no confidence in SafeSport."[8] The Senators said that they believe that more transparency is required from SafeSport - which does not make public its investigative findings or arbitration decisions - to protect young athletes, and that SafeSport must make its work public.[8] Academics, athletes, and activists have also criticized SafeSport for lack of transparency.[6] Blumenthal said: "The burden is on them to show they can do better. If not, we'll change the leadership. We'll provide more resources, we'll alter the rules. But ... the burden is on SafeSport to show they can do the job, which so far they haven't.... we're going to hold them accountable."[6] SafeSport CEO Ju’Riese Colón originally agreed to an interview with ABC News and ESPN for the program, but ultimately declined, and instead a SafeSport spokesman spoke on behalf of SafeSport and described it as "an incredible success story".[8]

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a former Olympic gold medalist swimmer and now an attorney, described it as "defendant-friendly."[6] Attorney and law professor Jack Wiener, who represents three claimants pro bono in the SafeSport matter of fencer Alen Hadzic, said to The New York Times: "SafeSport’s system is rigged. It tilts overwhelmingly against victims of sexual assault."[30][31][32]

Notable cases[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Radnofsky, Louise (October 11, 2021). "Amid Suspicion Over SafeSport, the Body That Investigates Abuse in Sports Wants to Grow". The Wall Street Journal.
  2. ^ Matthew J. Mitten, Timothy Davis, Rodney K. Smith, Kenneth L. Shropshire (2019). Sports Law and Regulation; Cases, Materials, and Problems, Wolters Kluwer.
  3. ^ Brenda G. Pitts, James J. Zhang (2020). Sport Business in the United States; Contemporary Perspectives, Taylor & Francis.
  4. ^ "The U.S. Center for SafeSport Opens". Team USA. Denver, Colorado: United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee. March 24, 2017. Archived from the original on March 1, 2018. Retrieved March 27, 2020. “There is a critical need to address abuse in sports and we want to do everything we can to provide athletes with a positive, safe and secure environment,” said U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) CEO Scott Blackmun. “Violence, abuse and misconduct in sport not only threatens athletes, but also undermines the fundamental values that sport is based on.” “The launch of the U.S. Center for SafeSport is an essential step in protecting athletes from abuse,” said Han Xiao, Chairman of the USOC’s Athletes’ Advisory Council. “We look forward to working together to create a safe environment for our youth and athletes.”
  5. ^ a b c Nadia Brown (2020). Me Too Political Science, Taylor & Francis.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "'Paper tiger' reputation hinders SafeSport". ESPN.com. February 23, 2022.
  7. ^ Branch, John (September 25, 2018). "Sports Officials Are Making Lists of People Barred for Sexual Misconduct. Big Lists". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on March 1, 2019. Retrieved August 4, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Video Sports misconduct watchdog faces crisis of confidence". ABC News.
  9. ^ a b c Andrew Lee, Gregory Marino (December 18, 2020). "The Empowering Athletes Act: A Welcome High-Water Mark in Amateur Sport Accountability". JD Supra.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Grace Kier (April 22, 2020). "Three Years on, Center for SafeSport Faces Controversy". Pulitzer Center.
  11. ^ "Report a SafeSport Concern | U.S. Center for SafeSport". SafeSport. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Kathryn A. Larin, Director Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues; GAO (December 18, 2020). ""Amateur Athletes: The U.S. Center for SafeSport's Response and Resolution Process for Reporting Abuse"" (PDF).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Jacquelyn Abad (June 9, 2021). "SafeSport tip led to Oregon Olympic equestrian's arrest". KOIN 6 News.
  14. ^ "Search the Disciplinary Database | U.S. Center for SafeSport". SafeSport. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  15. ^ a b c Moskovitz, Diana (August 2, 2019). "Congress Responds To The Larry Nassar Scandal With A Half-Measure And Handshakes All Around". Deadspin. G/O Media. Archived from the original on August 2, 2019. Retrieved August 4, 2019.
  16. ^ a b c d Brianna Sacks (October 21, 2021). "USA Fencing Is Blocking A Top Athlete From A Competition After Sexual Assault Accusations. It Took Eight Years And Widespread Outcry". BuzzFeed News.
  17. ^ 2018 Congressional Record, Vol. 164, Page H640 "29 January 2018 Comments on S. 534 as amended" (PDF). January 29, 2018. pp. H636–H643. Retrieved March 27, 2020. Ms. JACKSON LEE... However, I must note a concern with a change the bill before us would make to the Senate-passed version of S. 534. The bill unanimously passed by the Senate would authorize funding to be provided to the U.S. Center for Safe Sport in the amount of $1 million for each of the next 4 years. Unfortunately, the version of the bill before us strips this funding authorization. I believe we should have taken up the Senate bill without amendment.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  18. ^ Eddie Pells (September 17, 2019). "Sex-abuse reports on rise; SafeSport Center seeks more money". The Denver Post.
  19. ^ Axon, Rachel; Armour, Nancy (December 28, 2018). "SafeSport CEO Shellie Pfohl will step down at year's end". USA Today. Archived from the original on December 29, 2018. Retrieved August 4, 2019. Pfohl’s departure comes two weeks after a USA TODAY investigation [link in original] found there is little to no enforcement of sanctions for sexual misconduct. USA TODAY found six coaches who had continued to coach despite being permanently banned. Of the 40 governing bodies who responded to a USA TODAY survey, only 17 said they can punish clubs or members that ignore the bans.... SafeSport currently has a searchable database, but it only includes people who have been sanctioned since the center opened in March 2017. Of the 50 governing bodies, only 23 maintain any sort of public banned list. Three governing bodies – hockey, soccer and climbing – keep theirs private. The USOC ordered governing bodies in May[, 2018] to share information on individuals they had banned with SafeSport for a universal list. Pfohl had said she hoped such a list would be ready by early 2019. ... “No,” Pfohl said when asked if the center had adequate resources to investigate the volume of complaints.
  20. ^ Pete Madden and Dan Murphy (February 5, 2020). "SafeSport CEO testifies before oversight panel as lawmakers weigh increasing its public funding". ABC News.
  21. ^ Kathryn A. Larin, GAO Director Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues (July 29, 2021). "Letter: Amateur Athlete Safety: Certification Related to the Independence of the U.S. Center for SafeSport for Fiscal Year 2020."
  22. ^ a b Dan Murphy (October 31, 2020). "Law gives Congress more oversight of USOPC". ESPN.
  23. ^ a b Craig Lord (July 14, 2020). "Who's Who Of Olympians Urges Congress To 'Back S2330 Empowering Athletes Act, With No Loopholes For Rogues'". Swimming World Magazine.
  24. ^ "Temporary Measures Overview," US Center for SafeSport.
  25. ^ "'Paper tiger' reputation hinders SafeSport". February 23, 2022.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g Office, U. S. Government Accountability. "Amateur Athletes: The U.S. Center for SafeSport's Response and Resolution Process for Reporting Abuse". GAO.
  27. ^ a b c Amanda J. Peters. "When Coaching Becomes Criminal," 20 University of New Hampshire Law Review 1 (2021).
  28. ^ Scott M. Reid (June 2, 2021). "Government Accounting Office requests U.S. Center for SafeSport documents". The Orange County Register.
  29. ^ a b c Senator Brad Hoylman (September 24, 2021). "Letter to U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell Requesting that the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation engage in oversight of the United States Center for SafeSport". NY State Senate.
  30. ^ Longman, Jeré (July 22, 2021). "U.S. Olympic Fencer, Accused of Sexual Misconduct, Kept Apart From Team". The New York Times.
  31. ^ Hochman, Louis C. (August 3, 2021). "Attorney: New clients talking to investigators about Montclair grad, Olympic fencer Hadzic". Montclair Local.
  32. ^ Schwartz, Brie (July 31, 2021). "Members of the U.S. Men's Fencing Team Wore Pink Masks to Support Sexual Assault Victims". Oprah Daily.
  33. ^ Silverstein, Jason (January 19, 2019). "Coughlin kills self after being suspended". CBS News.
  34. ^ Hackney, Deanna; Phillips, Chad (January 19, 2019). "John Coughlin, champion US figure skater, dies after sport suspension". CNN News.
  35. ^ Jason Silverstein (January 19, 2019). "Figure skating champion John Coughlin dies at 33, one day after suspension". CBS News.
  36. ^ Brianna Sacks and Melissa Segura (July 23, 2021). "A Fencer Made It To The Olympics In Spite Of Multiple Accusations Of Sexual Assault. His Teammates Say The System Is Broken". BuzzFeed News.
  37. ^ Wiener, Talia (June 9, 2021). "MHS grad on Olympic fencing team suspended for alleged misconduct". Montclair Local News.
  38. ^ Longman, Jeré (July 22, 2021). "U.S. Olympic Fencer, Accused of Sexual Misconduct, Kept Apart From Team; Alen Hadzic of New Jersey is an alternate on the U.S. fencing team but has not been allowed to stay in the Olympic Village". The New York Times.
  39. ^ Josh Peter and Christine Brennan (July 22, 2021). "US fencer accused of sexual misconduct unhappy with treatment at Tokyo Olympics". USA Today.
  40. ^ Edwards, Schaefer (April 7, 2021). "Former Rice Fencing Coach Accused Of Sexually Assaulting Houston Teen In '90s". Houston Press.
  41. ^ Brennan, Christine (June 1, 2021). "U.S. Center for SafeSport suspends figure skating coach Ross Miner for sexual harassment". USA TODAY.
  42. ^ Nir, Sarah Maslin (November 19, 2019). "George Morris, Equestrian Legend, Is Permanently Barred From the Sport". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
  43. ^ "George Morris Permanently Banned By SafeSport". The Chronicle of the Horse. November 19, 2019. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
  44. ^ Draper, Kevin; Futterman, Matthew (January 31, 2022). "Disgraced Running Coach Was Barred for Life for Alleged Sexual Assault". The New York Times.
  45. ^ "U.S. Olympic shooter suspended, ineligible for Tokyo Games". NBC Sports. June 24, 2021.
  46. ^ "Olympic champ Angelo Taylor continues to coach despite guilty plea in Georgia case". The Orange County Register. May 16, 2019.
  47. ^ "USATF suspends two-time Olympic champion Angelo Taylor". The Orange County Register. May 16, 2019.

External links[edit]