Your League is Responsible for the Actions of Your Volunteers

2013-10-03T20:55:54-04:00Protecting Your Kids, Sports Management|

Just the other day the appellate court of Pennsylvania unanimously rejected Jerry Sandusky’s attempts at an appeal. Sandusky was convicted of molesting 10 boys between 1994 and 2009 and was sentenced to 30- to 60-years in jail. Meanwhile, former university President Graham Spanier and two of his top aides face criminal charges that they failed to act on Sandusky’s crimes to protect the school’s reputation. The lead state prosecutor called their involvement a “conspiracy of silence” and contends that they covered up their failure to tell police about a 2001 allegation that Sandusky was caught molesting a boy in a university locker room shower, letting Sandusky slide and failing to protect his future victims.

After a video of Rutgers’ basketball coach Mike Rice surfaced, showing him physically shoving and throwing basketballs at his players, athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned. It was reveled he knew about Rice’s coaching tactics and merely fined and suspended the coach for a few days rather than fire him.

In both of these stories the abusers were ultimately caught and punished (unfortunately not soon enough for their victims) but what’s worth noting is that the people surrounding the abusers were also brought down with them. Spanier, his two aids, and Pernetti may not have been the ones actually sexually or physically abusing the players but they were instrumental in covering up the actions of the abusers. Turning a blind eye to such heinous crimes is unacceptable under any circumstances and it’s a lesson youth sports organizations the country over need to take to heart. Your league is partially responsible for the actions of your employees and volunteers because your league “okayed” them to work with young athletes.

The Volunteers for Children Act, signed into law in 1998, says that if a volunteer or employee of an organization sexually molests a child under their care, and it can be shown that the molester had been previously convicted of a relevant crime elsewhere in the U.S., then the organization may be held liable for negligent hiring practices. It’s your duty as a league administrator to make sure you do not let any employees or volunteers through the door that could prove a danger to the young players in your care. The very least you can do is to start with a background check like our own KidSafePlus® . Soccer parents in California are suing the league, as well as state and national soccer associations, for allowing a coach who had previously been convicted of domestic abuse volunteer to coach girls soccer. The coach started a sexual relationship with their 13 year old daughter under the premise that it would make her a better soccer player. The 37-year-old coach was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child and one count of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14.

These three stories are fairly extreme examples of sexual and physical abuse in youth sports, but the fact that they happen at all (and they are by no means the only stories out there) means sports leagues need to be extra vigilant when it comes to running background checks on their coaches and volunteers, as well as taking every accusation of inappropriate contact with the utmost seriousness.

Michelle Peterson, a national expert on child abuse, says;

The club should have policies on how to respond and investigate concerns of abuse and misconduct. The organization should fully participate with the law enforcement investigation and conduct one of their own that does not interfere with the criminal investigation. Clubs should have a zero tolerance for abuse and misconduct violations…this is why child abuse prevention policies are necessary so all members of your organization know what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors would lead to a firing.