Two Democratic politicians in Colorado are pushing for mandatory background checks for private youth sports clubs. Right now, there is no law on the books in the state that requires privately run youth sports organizations to run background checks on employees or volunteers. The proposed bill, drafted by a team that includes a State Representative, a State Senator, and a child abuse prevention consultant, ”would change all that. The new legislation, if passed, would call upon soccer clubs and baseball leagues, and require them to conduct background screenings of most employees and volunteers.
Of course, just because this bill isn't officially law yet doesn't mean that youth sports as a whole is a haven for sex offenders and child abusers. Since the majority of youth leagues are operated by public school districts, most parents in Colorado can rest assured that their kids' coaches, assistant coaches, and trainers have been subjected to background checks. Just like teachers are required to undergo background screenings before working with kids, school coaches are held to the same benchmarks.
However, when it comes to private sports clubs, background check legislation has been overlooked in Colorado. And while many of these privately held clubs are completely legitimate and do run background checks on their staffs, there are others that skip the screenings entirely.
From the clubs' perspective, it might make sense to skip something that is not legally required of them. After all, staff-wide background checks can be costly and can make it much more difficult to fill a coaching position quickly. A sports club could save both time and money by skipping the checks entirely and trusting in the honor system to bring red flags to attention. Unfortunately, this reasoning could also allow sex offenders, child abusers, and other predators to slip through the cracks and obtain positions working closely with children.
The new Colorado legislation, tagged right now as Senate Bill 48, would seek to close off the holes and improve the defenses. The bill, if passed, would make it so that employees or volunteers who work with children for "five or more days in a calendar month" would first have to pass a background check. The bill would also require automatic background checks for any employees or volunteers wishing to chaperone overnight sports trips. Finally, the legislation would make it illegal for private sports clubs to hire anyone who has been convicted of a sex crime, or whose record includes a child abuse-related felony. The checks would look at criminal record information both in and outside of Colorado.
The State Representative who is helping to push the bill through to approval thinks it is inexcusable that Colorado has let a "gaping hole" in the system fester for so long. He's right: while more kids probably play sports inside their school districts than outside of school, there are still thousands and thousands of youths participating in these private sports clubs each year. It's about time that a law be put in place to protect them.