Lax Background Check Policies Lead to Legal Troubles for U.S. Youth Soccer Organization

By Michael Klazema on 5/3/2018

Youth sports enjoy broad popularity, with millions of players signing up to take part in baseball, soccer, and other popular leagues each year. While the goal of these activities is to foster a healthy lifestyle in a fun environment, special care must be taken when choosing the adults who will serve as mentors and coaches. The failure of one major US organizing body to complete such due diligence is now at the heart of a series of civil legal actions, and similar stories are not an uncommon occurrence nationwide.

The United States Youth Soccer Association counts three million young people as players in leagues under its authority and employs nearly one million adults in authority positions. Despite these huge numbers, the USYSA never took steps to codify a mandatory background check policy at an individual league level or at the national level. Even though the USYSA polled its members in 2005 on instituting background checks for staff who work closely with children, the organization never implemented a standard policy.

As a direct result, players were harmed. At issue in the courts are the actions of coach Emanuele Fabrizio in a USYSA-sanctioned league. Fabrizio was charged with sexually abusing a teenaged player for nearly two years during her time playing soccer under his tutelage. For his crimes, Fabrizio received a 15-year prison sentence in 2012. Since that time, the girl — identified only as Jane Doe to protect her identity — has undertaken several civil suits to hold responsible those whose policies allowed Fabrizio an inroad.

According to the Orange County Register, when Fabrizio applied in 2010, applications for the league required individuals to voluntarily disclose information about their criminal histories. Fabrizio answered that he had no criminal past. In truth, he had been convicted of domestic violence a few years prior. Even a basic background check, such as a statewide criminal history search from, would have detected this conviction, which would potentially have served as grounds for disqualification. Because there was no policy in place, Jane Doe alleges the sanctioning bodies were negligent. One of the organizations involved settled for nearly $2 million but the case against USYSA continues.

Per reports, this is not an isolated case. In Florida, a youth soccer coach recently received a 20-year prison sentence on charges of molestation. He faces criminal charges outside of Florida as well; authorities allege the man sexually abused young boys under his supervision in Texas and potentially in North Carolina. A nationwide background check or a check of state sex offender registries through could help to turn up important red flags.

An individual's interest in coaching is no guarantee of pure intentions and a desire to help others. According to the York Dispatch in Pennsylvania, a soccer coach embezzled nearly $9,000 from the families of players who believed they were paying him for game-related fees. 

From tragic stories of sexual abuse to financial crimes, these stories showcase the need for stronger vetting procedures and thorough background checks in the arena of youth sports. With services such as reference checks and employment history verification in addition to criminal history reports, can equip organizations with all the facts necessary for making better employment decisions.

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