Most pre-employment background checks focus first and foremost on criminal history. If a candidate has red flags in their past that might predict future danger or trouble, those red flags are most likely to be found by looking at criminal records. What happens when those red flags don’t make it to the public record? How can organizations avoid bad hires?
Sporting organizations might have an answer. The New York Times recently published an article, “Sports Officials Are Making Lists of People Barred for Sexual Misconduct. Big Lists.” The article looked at the blacklists sporting bodies maintain to keep track of perpetrators and prevent them from being hired within their organizations in the future. United States Gymnastics, for instance, has the name of Larry Nassar on its list—not that Nassar, who will spend the rest of his life in prison for sexually assaulting more than 250 girls and young women—is going to be competing for a job anywhere ever again.
The lists which, in some cases, include hundreds of names, identify people who have been barred from serving on sporting federations. They aren’t necessarily new: some sporting organizations have been passing these lists around internally for years. However, according to the New York Times article, the United States Olympic Committee wants to pull all the lists together and make them accessible and searchable to everyone.
The Olympic Committee is proposing the creation of a database of people who have been disciplined by sporting bodies for misconduct. Athletes and their families would be able to search the database freely to find out if coaches or trainers have a history of harmful behavior. The initiative that is pushing for the creation of this database is called SafeSport.
Until now, sporting federations have mostly been responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct within their own sports and organizations. These bodies have also overseen disciplinary action in cases in which these allegations prove to be true. However, each governing body follows different protocols and imparts discipline in different ways. Last year, the U.S. Center for SafeSport was looking to change the system entirely, stripping individual sporting bodies of these responsibilities and bringing them under the umbrella of a single independent agency.
Since then, SafeSport has investigated more than 1,300 reports of sexual misconduct, spanning most Olympic sports. The agency has issued 149 lifetime bans from those sports. So far, there is no central list of names that lists everyone who has been banned for misconduct across the sports world. SafeSport does have a searchable database that users can access to learn about any bans since the organization took form in March 2017. The agency also provides links to individual lists from different sporting bodies, many of which are online.
Some sporting federations are reluctant to make their lists of barred individuals public. U.S.A. Hockey and U.S.A.Ski have not shared their lists. One concern is that, for older cases, SafeSport may be overstepping its legal bounds by publishing those names publicly. Another concern is the detail with which organizations have maintained their lists—or, more accurately, the lack of detail. The U.S.A. Field Hockey list only provides names, with no dates and no details about the infractions that led to the bans. These issues will have to be addressed before SafeSport can build a central public database of predators and abusers within the sports world.
In the meantime, traditional background checks remain an important part of the hiring process for people within sporting organizations. Criminal history screenings, employment verifications, and detailed reference checks could all help dredge up histories of abuse—even if information about misconduct and discipline remains hard to access through some sporting bodies.