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Youth Sports Leagues Navigate Challenges in Wake of Nasser Scandal

By Michael Klazema on 7/25/2019

In the years since the news broke of a sexual abuse scandal so widespread that it rocked USA Gymnastics to its core, parents across the country have cast a wary eye towards youth sports organizations. Tales of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser abusing young girls for years have led many parents to wonder how they can trust that their children will be safe under the tutelage of coaches.  

While some observers wondered if gymnastics could survive such a scandal, for the operators of local clubs in Iowa, the answer was never in doubt—and their attendance numbers remain strong. 

Club owners say that local parents have differentiated between the failings of the national organization and the safety efforts long underway at locations in Iowa. Background checks, similar to the US OneSEARCH offered by backgroundchecks.com, form the foundation of the vetting process that these clubs use, but in-depth interviews and smart policy making play a role, too. For example, club rules limit contact outside of approved practice times, and no adult may ever be left alone with a child.  

An opinion piece in Forbes points out that while due diligence can help to protect children, it is not a guarantee of safety. According to the author, only a handful of states require background checks for activities such as non-school-related sports. Many local youth leagues that vet adults working with children only use local or state-level background checks. In contrast, the author points out, Little League International recently expanded its process to use national background checks. The League notes that its new system has some shortcomings but provides better coverage than before.  

Background checks aren't predictive of future behavior: individuals with otherwise clean records may still commit crimes after their hiring. There will always be a need for oversight within youth sports organizations combined with a culture that emphasizes the importance of "see something, say something" behavior. The active role in policing the activities of coaches and students on display in Iowa is an example of how the most important component in any vetting strategy is accountability. 

That's an area in which critics claim that another national sports organization, USA Swimming, is lagging.  

Multiple reports reveal that USA Swimming has been part of numerous sexual harassment cases in which young swimmers were abused by coaches who dodged background checks or misrepresented themselves. With no galvanizing moment such as the Nasser trial, the organization has tried to manage the situation through policy revisions to implement restrictions similar to those in Iowa.  

Youth sports should be an opportunity for children and teenagers to explore their abilities and develop their skills. For that to be true, adults must assume full responsibility for making these organizations as safe as possible. Sensible policies are a solid first step, and backing them with robust vetting is the next.  

backgroundchecks.com enables youth sports organizations to more easily conduct their due diligence with tailored reporting packages designed with their specific needs in mind. As the shock waves from the Nasser scandal subside, it's crucial for sports organizations across the country to come away from it with the right lessons.


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