by Irvin Muchnick
We’ve been commenting on how the recently enacted Safe Sport Act didn’t get the job done — that is, if the job is defined as setting up an independent investigative agency for sexual abuse in Olympic youth sports programs, rather than a captive fig leaf for the U.S. Olympic Committee’s quasi-amateur, quasi-nonprofit national sport governing bodies.
Two new articles demonstrate that the awareness is seeping in. The U.S. Center for SafeSport is just as much of an incremental fraud as USA Swimming’s safe sport program, which was established in 2010 as a public relations response to scandals and has been cited as a model for the new center.
Last week Deadspin’s Diana Moskovitz published an article everyone should read under the headline “SafeSport, the USOC’s Attempt to Stop Child Abuse, Is Set Up to Fail — Just Like It was Supposed To.”
“Even if it was perfectly engineered,” Moskovitz writes, “SafeSport would have difficulty achieving its aims, and it is far from perfectly engineered…. [W]hile basic groundwork has yet to be laid to protect athletes from abuse, SafeSport has already been deployed to make any parents’ concerns just go away.”
Among other things, Deadspin squares the circle on Concussion Inc.’s coverage of the SafeSport Center’s false and misleading representations about the role of Michael Henry, who was originally called “director of legal affairs” and is now listed as “director, investigations and outcomes.” The Deadspin article links to our report on the deception that Henry and senior investigator Kathleen Smith pulled on complainant Sarah Ehekircher.
Further recommended reading is a piece at the Huffington Post last month that was co-authored by Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Dani Bostick: “The U.S. Olympic Committee’s Moment of Truth,” https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-bostick-hogshead-makar-us-olympic-committee_us_5b102e67e4b0870ebd098935.
Hogshead-Makar, who heads the group ChampionWomen, may have been the single most important advocate behind Senator Dianne Feinstein’s push to pass the Safe Sport Act — but even Hogshead-Makar now seems to realize that the new law has achieved half or less of its purpose.
Bostick, a brave and outspoken abuse victim, is an old friend of Concussion Inc. See:
The two women’s HuffPost piece blows up the cheesy marketing tilt of the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s supposed educational materials, and has this to say about its chief operating officer:
“… Malia Arrington, exemplifies the center’s problems. Arrington was hired by the USOC in 2010 and moved directly to the center in 2017. She has admitted she was hired without sexual abuse expertise; she worked for a year at the USOC without knowing about the grooming techniques molesters use, essential knowledge for sexual abuse prevention.
Even more alarmingly, she was a key player in the USOC’s quest to deny responsibility for sexual abuse. In a 2016 deposition, Arrington acknowledged that she knew about rapists on certain U.S. national teams, but asserted, “The USOC does not have the authority to do anything.” When Arrington was asked what part of the Sports Act ― the federal law that governs the USOC ― or the corporation’s bylaws supported that assertion, this lawyer, who had been on the job for six years at that point, couldn’t name a single one.”
The question moving forward is not whether the mainstream media will continue cheerleading the center — it’s clear that the willful inadequacy of this initiative has been sniffed out in several important quarters.
But just because there’s awareness that the Safe Sport Act didn’t get the job done, it doesn’t mean that the USOC’s deflections and can-kicking haven’t already been served by it. I concluded a 2014 interview with Outside magazine by saying:
“If [America’s millions of sports parents] wake up to the dark side of youth athletic programs — stead of simply hoping that the worst doesn’t happen to their own kids — then there’s an opportunity for an overdue overhaul of the Amateur Sports Act.
If not, we face at least four more years of what I call ‘Safe Sport reboot.’ What the USOC is now saying is that swimming has done a great job — which isn’t true — but that the Safe Sport task for all the national sports governing bodies must be taken over by a new and privately funded ‘independent’ agency. The model is the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. [My colleague Tim Joyce] and I feel that this agency will serve as an ineffective ‘sex police,’ with an agenda that is still friendlier to the NGBs than to young athletes. This is like rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic, and it’s no substitute for real federal oversight.”
About the status of that federal oversight in 2018: I see no real movement in such a direction, for the reason that members of both Congressional bodies are still resting on the laurels of their too-easy, near-unanimous slam dunk of the Safe Sport Act in the isolated frenzy of the Larry Nassar gymnastics abuse scandal. Yes, there have been both House and Senate hearings, some better than others, but these have featured only brand-name Olympians, not grassroots victims of the local club sports system. In lieu of a true investigative focus, the hearings have merely floated random embarrassing questions to the USOC and the NGBs chiefs. And most importantly, they have not had a locus of responsibility and sponsorship, such as Senator Feinstein offered a year ago.
In the absence of the emergence of these factors, the abusers of kid sports will continue to get away with it, and the public consensus will return to simply waving the flag for the national teams at their next televised competitions — while continuing to ignore the unacceptable human and public health fallout from them.