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Protecting young athletes from predators in sports

Posted at 12:59 PM, Mar 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 17:39:04-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Whatever level of sports your child plays – from little league to Olympics – there’s a chance they could have a coach, teammate or trainer who may verbally or physical abuse them.

Over the past two weeks, the KSHB 41 I-Team shared Olympic and other young athletes’ painful stories of abuse at the hands of their coaches and trainers. The I-Team also reported on the shortcomings of the system meant to protect athletes from sexual abuse.

Throughout the I-Team’s investigation, athletes, attorneys and sports safety advocates said parents must learn the warning signs of abuse and how they can protect their children from harm.

“We're not talking one or two kids, were not talking one or two coaches,” attorney Jonathan Little told the I-Team.

The Indianapolis-based attorney has represented hundreds of college and Olympic athletes who’ve survived sexual abuse by their coaches.

“This stuff is pervasive. It’s hundreds of coaches – probably over a thousand, it’s probably well over a thousand,” he said.

Attorney John Manly echoes those concerns.

“It’s happening every day in places all over the country,” said Manly, who also represents collegiate and Olympic athletes who’ve survived sexual assault by their coaches and trainers, including gold medal gymnast Simone Biles. “It’s not just USA gymnastics. It’s every sport.”

RELATED | Explaining what went into KSHB 41 News I-Team's reporting on US Center for SafeSport
PART 3 | Missouri boxing coach goes rounds with SafeSport after incorrect addition to database

He added: “If you understand the pathology of predators, you’ll understand they go where children are.”

To protect young athletes from predators in sports, Manly, Little and other experts the I-Team interviewed said:

  • Never leave children alone with a coach you don’t know. If a coach objects, experts say that’s a red flag. 
  • Set clear boundaries between coaches and children. Don’t give coaches and other adults too much access to your children. 
  • Have an active presence in your children’s sports lives. Predators often target children whose parents are not involved. 
  • Learn to recognize grooming behaviors, including sending expensive gifts to your children. 
  • Make sure background checks are done on the coaches, volunteers and other adults who work with your children. If your child’s organization doesn’t vet those people, find one that does.
  • Do your own background checks. In Missouri, you can check criminal court records on Johnson County also has a free, online website to check criminal records. 
  • Check the Center for SafeSport’s Disciplinary database, which lists the name of coaches and other individuals it has sanctioned. The center, however, only has jurisdiction over active participants in Olympic sports. Individuals it has disciplined can still work with children in private gyms, clubs or for teams associated with the Amateur Athlete Union.
  • Search the websites for the national governing bodies in Olympic sports. Many list the names of members they’ve disciplined. Because of the I-Team’s investigation, USA Taekwondo moved its suspension list to the first page of its website to make it easier for the public to find.
  • Monitor your children’s phones and social media accounts for inappropriate messages or images.
  • Talk to your children about appropriate and inappropriate touching. Let them know it’s their body and their right and power to say no.
  • Listen to your children and trust their instincts. Give them a safe space to share concerns about adults in their lives. 

Attorney Jonathan Little also said parents who suspect a coach or other predator in sports has abused their child or is grooming their child should immediately contact law enforcement.

“I don’t know how to say this clear enough to all the parents out there,” he told the I-Team. “Call the police…call the FBI.”

While attorneys, athletes and national sports officials told the I-Team they believe the Center for SafeSport isn’t doing enough to rid predators from the Olympic Movement, they praised the center's education programs on abuse prevention and awareness.

A spokesman for the center told the I-Team:

  • Almost three million people have taken its classes
  • More than 900 sports and recreation organizations have used the center’s courses to train athletes
  • 92% of those who’ve taken its courses told the center “they felt better prepared to protect young people from misconduct” 
  • The center has provided more than 300 live online or in-person trainings on topics from mandatory reporting to bullying prevention. More than 21,000 people have participated in those training sessions 
  • The center has produced 70 prevention resources, many of which are available on its website.

Additional educational resources available from the center include:

The KSHB 41 I-Team conduced a four-part investigation into Center for SafeSport. You can read our coverage at the links below:

Part 1 | Sexual-abuse survivors demand accountability for predators in Olympic sports
Part 2 | Survivors recount claims of abuse at hands of coaches
Part 3 | Missouri boxing coach goes rounds with SafeSport after incorrect addition to database
Part 4 | Protecting young athletes from predators in sports

Explainer | Explaining what went into KSHB 41 News I-Team's reporting on US Center for SafeSport
Explainer | I-Team surveys NGBs about Center for SafeSport