Two Words That Make All The Difference
Editorial by John Leonard
I have been involved in our sport of swimming for forty-three years now. Never once have I met a coach who didn’t have the best interests of his athletes in his mind and his heart. Never have I met an individual who would argue with the statement, “We need to do what we can to keep athletes safe from sexual abuse.”
In 1988, the ASCA passed the first ever Code of Ethics in coaching. A part of that code establishes that coaches will not engage in sexual activity with athletes of any age. 1988. Twenty-five years ago. We have more history than any sports organization in committing to coaches doing the right thing.
In recent years, we’ve seen a major emphasis by USA Swimming to address the issue of sexual abuse of athletes. We applaud that effort. A decision was made, without a Board of Directors vote, to have Coaches required to view a one hour video EVERY YEAR, on this topic. Think about that. There is NOTHING we are required to do once a year. This was an idea supplied by our contractor. (“If you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”) This is wrong. If it’s important enough that coaches must know this material, then we should test out on our knowledge and retake the one hour course if we fail. President Stratton and others at USA Swimming support that stance, and I expect change to occur.
That is not, of course, getting to the heart of how do we help protect our athletes. The statement was made to me that “Protecting athletes from sex abuse is a core function of USA Swimming.”
That’s UTTER NONSENSE.
The core business of USA Swimming is BUILD, PROMOTE and ACHIEVE. In my more simple terms, our core business as a non-school activity is to enrich the lives of the children we are asked by their parents, to serve. We do that every day in practice, in swim meets, with great coaching. THAT’s our core business.
Similarly, the core business of our educational system is to educate future citizens of our nation. The core business of churches is to promote faith. The core business of the FAMILY is to keep our children SAFE.
Which brought me to the question, “How, as a parent, do I keep my child safe from sexual abuse?”
And the answer, like most real answers, is so clear and simple, that it’s remarkable.
As a parent, I make it clear to my child that they are NEVER to be in a “private” situation with an adult who is not their mother or father. Private meaning, no visual sight lines from the public to themselves.
As a parent, I tell their teachers that. I tell their clergy that. And I tell their swim coach that. “Coach, we truly appreciate everything you provide to enrich the life of my child. I know that for your protection and the protection of my child, you will agree to never be in a private situation where your actions and the actions of my child cannot be observed by others.”
NOW, as a parent, whose core function in life (up to a certain age) is to keep my child safe, I am doing something significant to protect my child from any possibility of sexual abuse. That’s my parental responsibility. A private conversation needs to take place? Top row of the bleachers. In full view (but not hearing) of everyone. No closed office meetings. Line of sight visibility every time the coach talks with my child.
Organizations can twist themselves into knots trying to find ways to ensure the safety of the child; to the point where they forget what their real core mission is.
The CORE MISSION OF THE PARENT IS SAFETY OF THE CHILD. “NO PRIVACY” will do it. Nothing else will.
I urge us, as a profession, to commit to “NO PRIVACY” with athletes under the age of 18. It protects us, reassures any anxious parents and can SOLVE THE PROBLEM.
Violating the “No Privacy” rule will demand investigation.
And meanwhile we can re-establish the focus of our national governing body on its CORE MISSION, which is BUILD, PROMOTE, ACHIEVE.