Protecting Gymnasts From Predators – Part 1



This is Part 1 of a 3 part series.

We are hearing more and more through the media about allegations of sexual misconduct by adults toward minors in the sport of gymnastics.

Almost a year ago, the owner of Sharp’s Gymnastics Academy in Indianapolis, IN (Marvin Sharp), was arrested and charged with three counts of child molesting and four counts of sexual misconduct with a minor.  Unfortunately, shortly after his arrest, Sharp committed suicide in his jail cell before he could stand trial for these allegations.

Sharp was best known for coaching Olympians and NCAA stars Bridget Sloan and Samantha Peszek.

Recently, published an article called “A blind eye to sex abuse: How USA Gymnastics failed to report cases” that has sent shock waves through the sport.

The article stated that USA Gymnastics took little to no action when informed about possible sexual abuse of athletes by their coaches.

On September 8, 2016 a lawsuit had been filed by a former USA Gymnastics National Team Member and Olympian naming Dr. Larry Nassar (USA Gymnastics Team Physician), USA Gymnastics, current & past Presidents of USA Gymnastics, and many others as defendants in the case.

In the lawsuit there are allegations of sexual assault, gender violence, negligence, and more.  You can read more about the lawsuit here.

So who should be protecting your gymnast from similar situations to those mentioned above?

Let’s start out with the governing body of gymnastics in the United States, USA Gymnastics.

What has it done to protect your child from individuals that may be sexual predators or have been accused and/or convicted of crimes against children?

In order to apply for a membership with USA Gymnastics (Instructor, Jr. Professional, Professional), an individual must submit to a criminal background screening if they are 18 years of age or older.  These memberships are not mandatory, but if a coach intends to be out on the competition floor, they must obtain either a Jr. Professional or Professional membership.

This criminal background screening must be performed every two years as long as an individual is a member of USA Gymnastics.

According to the “USA Gymnastics Criminal Background Screening Policy“:

All individuals will go through background screening that includes:

  • Two independent National databases;
  • Sex offender registries of all available states;
  • Social Security Number validation;
  • Name and address verification;
  • Federal terrorist database search ; and
  • Non-database (county courthouse runner) searches of county criminal records of all jurisdictions of residence in the past seven years.

An individual will either receive a “Green Light” or a “Red Light” based on the results from the criminal background screening.

A Green Light indicates that the individual has met all criteria to become a professional member of USA Gymnastics.  A Red Light indicates that the background screening found information that does not meet USA Gymnastics’ criteria for membership.

This can include, as outlined in the USA Gymnastics Criminal Background Screening Policy:

  • Any felony (any crime punishable by confinement of greater than one year)
  • Any lesser crime involving force or threat of force against a person
  • Any lesser crime in which sexual relations is an element, including ‘victimless’ crimes of a sexual nature (including pornography, indecent exposure, and lewd behavior
  • Any lesser crime involving controlled substances (not paraphernalia or alcohol)
  • Any lesser crime involving cruelty to animals
  • Any sex offender registrant
  • Any lesser crime involving harm to a minor
  • Any charge for a sex offense or involving harm to a minor that results in a disposition favorable to the applicant


As part of the membership process, individuals must also complete a Safety & Risk Management course.

In this course, an entire chapter is dedicated to covering the following topics: Zero Tolerance, The Coach Athlete Relationship, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse & Misconduct, Prevention, and Intervention (USA Gymnastics Risk Management – 2013 Edition, Ch. 6, Preventing Child Abuse in Gymnastics).

Once a member, USA Gymnastics also offers a 2.5 hour training called Stewards of Children.  This is a child abuse prevention educational course that is provided by a child advocacy organization called Darkness to Light.

In addition, USA Gymnastics has a Code of Ethical Conduct and a Participant Welfare Policy.

According to the Code of Ethical Conduct, “…the Code offers general principles to guide the conduct, and the judicious appraisal of conduct, of all USA Gymnastics members (individuals, organizations and clubs/businesses, which are collectively referred to as “Members” and individually as a “Member”) in situations that have ethical implications.”

While the Participant Welfare Policy states, “…USA Gymnastics has adopted this policy to set forth the efforts it will undertake to promote a safe gymnastics environment, both solely and in partnership with other necessary parties, including member clubs, registered businesses, parents, athletes and the gymnastics community.”

As laid out, USA Gymnastics has taken many steps to vet out potentially dangerous individuals from becoming professional members of its organization and educating it’s current members on topics related to sexual and physical abuse.

But what else can be done?

Related Articles:

Protecting Gymnasts From Predators – Part 2

Protecting Gymnasts From Predators – Part 3

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

USA Gymnastics Receives Sexual Assault Lawsuit Filed Against Them




2 thoughts on “Protecting Gymnasts From Predators – Part 1

  1. Bella says:

    I’m amazed USA Gymnastics only completes screenings of individuals applying for Professional membership. In the UK all coaches and volunteers are required by law to be DBS Checked (Disclosure & Barring Service) with British Gymnastics requiring an Enhanced Disclosure. Without a valid DBS you can’t coach. Further to this, all coaches have to complete a Safeguarding & Protecting Children course every 2 years, which again is mandatory for all coaches.
    Within clubs there is further protection by the governing body’s requirement of a trained Welfare Officer who must be on site regularly for any concerns to be reported to. Welfare Officers attend a Time To Listen course learning the correct reporting and record keeping procedures, processes and prevention. USA Gymnastics seem to be falling behind considerably by comparison when you consider how many individuals volunteer and coach in the USA, I hope the outcome of this lawsuit triggers changes across the organisation for the better.

    • Vinnie Silber says:

      Thank you for your comment. The UK seems to run a well structured program when it comes to protecting their gymnasts, that is fantastic! One can only hope that USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic Committee can create a similar structure for all sports. This unfortunately is not unique to gymnastics in our country but all sports.

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