Open Letter From USA Gymnastics

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Many of you may have recently received a letter (email) from USA Gymnastics regarding the recent incidences pertaining to Dr. Larry Nassar, the implementation of SafeSport, and USA Gymnastics’ internal review/investigation of current policies & procedures.

If you did not receive it or did not have a chance to read it, we have copied the letter below.

Email received from USA Gymnastics dated 6/27/17;

To the Gymnastics Community,

What makes the sport of gymnastics so special is our athletes – and the thousands of individuals who support and help them achieve their full potential. It is important today to reaffirm to one another that the health and well-being of our athletes come before all else. We must rally around them and do everything we can to help them accomplish their goals and dreams in a safe environment.

In recent months, our gymnastics community has engaged in very important discussions on this matter. Thank you to those who shared your experiences and perspectives on the important issue of athlete safety. As we engaged in this dialogue, USA Gymnastics commissioned Deborah J. Daniels to conduct a comprehensive and independent review of our bylaws, policies, procedures and practices, and to make recommendations to better protect athletes’ health and well-being. Ms. Daniels led a gymnastics community-wide discussion and had unrestricted access to the organization throughout the course of her research.

Your Board of Directors, along with other leaders in the organization and the national staff, have been and are listening. We have heard and understand your concerns. What has come through loud and clear is the desire and need for our culture to confirm that it embraces athlete safety and a safe and positive environment as a top priority, and empowers young women and men to speak up if they are uncomfortable –and we couldn’t agree more. Even one instance of child abuse is one too many. USA Gymnastics is very sorry that anyone has been harmed during his or her gymnastics career, and we offer our deepest regrets to any athlete who suffered abuse or mistreatment while participating in the sport. By working together, we can move the sport forward to better prevent the opportunity for abuse to occur.

Yesterday, USA Gymnastics took the next step forward in our efforts to better protect athletes by accepting the recommendations contained in the independent, comprehensive review of the organization’s policies, procedures and bylaws regarding sexual misconduct, as well as adopting a new Safe Sport Policy that replaces the Participant Welfare Policy. The health and well-being of our athletes are our primary focus, and we believe the recommendations and new Safe Sport Policy pave the road for our journey to promoting an environment that fosters these traits.

Sexual misconduct has no place in gymnastics, which led USA Gymnastics late last year to commission Ms. Daniels, managing partner of Krieg DeVault LLP and a former federal prosecutor who spent a significant portion of her career prosecuting child sexual offenders, to conduct a thorough review of our safe sport initiatives and provide recommendations on how we can strengthen our existing policies. In conducting her review, Daniels partnered with Praesidium, a company specializing in preventing sexual abuse in organizations that serve youth and vulnerable adults.

From late 2016 through May 2017, Ms. Daniels and Praesidium conducted more than 160 combined interviews with individuals who represented every facet of the gymnastics community. They also visited 25 member clubs and the National Team Training Center, as well as attended five competitions, and women’s developmental and national team camps.

Simultaneously, they thoroughly analyzed USA Gymnastics ‘Bylaws, policies and procedures, U.S. Center for SafeSport governing documents, USA Gymnastics online and in-person training materials and sample abuse prevention resources, and other National Governing Body safe sport programs.

The resulting analysis, titled “Report to USA Gymnastics on Proposed Policy and Procedural Changes for the Protection of Young Athletes,” provides recommendations in 10 key areas: administrative management; Board structure and duties; culture; education, training and athlete support; member requirements and enforcement; process for filing misconduct reports; reporting of suspected violations; screening and selection of coaches, volunteers and other adults with access to athletes; the National Team Training Center; and National Team Selection Process. These recommendations are part of USA Gymnastics’ blueprint for continually strengthening its policies and procedures to better protect athletes.

Today, we are sharing her report. It provides 70 recommendations for strengthening and expanding USA Gymnastics’ safe sport program that may also be of benefit to other youth-serving organizations.

The Board also approved the new USA Gymnastics Safe Sport Policy – replacing theprevious Participant Welfare Policy – which includes key updates to USA Gymnastics safe sport policies and procedures. Effective immediately, the policy out lines the scope of the organization’s commitment to promoting a safe environment, expands definitions of misconduct, strengthens procedures for reporting and processing allegations of misconduct, contains requirements and expectations placed on members, and incorporates the authority and jurisdiction of the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Many of the Daniels’ report recommendations are already reflected in the new Safe Sport Policy.

USA Gymnastics is in the final stages of hiring a Director of Safe Sport, who will play an integral role in elevating the importance of safe sport throughout the entire organization and developing a safe sport strategic plan, including a comprehensive education and training for athletes, parents, coaches, professional members and staff. The search for a new president and CEO is also in progress, and the Search Committee anticipates concluding the search by early fall.

We encourage you to read the report, the official announcement and other information available at usagym.org. To give you an idea of the depth and breadth of her recommendations, we have included some of the key points below.

  • Clearly articulating the organization’s culture as one that puts athlete safety first, and requires accountability for athlete safety throughout the organization and its membership.
  • Requiring reporting of abuse and policy violations. All USA Gymnastics members must report suspected sexual misconduct immediately to the appropriate legal authorities and the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Members must also report other safe sport-related misconduct and safe sport policy violations to the U.S. Center for SafeSport and/or USA Gymnastics, as appropriate and required.
  • Revamping and streamlining the organization’s misconduct and grievance process to increase understanding and make it easier to report inappropriate behavior. Steps will include, but not be limited to:
    • Defining protocol for handling allegations for all types of abuse.
    • Re-examining the grievance resolution process and procedures, including disciplinary sanctions, in the interest of encouraging reporting of abuse.
    • Permitting and encouraging third-party reporting of policy violations an abuse.
    • Creating a clear protocol for responding to allegations made outside the formal grievance process.
    • Facilitating and encouraging the reporting of abusive behavior through victim friendly reporting mechanisms and the empowerment of athletes.
  • Developing mechanisms for increased auditing and review of programs and those of member clubs to ensure compliance.
  • Developing a legally implementable method to track adults who have been dismissed from clubs for violation of policies intended to prevent abuse.
  • Providing a detailed hiring tool kit to member clubs.
  • Implementing a strategic, comprehensive abuse prevention training plan for members, parents and athletes.
  • Annually providing parents and athletes with information about USA Gymnastics abuse prevention policies and procedures.
  • Tightening and enforcing athlete safety measures in place at the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center, as well as formalizing orientation meetings, athlete monitoring and the athlete representative’s role.

The Safe Sport Policy, which aligns with the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s requirements, provides more information regarding abuse, expands definitions of misconduct, strengthens procedures for reporting and processing allegations of misconduct, clarifies member expectations and obligations, and identifies unacceptable behavior, including prohibiting failure to report suspected abuse, making a false report and retaliating against someone who files a report. Other changes from the Participant Welfare Policy are as follows.

  • Requirement that members must report suspected sexual misconduct immediately to the appropriate legal authorities and the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Members must also report other safe sport-related misconduct and safe sport policy violations to the U.S. Center for SafeSport and/or USA Gymnastics, as appropriate and required.
  • Introduction of proactive policies for members and member clubs to establish professional boundaries, decreasing opportunities for grooming and other inappropriate interactions. The policies include the following.
    • Adult members are prohibited from being alone with minor gymnasts at all times.
    • Unrelated adults are prohibited from sharing or being alone in a sleeping room with gymnasts.
    • Adult members are prohibited from having out-of-program contact with gymnasts via email, text or social media.
    • New requirements are in place regarding physical contact between adults and gymnasts.

We have a lot of important work ahead of us, but we will be a stronger and better organization by committing to meaningful change. We will use the voices and perspectives represented in the report as a guide for the future. Success in competition is important, but not at the expense of an athlete’s health and safety. We are determined to do better. Going forward, we will continue to examine our culture and governance, listen to the community, and refine and improve to make our sport as safe as we can.

For these changes to occur, the entire community – athletes, parents, coaches, administrators, judges, gym club owners, staff – needs to become one force. Year-in and year-out, the gymnastics community has demonstrated the incredible things that can be accomplished when we work together toward a common goal, and we are excited for the future.

USA Gymnastics Board of Directors (listed alphabetically)

David Benck
Jay Binder
Mike Burns
Patti Conner
David Durante
Ava Gehringer
Kelli Hill
Terin Humphrey
Bitsy Kelley
Tom Koll
Kathy Krebs
Casey Koenig
Natalia Kozitskaya
Carisa Laughon
Kevin Martinez
Dylan Maurer
Rome Milan
Paul Parilla
Cathy Rigby McCoy
Yoichi Tomita
Austin White

Source: USA Gymnastics

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