Background Checks

With great fanfare, the Amateur Athletic Union recently announced that it was implementing “historic child protection measures to ensure the safety of youth athletes.”  Among the measures; background checks.  Our national Judo organizations have had mandatory background checks for coaches for years.  Sadly, routine background checks every four years have not stopped inappropriate, sexual behavior between underaged children and their coaches.

Let’s face it, how much digging goes on when the cost of a background check is $16?  Besides that, red flags pop up on background checks only if perpetrators have been charged and found guilty of past crimes.  How do we handle those who have not yet been caught, charged and convicted?  We must change the culture.

So what’s so historical about the AAU measures?  It’s certainly not the background check, but it’s most definitely the desire to change the culture.  Edmund Burke might have been thinking about the sporting community when he said, “The only necessary thing for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  You see, tens of people- coaches, players and administrators- suspected inappropriate sexual behavior between Judo coaches and their underaged players in two recent cases that made national headlines.  But for the most part, those who suspected something fishy did nothing.  Needless to say, this inappropriate behavior went on despite passing background checks.

So what’s the lesson here?  That’s easy.  Good men must act when they see evil, because background checks are pretty much worthless.  The key points in the AAU’s new child safety measures revolve around:

  • Better training of all staff to recognize child abuse.
  • Developing a culture that requires all volunteers, staff, parents and other youth to report questionable behavior to the AAU, child abuse hotlines, and/or the appropriate law enforcement authorities.

Without any doubt, the key to safeguarding our youth is for good men to prevent bad things from happening, even when the perpetrator is a well-known national coach, Olympic athlete, or colleague.  Good men willing to act in the face of evil will beat the pants off of any number of background checks.

It remains to be seen whether the AAU is going through the motions and just covering its corporate ass, or whether it’s in fact developing a culture of vigilance and courage to combat child abuse and inappropriate behavior.  I hope it’s the latter.  Regardless, good men don’t need the establishment’s permission to act in the face of evil.  So be part of the solution, and not part of the problem that sees good men turning a blind eye.

3 thoughts on “Background Checks

  1. as a teacher in my professional life, it blows my mind that there are those who suspect something and say nothing. we have a responsibility, and a moral obligation (a legal one i should think as well) to say something if we suspect something inappropriate has occurred.

    the reticence to blow the whistle for fear that we are wrong is outweighed (or should be) by a desire to protect children. period. i think mandatory background checks for any coach who will be alone or has the potential to supervise kids on an overnight trip is the bare minimum.
    we cannot be lazy and allow that to endanger a child or children, or our young adults who are also potential prey. we fear for young children, but as was evidenced by the high profile case of uchishiba and sexual assault of a younger female player over whom he coached –

  2. Background checks give us a false sense of security. Once every fours years is supposed to do what exactly? Our main weapon must be vigilance on the part of the entire community. Background checks stopped none of the three major abuse cases here in the U.S. within recent years.

  3. Hello Coach,

    Background checks are not a panacea but they are a very necessary step and do work even though they may appear not to. When a perpetrator with a history sees that you have formal background checks in place he often does not apply because he knows that he will be found out. So background checks serve as an initial barrier to entry for known offenders. And we are never able to record how many perpetrators they stopped.

    I agree that it is the responsibility of the entire community to create a safe environment. A part of that is understanding the perpetrators behavior patterns and how they hide among us. Being confrontational if you see something out of place is key. Having clear policy and guidelines as to travel arrangements, student/coach interactions etc.

    All coaches should go through a formal education process to reduce potential abuses. This formal training gives the coaches authority to speak up. As well as knowledge on how to handle a potential incident before it happens by being able to identify early warning signs. A safe environment then becomes a part of the organizations culture.

    Unfortunately this evil seems to be an ever present reality so we all have to do our part to fight against it. Check out, an excellent program that I am involved in its implementation.

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