USA Gymnastics strengthens safe sport program, continues to make meaningful changes to better protect athletes
posted on 06/27/2017

MILWAUKEE, Wis., June 27, 2017 – USA Gymnastics today took the next step in its ongoing effort to protect athletes by accepting the recommendations contained in a comprehensive, independent review of its handling of safe sport matters. The review was commissioned by USA Gymnastics and conducted by Deborah J. Daniels, managing partner of Krieg DeVault LLP and a former federal prosecutor who spent a significant portion of her career prosecuting child sexual offenders. In conducting her review, Ms. Daniels partnered with Praesidium, a company specializing in preventing sexual abuse in organizations that serve youth and vulnerable adults. On June 26, the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors unanimously accepted her recommendations and is developing the plan for implementation.

The Board approved the new USA Gymnastics Safe Sport Policy – replacing the previous Participant Welfare Policy – which includes key updates to USA Gymnastics safe sport policies and procedures. Effective immediately, the policy outlines the scope of the organization’s commitment to promoting a safe environment, requirements and expectations placed on members, and incorporates the authority and jurisdiction of the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

“Ms. Daniels’ report is very thorough and thoughtful, and we appreciate everyone who participated in this effort,” said Paul Parilla, chairman of the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors. “Her review and recommendations are part of the blueprint for continually strengthening our policies and procedures to better protect our athletes. Many of her recommendations are already reflected in the new Safe Sport Policy, which we approved at the meeting and is effective immediately. We are committed to making meaningful changes, and we will use the voices and perspectives represented in the report as a guide for the future.”

Under the direction of the Board, the Board’s Policy Review Panel and USA Gymnastics staff will immediately move forward with implementing policy changes per Ms. Daniels’ recommendations. In concert with these efforts, USA Gymnastics’ Ethics, Grievance and Safe Sport Committee and USA Gymnastics’ Nominating and Governance Committee will assess and make recommendations for modifications to additional USA Gymnastics’ safe sport policy provisions and the USA Gymnastics’ Bylaws.

Additionally, USA Gymnastics is in the final stages of hiring a Director of Safe Sport. This new position will play an integral role in elevating the importance of safe sport throughout the entire organization, including the development of a safe sport strategic plan, and a comprehensive education and training plan for athletes, parents and coaches alike.

“An athlete’s well-being is our primary focus,” said Parilla. “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. 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.”

The Daniels report provided 70 recommendations in 10 key areas: administrative management; Board structure and duties; culture; education, training and athlete support; member requirements and enforcement; reporting of suspected violations; screening and selection of coaches, volunteers and other adults with access to athletes; the process for filing misconduct reports; the National Team Training Center; and national team selection process. Some of the key recommendations are listed 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 a protocol for handling allegations for all types of abuse.
    • Developing a disciplinary process for violations of the Code of Ethical Conduct and other member club requirements, including sanctions ranging up to membership termination for violations.
    • 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 and 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 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 vast majority of adults in the gymnastics community have the best interests of young athletes at heart. However, the high-pressure atmosphere and relative youth of athletes in elite gymnastics, in particular, can lead not only to enabling abusers, but also to suppressing reporting,” said Daniels. “It is critical that the focus of USA Gymnastics be first and foremost on the safety of the athletes. It is reassuring to see USA Gymnastics embracing the need for improvements, including the adoption of a new and pervasive culture of accountability cascading through the organization and its members.”

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.

The “Report to USA Gymnastics on Proposed Policy and Procedural Changes for the Protection of Young Athletes,” authored by Ms. Daniels, and the USA Gymnastics Safe Sport Policy are available at the top of this page.

“We have a lot of important work ahead of us, but we will be a stronger and better organization as a result,” said Casey Koenig, co-chair of the Board’s Policy Review Panel. “The Policy Review Panel will be actively involved in the implementation of these recommendations, some of which will occur over time.” The members of the 2017 Policy Review Panel are Koenig and Parilla, co-chairs; Tasha Schwikert, Olympic medalist; and Anne Josephson and Tom Forster, gym club owners.

Last fall, USA Gymnastics enlisted Ms. Daniels to conduct an independent, comprehensive review of its bylaws, policies, procedures and practices related to handling sexual misconduct matters and to make recommendations for USA Gymnastics to better protect athletes’ health and well-being. Together with Praesidium, Ms. Daniels led a gymnastics community-wide discussion and review to examine the organization’s culture and safe sport initiatives.

USA Gymnastics provided Ms. Daniels and Praesidium with unrestricted access to the organization throughout the course of their efforts. As part of her review, she also consulted with current and past USA Gymnastics leadership and staff, professional and instructional members, club owners, meet directors, national team staff and coaches, former athletes (including several alleged victims of sexual and other abuse by coaches), parents of athletes, leaders in the U.S. Olympic movement and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, safe sport advocates, and Congressional and law enforcement representatives.

Based in Indianapolis, USA Gymnastics is the national governing body for gymnastics in the United States. Its mission is to encourage participation and the pursuit of excellence in the sport. Its disciplines include artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline and tumbling, acrobatic gymnastics and group gymnastics (known internationally as Gymnastics for All). For more information, visit www.usagym.org.

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Background on Deborah Daniels and Praesidium

Principal Investigator: Deborah J. Daniels, Esq.
Ms. Daniels has a lengthy history in law enforcement and, more specifically, as an advocate for children. In the 1980s, as Chief Counsel to the Marion County (Indianapolis, Indiana) Prosecuting Attorney, she supervised the Sex Offense and Child Abuse Division of the office, trying many cases herself and contributing to the work of the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, a subsidiary of the National District Attorneys Association. During her tenure, she chaired a multidisciplinary team for the protection of children, involving child protection service providers, law enforcement and medical providers. She established the inaugural Child Advocacy Center in Indianapolis, modeled on the original Child Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Ms. Daniels served from 1988-1993 as the Presidentially-appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. She continued to pursue child protection efforts, including the establishment of an initiative to prosecute child pornography cases through the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Several years later, as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, she supervised the work of, among other agencies, the Office on Violence Against Women, the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office for Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention (which includes within its purview the work of the Department of Justice in relation to child abuse prevention). She worked closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and served as the first National Amber Alert Coordinator, working with multiple agencies to develop a strategic national rapid-response approach relating to child abduction. Her current work with the law firm of Krieg DeVault LLP focuses on internal investigations.

Praesidium
In order to conduct an extensive review and analysis of the gymnastics community and culture, as well as how the policies of USA Gymnastics might be amended in order to improve its ability to protect young athletes, Ms. Daniels has partnered with Praesidium.

Praesidium specializes in preventing sexual abuse in organizations that serve youth and vulnerable adults. Over a period in excess of 25 years, the company has reviewed over 4,000 cases of abuse within organizations to determine the root causes of sexual abuse within organizational settings. Praesidium employs more than 40 staff, including licensed social workers, lawyers, psychologists, healthcare researchers and other experts. The company has served over 5,000 clients with a broad range of products and services to aid organizations in preventing abuse, including online and instructor-led trainings; organizational risk assessments; model policies; incident investigations and litigation support. Having trained more than one million people online and hundreds of thousands in person, Praesidium is the largest and most comprehensive sexual abuse risk management firm globally.