Protecting Our Young Athletes

On August 11 I received an email as a terp supporter, from Damon Evans, the newly appointed Athletic Director at the University of Maryland regarding the death of a freshman football player Jordan Mc Nair. He began by writing, ” I am extremely concerned by the allegations of unacceptable behaviors by members of our football staff detailed in recent media reports.  We are committed to fully investigating the program.” He had immediately suspended the Head Football Coach to allow for a complete investigation of the program.

My daughter was a field hockey player for the University of Maryland and I can say her experience was life affirming, and life saving in many respects. I would recommend to anyone good enough to play for this extremely  successful program to go for it. We found the coaching staff, training, medical and other support activities to be outstanding and believe them to be so today. Not coincidentally, the Field Hockey program is extremely successful with numerous league and National Championships to their credit. ( My daughter receiving rings several times).

The football program however, has struggled, and perhaps therein is part of the problem. In a second communication on August 14 AD Evans writes, “When I was named Athletic Director in July, my highest priority was to investigate the events surrounding the death of our student athlete, Jordan Mc Nair. Although that review is ongoing, preliminary findings from the independent review being conducted by national experts in sports medicine indicate that mistakes were made,”  He goes on describing the immediate actions taken.

Implemented additional safeguards for all athletic practices and training , not just football.

Added cooling stations and increased student-athlete breaks during practice taking place in the heat.

Placed selected members of the athletic training staff on leave.

The head of the strength and conditioning staff for football resigned.

Additionally, he emphasized they will not tolerate any behavior from any employee within Maryland’s athletic program that is detrimental to the MENTAL or PHYSICAL well being for the the student athletes.

My readers might also be aware of the monstrous case of Dr.Larry Nassar the Michigan State orthopedic physician who was also the physician for the US Gymnastic team. He assaulted under the guise of treatment perhaps hundreds of  young athletes over numerous years.

The subsequent investigation resulted in changes by the USAG that made it a requirement that all sexual misconduct be reported to authorities and to the US Center of SafeSport. The USOC is implementing programs in all the sports in cooperation with Safesport. The US Center for SafeSport is an independent non-profit organization committed to ending all forms of abuse in sport. This includes bullying, harassment, hazing, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual misconduct and abuse. The center is the first and only national organization of its kind. It provides a safe, professional and confidential place for individuals to report abuse. The mission is to make the athlete’s well-being the centerpiece of our nation’s sport culture. Their mission is surrounded by the belief that all athletes deserve to participate in sports free from bullying, hazing, sexual misconduct or ANY form of emotional or physical abuse.  They have a distinguished Board of Directors.

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I contacted Sherytta Freeman, the Lafayette AD, and Annette Diorio, the VP for student life about the issue. VP Diorio wrote me. in an August 12 email, ” We continuously work to improve training, support, and education for signs of abuse and reporting mechanisms for our staff and for our students. This takes many forms, from presentations, written guidelines in manuals, signs in the training and sports medicine areas, and conversations between supervisors and subordinates on the staff side. Our peak performance and sports medicine staff have distinct training on all the issues you mention. More importantly, we have a structure that is not exclusively contained in a single department. As an example, our sports medicine staff report to the College Physician on medical and health issues and not the Athletic Director.Each team has a faculty mentor who the students are advised is an advocate and resource, and we strive to have sport administrators travel with teams and gain valuable insights on team dynamics during those trips. Students see and hear from staff both in and outside athletics and it is my hope that even in the event that a student were afraid to alert a sport administrator to an issue, they have given enough other resources that they can find a connection.”

Diorio goes on to say they will continue to add to the coaches tool kit in terms of motivational strategies and have communicated, that Lafayette ACCEPTS NO BEHAVIOR THAT MIGHT SERVE TO INTIMIDATE STUDENTS. She adds that the students complete evaluations at the end of the season to explore the kind of culture the coach is creating. She states that there is more to do. Diorio added there is an anonymous tip hotline for reporting ethical, compliance or other concerns about employees at https:/hr.lafayette.edu/anonymous-tip-hotline/

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In AD Sherryta Freeman’s réponse  she adds,” We do a great job with training and continuing education and are always working to improve what we do. We recently formed the Student-Athlete Wellnes and Performance Team (comprised of various staff members) to keep this issue and our response front and center. In light of information shared recently, they will also be tasked with reviewing our approach to care and safety protocols with sport medicine/physicians to ensure that we are doing are very best to hold to our obligation to students-athlete safety. It’s not just about winning . All parties (coaches included ) will always consider all aspects in their day-to-day roles, especially the well-being of our student athletes.”

An additional resource is available through the Lafayette Sports Medicine Department. As of this year student athletes can schedule “Mind of The Athlete” appointments securely through their patient portal.  All they. need do is to do is visit http://www.Lafayette.medicalconnect.com and click on the appointment tab to get started. The athlete can select a time that works best for them and the “Mind of the Athlete” sports psychologist will meet them on campus. ALL SCHEDULING IS CONFIDENTIAL

*****Since writing and publishing this article I have talked with Jarrod Spencer of “Mind of. the Athlete” and he has informed me that the contract with Lafayette has lapsed.  In the meantime in discussing the  issue with Jarrod, he is passionate about mental health in collegiate athletics and I will follow with a second article next week.Mind of the Athlete underwent a reorganization but the college will continue the psychological service with Dr. Julie Amato a former psychologist with “Mind” on a seamless basis. In addition, Matt Bayly Director of Sports Medicine is the process of meeting with each team to explain the resources available for each athlete to meet their physical and mental needs.

The existence of an anonymous tip line should be a deterrent for many instances of abuse, if the victim of that abuse believes it to be truly anonymous. Although it may result in baseless claims from time to time, which could make administrators and coaches anxious, everyone should focus on the recent investigation of the Lehigh Field Hockey program for instances of fat shaming, and other abuses of a psychological nature. Lehigh employed the Pictor Group to independently examine the allegations. They did 32 interviews, and included 6 athletes who left, or were cut from the team. It included questionaires which were filled out by 21 of the 24 athletes who received it. The review found no culture of mental or physical abuse within the program.

If there is a common thread with these cases it is that programs striving to improve from subpar performance could be convinced a more brutal, disciplined regime is needed to move the program upward. My experience has been that successful programs that have coaches that lead with POSITIVE reinforcement do far better in the end.

To my mind there are several conclusions I would consider:

  1. State governments should consider expanding the information and certification program required of teachers and youth coaches to colleges coaches, professors and administrators. At the moment only medical staff are required to have background checks and pass an information test regarding abuse of youth.
  2. Information should be available in a handy written form and delivered at first day check ins.
  3. Reports of any abuse should go to authorities in the school outside of the athletic department
  4. All reports should be investigated and serious violations reported to entities outside of the school for investigations.
  5. Investigations should be prompt but thorough.
  6. Felonious behavior should be promptly reported to law enforcement
  7. The victim should be apprised of the investigation but confidentiality must be assured.
  8. Mental as well as physical abuse should be of concern, and should be a factor if not the main factor in retaining and dismissing staff
  9. Athletes should be encouraged in their annual confidential evaluation to report incidents of mental or physical abuse
  10. Teachers, advisors and other staff, should they be aware of violations of the abuse policy, are required to report promptly…..parents should not be shy of reporting abuse.
  11. Underperforming programs are especially vulnerable and should be monitored closely
  12. Sports Medicine should directly report to the senior medical officer of the institution. ( This is a reporting structure now taken by several schools and recommended by the NCAA)

The prompt and sweeping responses by the Athletic Director Damon Evans at Maryland and Joe Sterrett at Lehigh should be a templet for other schools should a problem arise. The structures at Penn State and Michigan State were failures.

I suspect this is not the end of the story. Solutions will require openness from administrators and coaches. Assurances of anonymity for reporting victims must not only be required, but assured. Reporting must be done away from the athletic infrastructure and lastly, student athletes must insist on control of their own environment and encourage their teammates to do the same .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published by

William Rappolt

I am past chairman of the Lafayette Friends of Field Hockey and a former BOT member at Lafayette College. My wife and I are members of the Board of Trustees for USA Field Hockey Foundation. I am the retired treasurer of M and T Bank Corporation and a 20 year fan of Division one field hockey

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