The Safe Sport Act: How Does It Affect Me?

By Jenna Soule, Guest Blogger

The Safe Sport Act, which expands existing mandated youth abuse reporting laws and requires abuse awareness training for youth sports organizations, comes in response to the recent abuse scandals that have shaken the youth sports world.

Josh Opiola is a proud dad. He’s a baseball coach. And he recently completed a four-year run as president of a youth hockey association in one of Minnesota’s fastest-growing communities.

Factor in Opiola’s five years working as SportsEngine’s Director of Risk Management, and it’s no exaggeration to say he’s experienced youth sports from most every conceivable angle.

It’s no surprise then, given his background, Opiola followed the February 2018 passing of the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 with intense interest.

The Safe Sport Act, which expands existing mandated youth abuse reporting laws and requires abuse awareness training for youth sports organizations, comes in response to the recent abuse scandals that have shaken the youth sports world.

                      Josh Opiola

Opiola’s biggest frustration with the new law is the lack of communication surrounding it. He’s certain there are officials running youth sports organizations who aren’t even aware of its passing. Others are, understandably, confused as to what it means to them or how they should proceed to be in compliance.

To that end, we sat down with Opiola for a Q&A that, hopefully, answers many of the questions associated with the passing of the Safe Sport Act.

How would an organization find out if it falls under the Safe Sport Authorization Act?

If you are affiliated with a national governing body, for example USA Gymnastics, or any other United States Olympic Committee sport, you report underneath a national governing body, and they will have their specific, what they call Safe Sport directives, that you need to follow. So if you are a USA Volleyball affiliate you are required to follow the USA Volleyball protocols.

Are these governing body directives separate from the Safe Sport Authorization Act?

No, this is in conjunction with this act. Most of the organizations had at least some level of Safe Sport compliance or requirements for their volunteers and coaches. However, in February of this year, when the Safe Sport Act was enacted, this made it a requirement for everyone from the USOC-sanctioned national governing bodies all the way down to a local baseball organization. They are all required to follow the same type of protocols, not necessarily the same type of processes.

What about local clubs that don’t compete against international or out-of-state teams, does the Safe Sport Authorization Act still apply to them?

It does. Because you have adults working with youth. And even though you do not have an affiliation with a national governing body or do not have any international or interstate travel, the requirement still does say that you need to follow the Safe Sport act requirements, which include abuse awareness training and, the biggest change, the mandatory reporting aspect of it.

What does being a Mandated Reporter mean?

According to what the Safe Sport Act says, if you see or hear a report of any form of abuse, whether it is sexual, physical, mental or any other type of abuse you are required to report that abuse within a 24-hour period.

Who in an organization is considered a Mandated Reporter?

The Safe Sport Act expands the list of individuals required to report child sexual abuse. Now, any adult who is authorized to interact with youth athletes will be required to report suspicions of abuse to the appropriate law enforcement agencies within 24 hours.

What does the “Confidential Notifications” component of this mean?

The Act requires organizations to provide a “mechanism for communication” for all participants and volunteers where they can confidentially report incidents of abuse, or suspicion of abuse. Many organizations use the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s Incident Reporting Form.

What happens if suspected abuse isn’t reported?

(Individuals and organizations) are not in adherence to the mandatory reporting requirements of the Act, and there could be criminal or civil charges.

Are youth organizations now required by law to have staff members undergo certain types of training?

Yes. You are now required to go through abuse prevention training of some sort. There are many different organizations that do it. One being the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which this law is named after. Another is (National Center for Safety Initiatives partner) Darkness to Light. And another one of our partners is Abuse Prevention Systems. So a type of training like that, where your coaches, parents and volunteers are going to be able to go through and get the proper training, is required by law.

The local youth baseball association, where you coach, is not affiliated with a governing body. How does that change what you are required to do or how you meet those requirements?

For baseball, specifically, we have always done our background screening, we have always done our concussion protocol. Now we will be implementing the abuse and awareness training going into next year. It’s another addition to our coaches’ education.

What other preventative measures can organizations take?

You still need to do a comprehensive background check. It is an absolute must at all levels – the bare minimum of due diligence. It is part of this safety package, if you will, that is going to help ensure that your organization is doing a couple of things. One, you are ensuring that you are getting the right coaches, the ones who should be there, with the right character. Once they get in there, you are now going to train those individuals to be on the lookout for these other incidents. That combination is going to be a very comprehensive abuse prevention strategy. That’s the goal, to prevent the incidents that we have all heard in the news from happening again.

Are background screenings required by law?

No, not as of yet. There are some states that do require a background check. Pennsylvania is an example of a state that makes it a requirement. But there is no federal law that says a background check is required to coach youth sports or be in charge of minors in a youth sports environment.

Do governing bodies require background screenings?

Most do as part of their abuse prevention strategy.

As a former president of an association, what advice do you have for board members, administrators and coaches dealing with all of this?

Because it is new, ask lots of questions like, ‘What does this mean for us? How do I get this implemented?’ Be proactive. Don’t wait until there is a crisis to start talking about this important topic. Organizations like SportsEngine that are familiar with what is happening, and can get everything set up, are out there. Ask for help.

Any final thoughts?

This might seem like a daunting thing for coaches and a daunting thing for organizations to implement. But if you are implementing these abuse prevention strategies, one of them being background screening, another being abuse prevention training, you are going to have much more well-informed coaches. They are going to understand the process. They are going to understand what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. Because of that you are going to have educated parents. These parents want and need to see that you as an organization are doing everything possible to ensure that their kids are in a safe environment. So advertise it. Don’t hide your safety programs in the back of your website where no one can find it. Put it out in the front. Moms and dads are going to see it and be encouraged by it.