Organized sports are a big factor in promoting better physical and mental health, higher grades and better social relationships among athletes. Unfortunately, it is estimated that one out of eight athletes under the age of 18 will be abused or assaulted.
The Safe Sport Initiative is the response of the Olympic community to recognize, reduce and respond to misconduct in sports at every level. Six primary forms of misconduct have been described. They include bullying, harassment and hazing as well as emotional, physical and sexual misconduct.
Hazing and other rituals have long been a part of sports. More recently these rituals have sometimes taken on a more violent, destructive and sexual nature. Coaches and staff must be aware of any hazing practices and be sure that all athletes are adequately protected.
Bullying and harassment are typically directed to athletes who are different. Bullies target all athletes and their actions are often easily mistaken for good-natured teasing. Harassment is more offensive and often linked to discrimination. Targets of harassment are often different based on race, religion or sexual orientation. Sexual harassment has become pervasive in athletics. Some estimates report 57 percent of athletes have been sexually harassed. Both of these behaviors can be detrimental to the performance of a team as a whole.
Trust and power are the essential elements of the coach-athlete relationship. This relationship involves a delicate balance between encouragement and discipline that can easily be misused to an athlete’s detriment.
Grooming is the process where a coach or other potential abuser establishes sufficient trust with the athlete and parents that allows for an opportunity for abuse. Coaches can also establish what an athlete values most and use that as currency for abuse.
Child abuse is among the most heinous crimes. It is only through education and vigilance that it can be stopped.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org