By Bobby Click
Vice President, Response & Resolution, U.S. Center for SafeSport in Denver
In response to high-profile cases of sexual abuse of minors within Olympic and Paralympic sport in the mid-2010s, the U.S. Center for SafeSport (the Center) was established by federal law. The Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 codified the Center, a Denver-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit, as the nation’s safe sport organization. It also gave the Center the scope and authority to resolve abuse and misconduct reports for the more than 11 million U.S. Olympic and Paralympic participants and charged the Center with developing policies, procedures, and training to prevent abuse and misconduct. In October 2020, the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act of 2020 became law, which strengthened the Center’s oversight functions and mandates a reliable annual funding stream from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC).
The SafeSport Code (the Code) governs all participants in the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Movement (the Movement), which includes anyone involved in sport under the auspices of the USOPC or National Governing Bodies (NGB), such as USA Volleyball or USA Track and Field. This means the Center’s jurisdiction extends from the athletes and coaches who will participate in the 2024 Paris Olympics all the way down to the local neighborhood gymnastics studio where coaches may be members of USA Gymnastics. The Center’s independent oversight authority helps ensure those within the Movement adhere to the SafeSport Code and Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policies (MAAPP) that support athlete safety.
With the mission of making athletes’ well-being the centerpiece of the nation’s sport culture, the Center exclusively accepts and investigates reports of abuse and misconduct involving individuals within the Movement. Our Response and Resolution department, which manages these investigations, makes up more than half of the Center’s staff and includes former federal, local, and state law enforcement officials. The Center currently receives an average of more than 100 reports a week, which are reviewed by our dedicated team of investigators. Since its inception, the Center has received more than 10,000 reports of misconduct.
A Center investigation seeks to identify violations of the Code and may parallel a criminal investigation of a related matter. However, not all violations of the Code rise to the level of criminal conduct. For instance, the Code goes as far as prohibiting certain electronic communications or gifting between adults and minors.
As mandatory reporters of child abuse, Center staff are often in contact with law enforcement and state child welfare offices. If requested, the Center may put an investigation on a “law enforcement hold” until the law enforcement agency gives the green light for the Center to proceed with its investigation. Center staff are also available to answer requests for information whenever they arise.
The Center’s independence from the Movement, and therefore from the individuals we investigate, allows us to proceed with investigations fairly and impartially. Our investigations are neutral and adhere to a preponderance of evidence standard. At times, our lower burden of proof and ability to implement temporary safety measures allow us to act on cases when law enforcement cannot. For instance, when a report is made against an individual the Center deems to be an immediate threat to the sport community, we are able almost instantly to put in place temporary measures to limit his or her contact with certain individuals or suspend his or her participation in sport while our investigation proceeds.
Should the Center make a finding that abuse or misconduct occurred, regardless of whether the findings rise to criminal conduct, we determine appropriate sanctions that can range from a written warning to permanent ineligibility from participating in U.S. Olympic and Paralympic sport. Certain sanctions of adults are posted on the Center’s public Centralized Disciplinary Database. Respondents have the right to an arbitration process to appeal a Center decision.
The Center has also received numerous reports from law enforcement and prosecutors from across the country. We encourage reporting by law enforcement to the Center anytime there is a potential connection to Olympic and Paralympic sport. Our goal is to educate the law enforcement community about the potential for cooperation with the Center and our alternative path to accountability to protect athletes.
The case descriptions below highlight the Center’s unique legal structure and our potential to collaborate and supplement law enforcement’s efforts to pursue justice.
In June 2021, law enforcement arrested a 61-year-old Oregon man after he was indicted on four counts of second-degree sexual abuse. Over the course of an investigation that lasted several months and involved witnesses in multiple states, law enforcement established that the trainer had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, one of his athletes.
The girl’s parent stated, “In our case, our daughter made the difficult decision to agree to talk to SafeSport following six months of (NGB) members calling SafeSport to report on her situation. At the time she spoke with SafeSport, she was not yet ready to talk to law enforcement. SafeSport and law enforcement worked together to release the law enforcement hold [a request made by law enforcement for the Center to pause its investigation so that a criminal investigation can proceed unencumbered] so that SafeSport could interview her and temporarily suspend the assailant.”
The matter was first reported to SafeSport and an immediate report to law enforcement was made. Despite her initial reluctance, the girl began to cooperate with the Center and eventually with law enforcement. The Center suspended the trainer from sport four months before his arrest, and he is now ineligible to participate in Olympic and Paralympic sport. On April 6, 2023, a news outlet reported that the respondent is expected to enter a plea in Oregon federal court.
In another case, a coach based in Washington state was accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl in 2016 and charged with four counts of third-degree rape of a child. A SafeSport investigator contacted local police in February 2021 and said she was investigating allegations of sexual misconduct after several athletes came forward and accused the coach of having relationships with underage athletes. Athletes, former coaches, parents, and other members of the sport community gave statements to the SafeSport investigator, who provided transcripts of their statements to a local police detective.
The Center reported to four separate law enforcement agencies, which corresponded to where the crimes occurred, and suspended the coach from sport more than a year before his arrest; he is now ineligible to participate in Olympic and Paralympic sport. The local prosecutor assigned to the criminal case used his knowledge of SafeSport and its Code to secure a $500,000 bond with specific, sport-related restrictions. The respondent pled guilty and is currently incarcerated, serving a five-year sentence.
The Center hopes to continue to develop strong and productive working relationships with law enforcement as more agencies learn about our work to end abuse in sport. Please feel free to contact the Center by:
• calling 720/531-0344 or emailing [email protected] with general inquiries or to work together on an investigative matter,
• contacting Patrick Caldwell at [email protected] to request a virtual or in-person training,
• or reporting abuse and misconduct affecting an Olympic and Paralympic Movement affiliate through our Report a Concern portal or by calling 833/5US-SAFE (833/587-7233). That hotline is staffed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mountain Time on weekdays, with voicemail available all the time.
 Note that identifying information has been removed.