The Writing on the Wall
On the heels of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D – California) introducing a bill in the US Senate to require amateur athletic organizations to promptly report sexual abuse to law enforcement, there is a new attention-grabbing development in the world of sports. In response to continuing reports of scandal and corruption, a group of activists has taken it upon themselves to implement much-needed reforms.
Fair Sport, a new nonprofit foundation, has been established to provide financial and legal assistance to whistleblowers having information about cheating in international sports. The Foundation is working with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to help protect and advise people who have evidence that could inform the Agency’s investigations as well as related governmental investigations into bribery, corruption, or drug trafficking. While this may sound like something that was created in Europe, and it was, that doesn’t mean that it does not have implications for sports organizations in the U.S. In fact, the Foundation was conceived by Jim Swartz, a U.S. venture capitalist, following criticism leveled against WADA in U.S. congressional hearings on the Agency’s failure to do more to support whistleblowers.
While the establishment of a nonprofit foundation to address issues related to wrongdoing in sports may not represent a new trend, there have been signs over the past year or so that outside organizations and agencies are getting involved when sports organizations fail to take meaningful steps to address problems involving wrongdoing within their organizations. Consider the following: a major USOC national governing body engages an outside law firm to conduct an independent review of its handling of sexual misconduct; a major university engages an independent law firm to analyze a sexual assault scandal involving members of its football team; the formation of Sports Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA) to promote integrity and fair play in sports worldwide.
And then more recently, the courts in the U.S. have gotten involved, sentencing a former MLB team scouting director to prison for his involvement in a hacking scandal, and two former university administrators entering into plea agreements and another being found guilty in a jury trial, all in connection with charges surrounding a child-endangerment case. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that when sports organizations fail to take steps to implement effective preventive programs addressing acts of wrongdoing within their organizations, then outside agencies and organizations will step in, sometimes resulting in adverse publicity and undesired consequences.
The sexual abuse scandal at USA Gymnastics was recently featured on “60 Minutes” and the sexual abuse scandal at Baylor University was the subject of a “60 Minutes Sports” investigation. This type of public airing is never welcomed by organizations which are working diligently to develop programs to prevent the wrongdoing that they’re seeing. For other sports organizations looking to avoid damage to their reputation, potential lawsuits, criminal investigations into unlawful behavior, potential fines, and personnel changes, the writing is on the wall.