When Sweeping Things Under the Rug No Longer Works
Nearly five years ago, I recall a conversation I had with Adam Turtletaub, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives & International Programs at SCCE, when he told me that many sports organizations will “continue sweeping matters of wrongdoing under the rug until that response no longer works for them.” Adam and I had been discussing why sports organizations in the U.S. had failed to develop effective compliance/ethics/integrity programs which are common in so many other businesses and industries.
I mentioned to him that I felt one of the reasons why sports leaders lagged behind many others was because they felt that sports were different and that traditional compliance programs just weren’t a good fit for them.
While the sports industry is seldom listed among the leading industries in the U.S., its impact on the U.S. economy is huge. According to writer Gwen Burrow in her piece entitled, Not Just a Game: The Impact of Sports on the U.S. Economy,” the sports industry as a whole brings in roughly $14.3 billion in earnings a year … and contributes 456,000 jobs. The sports sector, in other words, packs a wallop.”
Yet in the five years since I began talking with Turtletaub about all this, scandals in sports have abounded in the news almost every week, with leaders now being pressed for a better response than just “sweeping the wrongdoing under the rug.” Consider the following:
* Following an FBI investigation, a professional baseball team executive pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison for hacking another team’s player database,
* The concussion scandal at the NFL and the League’s timid response damaged the reputation of the League,
* The professional tennis community was plagued by reports of widespread match-fixing on the men’s tennis circuit, including at Wimbledon and the French Open,
* Amid allegations of wrongdoing within the University of Louisville’s basketball program, its men’s basketball coach was fired and the University was stripped of dozens of wins and its NCAA Championship in 2013,
* A five-time Grand Slam champion suffered a two-year ban from tennis over allegations of violating drug policies,
* The sexual abuse scandal involving Dr. Larry Nassar at USA Gymnastics and at Michigan State University,
* The college basketball scandal involving allegations of fraud, bribery, and corruption under investigation by the FBI,
* International cricket scandal involving ball tampering incident,
* Major violations of MLB international signing rules by the Atlanta Braves, and
* The Dallas Mavericks’ hostile work environment in its front office led to allegations of sexual harassment and domestic violence.
What’s different today about so many of these scandals is that outside agencies and organizations have been involved in investigating the wrongdoing we’re seeing, and seeking not just punishment that may be appropriate, but also solutions to address the problems in sports. Just in the past year or so we’ve seen the FBI conducting investigations of Federal crimes committed in college basketball recruiting. USA Gymnastics engaged an independent law firm to conduct an investigation of sexual abuse allegations and make recommendations for improving the National Governing Body’s policies and procedures to ensure the safety of its athletes.
The United States Olympic Committee formed a Center for SafeSport to develop a program and resources to ensure the safety of all athletes under the USOC umbrella. The federal government has even weighed in with the passage of a new law requiring among other things, the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse to law enforcement among amateur athletes.
Another outside group, the International Centre for Sport Security has established a hotline that would accept reports of alleged misconduct in all sports at all levels in the U.S. and Canada.
To be sure, sports organizations are now being targeted by outside organizations letting them know that if they don’t follow-up on allegations of wrongdoing, someone else will.
Pressure is being put on these organizations to detect and correct wrongdoing within their organizations before outsiders get involved, in effect to establish effective preventive programs.
As reported in an earlier blog on this site, “This is an extraordinary development. Sports organizations now face the prospect of routinely being embarrassed several times over – first the scandal itself, then over the fact that it took an outside agency to uncover the wrongdoing, and then again when outside groups take administrative or legislative action to address the problem.”
Sweeping things under the rug is no longer an option.