Can you remember the days when you left your car parked at the curb as you walked into the airport to meet your loved one at the gate? We just walked right on in and could go anywhere we wanted with no questions asked -- no ID, no x-ray machines, shoes on.
When these security measures were first put into place, they bothered me, as I'm sure they did for many others that went through this seemingly cumbersome change in lifestyle. I was one of those travelers that prided myself on planning my trips with precision, arriving at the airport at the last possible minute so I wouldn't waste anytime waiting around. That strategy was soon taken away with the inconvenient security measures that were put in place as we reacted to the notion that anyone among us could be a terrorist.
A similar mindset needs to be adopted within the sports community in order to protect our child-athletes from abuse. The coaches who spend hours upon hours each day with our child-athletes -- coaches who are possible pedophiles, bullies and emotional abusers -- are not constrained with any behavioral guidelines. We have not protected our child-athletes with the mindset that any coach among us could be a predator.
Some of our national sports governing bodies (NGBs) have made efforts to implement some protective measures which is like asking each airline to do what they believe will protect their passengers without any comprehensive thought about how to protect all athletes.
Doing background checks will deter the convicted pedophiles that we know about, but will do nothing for the "predator amongst us" who has not yet been caught. Jerry Sandusky is a perfect examples of that not working.
A system for protecting all athletes must be put in place. This system needs to start at the local level with sports clubs adopting policies, committing to the creation of a safe environment that puts the athlete first. The policies need to be designed to provide clubs with a system that explicitly creates a positive environment free of sexual abuse, bullying and harassment.
I don't know about any of you, but I have traveled a lot during the "secure years" and the changes that continue to happen have cost me many bottles of shampoo and conditioner, children's toys, bottles of water, time to endure pat downs and multiple bag checks only to lose my favorite pair of mini-scissors at the very last inspection point. All these are inconsequential measures when you look at the greater good of protecting our child-athletes. No one is given a free pass when it comes to the safety of passengers.
We must adapt this mindset. We need to partner with sports clubs around the country to adopt policies requiring coaches to adhere to modes of behavior that protect the athlete. It is the equivalent of no longer being able to just walk right up to the gate, without passing the safety checks. In the name of passenger safety, and athlete health and welfare, these extra steps are well worth any initially perceived hassle. If we believe in and support the athletes anything less is unthinkable.
See Safe4Athletes for more information about adopting policies in your sports program.