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By David D. Dodge
On February 14, 2018 President Trump signed into law a bill that aims to protect amateur athletes from sexual abuse. The new law has three main components designed to protect athletes and regulate the governing bodies of amateur sports.
First, the legislation requires amateur athletics, including coaches, trainers, and others to report any allegations of sexual abuse to local or federal law enforcement, or to a Justice Department-designated child-welfare agency within 24 hours. Secondly, the legislation extends the statute of limitations on suing those who perpetuate sex crimes to up to 10 years after a victim realizes he or she was abused, recognizing that it’s often hard for children to realize they have been abused. And third, the legislation limits athletes under the age of 18 from being alone with an adult who isn’t their parent.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said in a statement following the signing, “Today is the culmination of months of hard work in the Senate and House, and by the many gymnasts and other athletes who championed the bill and advocated passionately for its passage. Every adult involved in amateur and collegiate athletics must now know that they have a responsibility to protect the young athletes in their care.”
Sen. Feinstein went on to say, “The days of turning a blind eye to abuse are over. This vital reform was only possible because of the incredibly courageous women who decided to come forward, share their pain, and do all they could to make sure this dark chapter is never repeated.”
The Dr. Nassar scandal has taken its toll at USA Gymnastics where its president and full board have stepped down. At Michigan State University, where Nassar served as gymnastics team doctor, its president and athletics director have retired or resigned; recently the University’s faculty passed a no-confidence vote on MSU’s board of trustees.
Undoubtedly, the Nassar scandal at USA Gymnastics and at Michigan State, along with the scandal at Penn State University, have served as a wake-up call for the USOC, its national governing bodies, and at major colleges and universities across the country. While complying with regulations and requirements of the new legislation for these bodies will be essential, the true test will be what sort of lasting preventive programs are established and deemed effective in protecting athletes and their institutions in the years ahead.
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