Do We Have The Courage To Learn From Larry Nassar? Lesson #2.

I’m not sure how a week turned into a month!

I promised that, each week, I was going to break down ONE LESSON LEARNED from the Larry Nassar tragedy.  That was on February 8th. I’m certain each of you have been checking your in-boxes in great anticipation since February 15th, so thank you for your patience and grace. 😉


At the end of January 2022, Child USA’s Game Over Commission to Protect Youth Athletes released a 128-page “Case-Study of Systemic Abuse in Sports Perpetrated by Larry Nassar.” The Commission’s stated purpose was to answer the singular question:

How could every institution and person who should have protected girls from Larry Nassar fail so miserably?

They believed that the failings that allowed Larry Nassar to sexually abuse upwards of 500 girls over two decades under the guise of medical treatment for athletic injuries, were universal enough that their reveal could help protect our next generations of youth athletes.

As one of the largest sexual abuse cases in sports history, it’s easy to slip into, “that wouldn’t happen here.”  But you see… it can. Because when you break it all the way down, this is what we have:

A child athlete was sexually abused by a staff person who this child, their family, and their gym owners and staff trusted.


The report tells us that there were reports of abuse and complaints about Larry Nassar’s behavior dating back to even before he graduated from medical school. But they were minimized, overlooked and even actively buried because of his rising star as a trainer for elite gymnasts, many of whom were Olympics-bound.

The lesson? 

Child protection must be consistent and constant. No one gets a pass. No one.

We must move away from the idea of protecting our children against a certain person or a certain type of person and move toward child protection practices becoming a consistent, constant and normal part of our lives. This way, when a child discloses abuse or an adult is uncomfortable with someone’s behavior, we don’t have to make a personal judgement call whether this person could ever do anything like that.


While many people who received complaints on Larry Nassar were 100% intent on protecting his reputation, and by extension, their own reputation, there was a theme in the report of well-intentioned people who did not know what to do with the information they were given.

Which leads us to Lesson #2: 

Organizations have a legal and moral responsibility to make sure their staff and volunteers know and understand their state’s mandatory child abuse reporting law.

AND, parents have a legal and moral responsibility to learn and understand their state’s mandatory child abuse reporting law.

It can be confusing and messy.

First of all, each state’s law is different regarding who is legally required to report abuse, where the abuse should be reported, and how long a person has to make this report. As if that wasn’t confusing enough…

Some amateur youth sports organizations are mandated by the federal  Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017  (known as the Safe Sport Act).

Who falls under the Safe Sport federal mandates? 

Any amateur youth sports organization that participates in interstate or international competition, and anyone the organization authorizes to interact with minors.

If your amateur youth sports organization is mandated by the Safe Sport Act and not in compliance?

That could mean criminal charges to the organization’s leadership, including the board of directors. Possible.  Criminal.  Charges.

Does your sports organization participate in interstate or international competition?  If yes, do you know if it is in compliance with the federal Safe Sport Act? The answer needs to be nothing other than YES if you are a coach, administrator, board member, volunteer or parent.

I’ve written several articles on the Safe Sport Act, so feel free to check here for more specific information.

If your youth sports organization does not participate in interstate or international competition, does every coach, volunteer, administrator, board member and parent know your state’s reporting law?  If not, you can find it here.

Look…I know you think child sexual abuse prevention and response is important or you would be doing anything other than reading my blog post. My pointed (and possibly uncomfortable) question to you is…Are you going to make this a priority?

If it’s a priority, you are going to set something aside to make sure your staff, volunteers and parents know your reporting legal mandates, policies and procedures. Making child sexual abuse prevention a priority means it’s more important than getting a bid to repave the parking lot or booking the hotel rooms for the upcoming tournament or…

These things may be more pressing…deadlines are looming and people are checking on the progress.  But, one day…can we agree that protecting our children from sexual abuse is, in fact, more important than…well, anything else?     

When you’re ready, please let me know how I can help you, your family, your organization or your community take the necessary steps to protect our children with child sexual abuse prevention & response training or Youth Protection Policies & Procedures.

Power Structure of Child Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports

Jerry Sandusky (American Football). Larry Nassar (Gymnastics). Andy King (Swimming). Graham James (Hockey). Greg Stephen (Basketball). Conrad Avondale Mainwaring (Track & Field). And then, of course the more than 80 British Football coaches convicted in 2016.

Their victims were boys and girls, recreational and elite athletes, young children and college students.

My point? My point is…There is not one single sports team in the world that has the luxury of claiming child sexual abuse isn’t a real risk in their organization.  Not one.

Which means, there is not one single sports team in the world that shouldn’t have Athlete Protection Policies & Procedures and Child Sexual Abuse Prevention & Response Training that are research-informed and based on best-practices.  Not one. And because I tend to repeat myself in 3s (just ask my kids), I’ll say it again…Not one.

Here is what we know:

» 1 in 10 children are sexually abused by their 18th birthday, and

» 90 percent of those kids are abused by someone they KNOW, LOVE, TRUST.

Here is what we also know:

The vast majority of youth sports coaches are good and decent people who are coaching our kids for all the right reasons.  But sadly, we also know that not all are.


Coaches have unique access to their young athletes outside of competition.

Think of all the ways coaches build rapport and camaraderie within a team that could avail them private and uninterruptible access to the youth. Sleepovers? Camping trips?

Think about how many working parents need the coach to help drive their kiddo to/from practice, giving them private and uninterruptible access to the youth.

Think about the overnight travel games and tournaments that parents can’t attend, where private and uninterruptible access to the youth is pretty easy to create.

You get the idea.


It is not uncommon for coaches to abuse their athletes under the guise of coaching or treatment, so many young athletes may feel very uncomfortable with certain coaching techniques or treatments, but they may not realize until much later that it is, in fact, abuse.


But what keeps the youth athlete from stopping or telling someone about the abuse? In addition to all the reasons we outlined in my last blog on why children don’t disclose abuse, a coach with ill-intent can naturally develop a power structure with an athlete that easily allows for ongoing abuse.

Kids learn in their pee-wee leagues to ‘listen to their Coach’ and ‘do what your Coach asks you to do.’  Right?

Who determines how much playing time an athlete gets? Yup…Coach.

As young athletes progress into elite athletes, who is most integral to college recruiting and college scholarships?  Yup…Coach.

You get the idea.


Let’s actually start with what this does not mean. It does not mean we stop trusting every coach working with our kids.  It does not mean you pull your kids from youth sports programs.  And, it does not mean you have to hire a security guard to observe all your coaches’ interactions with your athletes.

As an Amateur Youth Sports Organization, this means that you consider all this as you hire, onboard and train your coaches; develop your organization’s policies & procedures; and build your organization’s culture.

As the Parent of an athlete, this means you ask the sports organizations that your kids are a involved with:

  1. What are their hiring practices?
  2. What are their athlete protection policies & procedures?  
  3. What kind of child sexual abuse prevention & response training do they provide their coaches? And,
  4. Is that training research-informed and mandatory?

Look…you (youth sports administrators and parents) talk about this stuff as it relates to concussions. Why is this any different?

It’s not.

We need to move past our discomfort and get this right.

Please let me know if I can help your organization develop Athlete Protection Policies & Procedures and provide Child Sexual Abuse Prevention & Response Training that are research-informed, based on best-practices, and most importantly…can minimize the risk of abuse within your organization.