Youth sports group AAU mandates background checks for coaches, volunteers

CNN’s Jason Hanna, Vivian Kuo, George Howell and Meridith Edwards contributed to this report -

One of America’s largest youth sports organizations said Tuesday it will require its coaches and volunteers to undergo criminal background checks as part of a 42-point plan to protect children from sexual and other types of abuse.

The Amateur Athletic Union’s moves  which also include requiring everyone involved in the group to report to authorities if they suspect abuse  come after a six-month policy review that followed November’s dismissal of its CEO, who was publicly accused of, but never charged with, sexually abusing boys in the 1980s.

The review also came at a time when other child sexual abuse accusations were being made against high-profile sports figures not connected to the organization, including former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

“This is about changing our culture. It’s about bringing the AAU into a new era of accountability … strength and, most importantly, trust,” operations director James Parker said at a news conference at the group’s headquarters in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

At the recommendation of two task forces, the Amateur Athletic Union has hired LexisNexis to conduct criminal background checks of all AAU coaches, volunteers and staff members when they apply for membership yearly. The checks will begin in mid-August as associates register for the new membership year, which begins September 1.

The checks will be done on everyone regardless of how long they’ve been associated with the AAU, the group said.

The Amateur Athletic Union said it will check backgrounds for anything that causes concern for the safety of children, including convictions in child sex abuse and drug cases. AAU officials will consider the information and determine the group’s response, which could include banning an offender from the group, officials said.

“We know this won’t be a catch-all solution, but we strongly believe it will be a deterrent … to keep (offenders) at bay,” said Henry Forest, chairman of the group’s compliance committee.

The group also expects everyone associated with the AAU – including volunteers, staff, parents and athletes – to report suspicious behavior. Anyone accused of any type of abuse will be immediately suspended, task force member Ron Book said.

Other steps include:

 Stipulating an adult should not be with an athlete in a room by themselves;

 Implementing a zero-tolerance policy on hazing;

 Requiring separate accommodations for youths and adults, when possible;

 Requiring that discipline be constructive, and not done one-on-one;

 Establishing a hotline to which parents can report suspicions of abuse;

 Giving “youth protection training,” including information about AAU policies, to volunteers;

 Providing parents and athletes information about how to prevent and report abuse;

 And creating a “youth protection committee” that will ensure policies are consistent and updated when necessary.

The review came after the Amateur Athletic Union dismissed Robert “Bobby” Dodd, its longtime CEO and president, in November. The dismissal came after two men told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program that he sexually abused them when they were boys in the 1980s, when Dodd was a YMCA basketball coach in Memphis, Tennessee.

The AAU said that before the ESPN report aired, it launched an investigation of Dodd after it received anonymous messages accusing him of inappropriate behavior.

In January, Memphis police said no criminal charges would be filed after its investigation into the allegations, adding that one of the accusers who talked to ESPN said he didn’t plan to file a criminal offense report.

The other accuser chose to remain anonymous, and no one else filed a complaint since the allegations broke, Memphis police said. Both accusers had told ESPN the well-publicized, separate accusations against former Penn State coach Sandusky had prompted them to come forward.

Steve Farese, Dodd’s attorney, told ESPN in December, “It didn’t happen. All of this is fantasy.”

Dodd is not directly related to the late Georgia Tech football coach of the same name.

On Tuesday, AAU President Louis Stout said the group’s new policies were made “not because we suspect anyone of wrongdoing, but because we expect everyone to do their part to create a strong, new culture of safety.”

Asked what he would say to any criticism that the background checks and other measures are too strict, Stout said he’s “not concerned about how tough it is.”

‘It’s not really tough; it’s comprehensive,” Stout said. “Hopefully it will be a catalyst to what other (organizations) will do.”

The group said it has more than 500,000 participants in more than 30 sports programs

 

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