A former U.S. Youth Soccer player from the Bay Area of California has sued the national organization and two other local soccer organizations, the California Youth Soccer Association and the West Valley Youth Soccer League, on the ground that they failed to adequately protect her from sexual abuse. The player, identified only as Jane Doe, was one of the roughly three million players playing on a U.S. Youth Soccer. In her case, the coach of that team, Emanuele Fabrizio, had a record of domestic violence. He sexually abused Jane Doe for a year when she was just 13-years-old. She is suing because Fabrizio was never subjected to a background check.
Had a background check been mandatory, U.S. Youth Soccer would have found that Fabrizio was found guilty of domestic violence in 2007. However, the organization that hired Fabrizio — a Bay area soccer club — did not do (or require) any background checks. Fabrizio was only asked self-report whether or not he had been convicted of a violent crime. He lied. And that was a more involved screening than many coaches are subjected to. USYC does not do background checks on the 300,000 coaches and 600,000 league officials that work with its players’ nationwide.
Jane Doe believes her sexual abuse could have been prevented by a background check. The revelation and the lawsuit echoes what has happened at Michigan State University, where U.S. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused hundreds of minors. Although Nassar did not have a criminal background, the university repeatedly ignored complaints by youth gymnasts and attempted to shut down allegations of abuse. They, too, are now being sued by more than 260 former Olympian and MSU gymnasts who were abused. All gymnasts allege that the university failed to prevent the abuse. (It is worth noting that, in the instance of Larry Nassar, a background check wouldn’t have stopped the abuse; he had never been convicted of a crime.)
Many private leagues not only don’t require background checks but don’t enforce “mandatory reporting,” which is a requirement that certain officials have to go to the police to report suspected abuse. In fact, mandatory reporting laws are determined on a state by state basis, so in the state of California, where Jane Doe’s abuse occurred, the only people who are mandated to report suspected abuse are teachers, teachers aides, day camp and youth center employees, social workers, doctors, and members of the clergy. Employees of youth sports organizations aren’t on the list. In lieu of mandatory reporting, many organizations instead choose to handle these issues internally. This frequently means not at all.
Fortunately, many large youth sport organizations do mandate screening. Little League International requires all leagues in the United States to conduct background checks that utilize JDP Background Screening or something comparable that searches through sex offender registry data and criminal records. The Junior Volleyball Association requires all coaches and officials to subject themselves to the screenings, as does USA Hockey and USA Swimming, which implemented the program in 2006.