Sexual Abuse in the Olympics

Is Softball Above the Scandal?

By TSC Contributor Jessica Urban 
LOMBARD  A few weeks ago, 60 Minutes ran a report about the sexual abuse of US gymnasts at the hands of Dr Larry Nassar. In it, US gymnastics star Aly Raisman chronicles the years of abuse, and the aftermath of Nassar’s arrest. This was a very powerful piece, and I recommend anyone who has young kids in sports to watch this video. 

Since the first women came out against Nassar, many more have followed, including Raisman and her teammate Mckayla Maroney. Just last week, the Chicago Tribune had a shocking article about how sexual abuse, especially against children, is rampant in Olympic sports.


The basic outline of the article is that since 1982, there are 290 coaches and officials associated with US Olympic teams who have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct. If I had to guess, I would say the ACTUAL number is quite higher as many who are abused keep it a secret for myriad reasons. The article goes on to describe how individual governing bodies for each sport are very lacking in systems to keep athletes safe. Reading this article was so sad, and it became clear that the goal for many of these governing bodies was to produce medal-winning athletes and to ignore any problems that might stand in the way of that—including protecting predators like Dr. Nassar. (The article describes several situations across several sports that followed the same pattern of abuse and cover-up).


I was curious to see if this abuse touched softball in any way. The article states that the abuse allegations stretched across 15 sports, but did not list out the sports. To circle back, the first woman to come forward against Dr Nassar was Michigan State University star softball player Tiffany Thomas (now Lopez), who accused Nassar of abusing her way back in 1998. Her story is absolutely heartbreaking and downright disgusting. One of the worst aspects was that she tried to report what he did to her, but she was intimidated into remaining quiet. When all the allegations against Nassar came out these past few years, it seems MSU lied about not knowing about his actions until 2014. This article made me so furious, and really hits home that the “powers that be” care WAY more about money and reputation than they do about the safety of individuals.


While I could not find much about any abuse at the Olympic level softball, we are all aware that there have been some sexual assault allegations in NCAA softball. Just this year, we saw Auburn go through a scandal that involved its assistant coach having inappropriate relationships and physical contact with players. The worst part of that story was how the Auburn Athletic Director tried to intimidate players and cover up the whole incident. What an absolute disgrace. Thank God Auburn has since cleaned house, but the fact that something like that could happen at such a respected institution is just disheartening.


I did some more searching, and I found an absolutely disgusting incident with the head coach at Nyack College, Kurt Ludwigsen. Some of the lowlights of this man’s tenure include “routinely licking his players’ ears, kissing their lips and faces, slapping their buttocks, grabbing their breasts, directing them to sit on his lap, lying on top of them, commenting about their physical attributes.”  He also invited a pornographic star, Allie Haze, in to help guide the “life choices” of these athletes. The methods used included a booze-filled cocktail party where players were forced to dance with male strangers, and Haze offering to help the girls get into the adult entertainment industry. This is just mindboggling. According to the lawsuit filed by the players, they were threatened by Nyack College when they reported their coach’s wrongdoing. This is absolutely disheartening. And people are surprised that victims are reluctant to come forward?!


Does high-level athletics, especially involving young athletes (such as swimming and gymnastics), lend itself to predatory behavior? My answer is "yes." Folks with predatory inclinations gravitate towards jobs/situations where they will have unquestioned power over—as well as unsupervised access to—children; jobs like priest, teacher, coach, and team trainer/doctor fall into this category. 


Also, in these highly, highly competitive sports—especially individual sports—athletes and parents are going to be very reluctant to “rock the boat” as they know there are 100 other athletes in line to take their place. The Tribune article even stated that in US Gymnastics, parents were discouraged from even being present at training camps for fear the coaches would have to relinquish any control over the athletes. For these young athletes, they assume that they can trust the adults around them, and they SHOULD be able to. Unfortunately, monsters like Nassar are able to take advantage of this vulnerability. Aly Raisman says as much in the 60 Minutes piece.


The actions at Auburn and Nyack show it’s not just Olympic-level athletes who are at risk—predators can be lurking anywhere, and even the powers that are supposed to protect athletes sometimes do the opposite.


It is such a shame organizations like the USOC and NCAA value medals and money at the expense of their athletes, who are sometimes young children! Organizations need to do a MUCH better job at vetting coaches/officials/doctors. The Nyack coach had two sexual abuse allegations on his record when he was hired!! The reporting systems need to be in place to protect the ATHLETE, not the INSTITUTION! The hardest reality is that parents need to have open talks with their children about sexual abuse. Aly Raisman spoke about this, and it’s important for kids to know that no adult, no matter who they are, should touch you in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable.


As my kids are getting to the age where they will participate in organized sports, I am saddened to think about how messed up that world can be!!!  Read more.


Softball Returns to the Olympics

Fastpitch Reinstated for 2020 Tokyo Games

By TSC Analyst/Contributor Daniel Urban 
LOMBARD The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has voted to re-include softball in the Olympic program in 2020.  According to IOC vice president John Coates, the IOC executive board was unanimous in its decision to recommend the addition of five sports, including softball/baseball, to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  The other four sports are karate, surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing.

Softball was removed from Olympic competition following the 2008 Games in Beijing, breaking the hearts of millions of fans from both America—the perennial powerhouse—and around the world.  That sparked an eight-year grassroots campaign for reinstatement.

That tireless work has finally paid off.

The fact that Japan is a softball- and baseball-crazed nation sure didn’t hurt.  According to Coates, the five added sports represent a good balance between those that are very popular in Japan and those that better engage youth.

Adding to the drama is the fact that America closed out its Olympic career with a silver medal finish to Japan in 2008, so the thought of a rematch with the gold medalists on their home turf is almost too much to bear.

Only one hurtle remains: a confirmatory vote by the IOC general assembly in Rio de Janeiro on the eve of the 2016 Olympics.  Since the IOC executive board is forwarding a unanimous recommendation to the assembly, this should be a mere formality.

The opening ceremony is slated for August 5th, so we should know something definite by August 4th.  Stay tuned! Read more.


Olympic Softball's (Poor) Replacement

Golf Falls Far Short of Fastpitch

By TSC Analyst/Contributor Daniel Urban 
LOMBARD Olympic golf is a farce.  Olympic golf is a joke.  And yet we are going to be forced to watch Olympic golf this year instead of Olympic softball.

If you remember, back in 2005 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to drop baseball and softball for the 2012 London Games, and in their place the IOC added golf and rugby.

I'm sure the members of the IOC thought this would be a great way get cozy with famous pro golfers like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, but it has not worked out that way.  The best golfers in the game are excusing themselves from the 2016 Rio Games in droves and, after looking at some of the facts surrounding Olympic golf, the sad situation is, it makes sense.

Simply stated, money talks.  Pro golfers are paid--quite handsomely in fact--whereas most Olympians earn nothing for their efforts.  A trip to Rio would mean missing the John Deere Classic in Illinois with its $4.8 million grand prize. And after the Olympics, players would need to race back to North Carolina to compete in the Wyndham Championship with its $5.4 million grand prize.

As a matter of fact, golf is already an international event almost every weekend of the summer--all the best  golfers in the world already compete in a flagship series of annual tournaments known as the PGA Tour.  And there is already an Olympic-style event called the Ryder Cup, where golfers compete on teams divided by country.

The Olympics is supposed to be the ultimate international event, but the Olympics will be no different than any of the four golf majors that happen every year.

So it's no surprise that big name pro golfers are fleeing the Olympics like a sweet drive down the fairway.  The top four in the golf world--Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIllroy--have all dropped out.  Many golfers are citing concerns over Zika virus, but most media pundits believe that is just a convenient excuse to skip playing for no pay, so they can rest up and focus on events that actually earn them some cash.

Olympic golf is a farce, and this farce is part of the reason why softball is not in the Olympics this year.  Olympic softball had all of the best athletes in the world lining up to play for it, while Olympic golf has only second-tier no-name players. Read more.


Does Softball Need Its Own Olympics?

Maybe Its Time for Fastpitch to Step Up Its Game Internationally

By TSC Contributor KCSoftball 
LOMBARD Softball has the World Cup but it needs to start an "alternate Olympics," some kind of "International World Championships." The event could be held every four years during August for women's & men's teams, moved from country to country, and funded by sponsors to make the "rewards" very high for the teams that take part; maybe paid travel & general expenses or a nice payday for the top three finishers. All the Asian, European & other quality teams could be invited to take part. There are some good teams out there—maybe not of the USA/Japan caliber, but they will only get better if they get to play good teams.  
There are around 125 countries (and growing) that play some form of competitive women's fastpitch. Some of the European teams are: Netherlands, Italy, England, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Sweden, Spain and many others. There is also a surprisingly large number of professional teams in Europe, and also a surprisingly large number of American players playing in them, so Japan and the NPF are not the only places to play pro ball!  
Closer to home, I have to wonder why Mexico is not competing at a level with the USA Team. There are a lot of high quality Mexican players out there in our Division I schools. England sent a team to last year's World Cup and they played very well—I was impressed with how far they have come. The Netherlands is always good. There are so many good teams throughout the world and they will only get better if they have international competition to play against.  
Also, let's make it easier for foreign teams to pick up American players for international competition. I would think the US alone could roster half the teams in the world with quality players if given the chance! Just look at the Women's "Amateur" 23U or Major Team rosters. There are so many quality players out there who would love a chance to play internationally/professionally. Heck, there is enough talent for a full-time eight-team professional league!  
I know, I know, the politics of it all will not allow it to happen. Every organization wants to be the top dog and won't give an inch to the others. The Team USA, NCAA, ASA, USSSA, and IOC all want to be in charge and won't give a millimeter to make it work. But as they say, "Young men have visions, old men dream dreams," so (given my age) my vision for women's fastpitch is allowed to fall into the dream category.  
Lastly, softball in the Olympics is a moneymaker—it always sells out its stadium for games. The television ratings were also very good, so lack of revenue is not a reason for dropping softball.  
What is the real reason for the elimination of softball from Olympic competition? The head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, had a large disagreement with Major League Baseball, and baseball & softball are thought of as the same sport by him. He waged a campaign to get rid of these sports thinking he would get back at the MLB, but he didn't. Instead he punished all the baseball/softball-playing countries. MLB couldn't care less about the Olympics!  
Thankfully, Rogge will be replaced later this year. Hopefully the new IOC President will look more favorably on softball. Read more.


The Myth of US Olympic Softball Dominance

Team USA's Superiority was NOT a Valid Reason to Remove Softball from the Games

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN 
LOMBARD Softball was removed from Olympic competition following the 2008 Games in Beijing. Several reasons were cited by the International Olympic Committee for its decision to exclude the sport: (1) a lack of "universality" (meaning softball is not played in enough countries), (2) a suggestion that softball was caught in the steroid storm that caused baseball to be removed from the Games the same year, and (3) Team USA softball was too dominant. The purpose of this article is to dispute (3).

Plenty of other national teams are as dominant—or even MORE dominant—than Team USA was during softball's Olympic run from 1996-2008. During that period Team USA won 3 gold medals and 1 silver medal; below are the list of national teams that were either as dominant or more so during that same timespan:

1. 10,000 Meter Run (Men): Ethiopia; 4 gold medals

2. Archery (Team Men): South Korea; 3 gold medals, 1 silver medal

3. Archery (Women): South Korea; 4 gold medals

4. Archery (Team Women): South Korea; 4 gold medals

5. Basketball (Women): USA; 4 gold medals (Team USA men's basketball has won 3 gold medals and 1 bronze medal since 1996 and are therefore not as dominant as Team USA softball)

6. Fencing (Women): Italy; 3 gold medals, 1 silver medal

7. Equestrian (Women): France; 3 gold medals, 1 silver medal

8. Soccer (Women): USA; 3 gold medals, 1 silver medal

9. Gymnastics (Men): China; 3 gold medals, 1 silver medal

10. Judo-Lightweight (Men): China; 3 gold medals, 1 silver medal

11. Synchronized Swimming (Women): Russia; 3 gold medals (was not offered at 1996 games)

12. Table Tennis (Men): China; 3 gold medals, 3 silver medals, 3 bronze medals (Chinese men players won 9 of the 12 total medals awarded from 1996-2008)

13. Table Tennis (Women): China; 4 gold medals, 2 silver medals, 2 bronze medals (Chinese women players won 8 of of the 12 total medals awarded from 1996-2008)

14. Beach Volleyball (Men): USA; 3 gold medals, 1 silver medal

Three nations stand out as particularly dominant. The first is South Korea which has been overwhelmingly strong in team men's archery, women's archery, and team women's archery.

The second is China which has had a monopoly on ping pong. Chinese players have won more than 70% of the total medals awarded in the sport, including 7 of 8 gold medals from 1996-2004.

The third is Ethiopia which has had a stranglehold on the 10,000 meter men's distance run.

South Korean, Chinese and Ethiopian sports have dominated their competition from 1996-2008 considerably more than US softball did during its era, yet there was no talk of removing those sports.

There are also three events that the US has been equally or more dominant in than softball from 1996-2008: women's soccer, women's basketball and men's beach volleyball. Most intriguingly, two of these sports, basketball and volleyball, are very similar to softball.

These three sports were all invented in America sometime around the turn of the 20th century, were later added for international play at the Olympics, and are very popular in America now. The US has always fielded competitive Olympic teams for each. Yet for some reason, softball was singled out as the sport that was not allowed to continue in the Games.

The line of reasoning that the US is too dominant in international softball and that this led to its Olympic demise is, by itself, a flawed line of reasoning. Read more.

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