Softball Notebook

The Softball Channel’s Fastpitch Blog

25  01 2018

Sexual Abuse in the Olympics

Is Softball Above the Scandal?

By Jessica Urban
TSC Contributor

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!!!

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