June 12th, 2012
03:28 PM ET

Youth sports group AAU mandates background checks for coaches, volunteers

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.

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

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Filed under: Crime • Sports
soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. David

    Have we gotten to the point where everyone involed in an event needs a background check?

    June 12, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dave

    Bout time someone figured out all we needed was a 42 point plan.

    June 12, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Larry

    42 pt plan is simply not enough - I'd like to see 50 points at a minimum

    June 12, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joaquin

      I'm sticking at 48.

      June 13, 2012 at 1:55 am | Report abuse |
  4. Buddy

    What is it about youth sports that attract adult males to become involved? If any grown man is enthusiastic about coaching little boys, that's suspect in my mind. Perhaps AAU should have added one more point to their list: #42 – male members must be castrated (chemically or physically) prior to contact with any of the athletes. That'll take the steam out of their pedo sails...

    June 13, 2012 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      Well Buddy....If not adult coaches and officials ....Who then? I resent your implication that all men and women who coach kid's sports are somehow perverted. I coached little league and AYSO soccer years ago because my son played and they needed volunteers. And by the way, I had a top secret DoD clearance at the time. I don't know about the AAU, but a background check is not gonna ferret out many S*x offenders. And other than s*x crimes, what specifically are they looking for?

      June 13, 2012 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |
    • SK88

      What a ridiculous comment. A man who wants to be a youth coach is suspect? There are tens of thousands of adults who coach children everyday and are appropriate and responsible. Don't let your paranoia get the best of you.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Buzz Mann

      So by your reasoning the fact that I like to go to the ballpark and watch little league games at park across from my house that I am a pedo.WRONG.Watching the game being played for fun is enjoyable and affordable.Can take my grandson and spend the day.And be thankful for most of the coaches and other adults that give their time freely so that these kids can have a safe ,structured good time.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. istj04

    Its interesting that "criminal background checks" are always recommended to TRY to "stop pedophiles", yet they DO NOTHING for pedophiles who HAVE NOT CRIMINAL RECORD (as Sandusky did not have!)! WHEN is someone going to figure out that it tends to be THOSE ADULTS WHO HAVE "TOO MUCH INTEREST" in BEING AROUND CHILDREN, that then to have pedophiliac tendencies? WHEN is some kind of assessment going to be developed to stop the pedophile with NO CRIMINAL RECORD from having access to kids to begin with?

    June 13, 2012 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
  6. humberto

    WOW, more rethoric .

    June 13, 2012 at 2:02 am | Report abuse |
  7. Maximus

    They weren't already doing this?

    June 13, 2012 at 5:39 am | Report abuse |
    • PJS

      Hard to believe background checks arent being done. I had to have one to chaperone a middle school field trip for my son's class!

      June 13, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  8. ajbuff

    USA Swimming adopted this type of extensive plan a couple of years ago and it has worked well. Basically coaches are on notice that if they do violate the rules, spending time alone in with children and no other adult present in non-public areas, accusations will be given the benefit of the doubt. That way coaches and adults are careful to not be alone with the kids, etc., to avoid the appearance of impropriety. It's proven to be an excellent protective system. Teachers have been subject to the same system for years – doors open in all rooms when with one or two children, no taking kids places, etc.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:50 am | Report abuse |
  9. Zoglet

    "Ever seen a grown man naked?"

    June 13, 2012 at 6:01 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jg

    I don't think a background check would have revealed anything about Sandusky. Most of these molesters are able to stay below the radar.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:16 am | Report abuse |
  11. Mary

    I believe one poster already addressed the "background check" solution, and it ONLY works for those who have been convicted and registered as s@x offenders.
    Our Elementary and Junior High schools is where to nip child raype in the bud.
    I'm throwing this out to all... Does anyone have an idea of a "plan" that could be installed in our schools?
    When pondering this question, remember to include the childs family (looking at the family as a possible source of child raype going on)
    Thank you

    June 13, 2012 at 6:35 am | Report abuse |
  12. VladT

    Its good that we continue to be a reactionary society. Studies show that most child abuse is caused by people the kids know, i.e. an uncle, cousin, etc. But Jerry Sandusky is Penn State, so now all coaches "who show interest in working with children" should be suspect? What about teachers? They enjoy working with kids, so I now suspect all teachers in an Elementary school to be a pedophile lying in wait.
    Be smart, be sensible, but don't live in a paranoid bubble. That develops high blood pressure.....:P

    June 13, 2012 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
  13. msp

    I think it is fair to demand a criminal background check for volunteers working with children. But there has to be equal protection for the adults. Now every and any organization require their volunteers to submit their SSN as part of the background check. Imagine the number of organizations and volunteers and how many people's SSN are out there for criminals to see. A lot organizations heavily relying on volunteers are small in scale and use vendors for their background checks. Some of these same organizations are also lax in security. It is not their primary business and they are not familiar with security. Having to rely on revolving sets of volunteers make security even more challenging. Now the potential volunteers' private information is changed hands to multiple organizations. There is no protection for the potential volunteers hardly.

    That is the reason I stopped volunteering at a place where I have been for over 10 years. "Trust me" is not enough in this day and age.

    June 13, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  14. Charlie

    The American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) has been doing background checks on ALL volunteers, including coaches for many years. This is all part of our Safe Haven program. We also require all volunteers to take a class to be certified in our Safe Haven program. Each Region (league) is required to have a board member trained as a Child & Volunteer Protection Advocate (CVPA).

    June 14, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
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