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Protecting Young Athletes with SafeSport: A Call to Action

By Michelle Wolcott, MD, Joel Boyd, MD, Michael Ciccotti, MD

    • Industry Insights

Since the Larry Nassar scandal broke in 2016, there have been numerous additional reports and allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse in sports. The issues that surround this type of abuse are complex and involve opportunity and circumstance that are often not within our control.

It is, however, our responsibility to recognize and provide a safe environment for our athletes. As team physicians, we are often involved in decisions that affect an athletes’ health, safety, and well-being. We are trained to address the physical injuries of our athletes and the resultant emotional issues that accompany them, however most of us never imagined that emotional or sexual abuse would occur amongst our ranks. Reports from several governing bodies, advocacy groups, and international organizations suggest that rates of athlete abuse range from 40-50% of all athletes at all levels of sports. Most experts agree that these numbers have been under-reported. Athletes themselves have stated that they do not fully trust their organizations and their healthcare teams to keep them safe. We must begin to move forward to address their concerns... our athletes are demanding it.

Recognizing the signs and conditions that allow abusive behavior to exist is only the first step. Many organizations have developed strategies to report instances of abuse in sport, but little has been done to bring them to the attention of first-line healthcare professionals.

While we recognize that prevention begins with understanding the issues at hand, prevention requires education and implementation of these strategies. We must seek out educational training to implement change.

In 2022, AOSSM announced a partnership with the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Together, we have created an online educational training module specifically designed to help healthcare professionals recognize potential sexual abuse/harassment and provide an immediate and appropriate response.

The barriers to completing this module are varied and personal, yet the stakes are too high to ignore. We urge you, as team physicians and advocates for your athletes, to complete this vitally important module. All our athletes most certainly deserve it.

AOSSM Members: log in to access your complimentary SafeSport training.


Listening to Athletes' Voices: National Team Athletes' Perspectives on Advancing Safe Sport in Canada (Frontiers in Sports and Active Living)

Sexual Violence in Sport: American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Position Statement (Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach)

A Conceptual Analysis of Maltreatment in Sports: A Sport Social Work Perspective (Frontiers in Sports and Active Living)

Sexual Violence in Sport: American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Position Statement (Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach)

How to Report a Concern (U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee)

Lives Ruined by Abuse in Sports Made Worse by Fear of Retaliation, Athletes Say (CBC Radio)

Reports of Abuse of Athletes Continue to Emerge Across the Globe (Play the Game)

Hidden Scars: A Look at Emotional Abuse in Sports (The Kempe Foundation)

Broken Trust (documentary film)

Preliminary Report: Five Key Findings of the Elite Athlete Survey (ChildUSA)

International Olympic Committee Consensus Statement: Harassment and Abuse (Non-accidental Violence) in Sport (British Journal of Sports Medicine)

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