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Coach/Athlete Education: Misconduct, Sexual Harassment and Legal Liability

Planning for the next academic year has already started with August athlete and coach orientation and workshop sessions high on the list of priority programming.  Sexual harassment and other forms of coach and student-athlete misconduct are  “must do” sessions along with issues of legal liability given the current litigation and media risk landscape.  Educational programming and policy revisions must define clear behavioral expectations and what constitutes misconduct.  What should the content of these sessions include?

Q: Are sexual harassment and inappropriate coach-athlete relationships a new problem?

A:  No.  Sexual harassment and inappropriate coach-athlete relationships have always been a part of the sport landscape.  Unfortunately, in the past, student-athletes were afraid of reporting coaches, parents often took the side of the coach and told their children to “tough it out”.   The media, afraid of reduced access to coaches they offended, ignored the issue and schools and colleges did their best to sweep these situations under the rug.

What makes today different are a series of factors:

Q: Is domestic violence covered by Title IX and does the institution have an obligation to act?

A:  Yes.   If a male and female student-athlete are dating each other and during a team trip off-campus, they begin fighting with each other, the institution has anobligation to act.   Interpersonal violence, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, if based on gender, is a violation of Title IX if occurring on-campus or off-campus during or associated with college activities, such as team trips.

Q: In cases of rape, is the institution required to wait until a criminal investigation is completed before acting?

A:  Absolutely not.   As soon as the institution becomes aware of rape or sexual harassment, Title IX requires the institution to do all of the following: (1) act immediately to stop it and restore a safe environment, (2) act immediately to prevent its reoccurrence, (3) advise the victim of his/her right to file a formal complaint and explain the procedure for doing so, (4) assure the victim that he/she will not have to confront her alleged abuser in the complaint process and (5) report the behavior and submit the complaint to the Title IX Coordinator and if criminal behavior

Social Media and the Issue of Respect

There is a tendency for athletics departments to place stringent restrictions on the use of social media by student-athletes.  On one hand, social media use should not be used to violate athletics department or institutional policies on such standard subjects as sexual harassment, bullying, respectful conduct,  or conformance with NCAA or governance association rules.  On the other hand, every student-athlete and staff member has a right to free speech.  Thus, the athletics department should consider utilizing educational efforts as its primary mechanism to encourage res

Sample Student-Athlete Participation Agreement

STUDENT-ATHLETE NAME____________________________________SPORT______________________

I understand that a fulfilling educational sport experience requires the exercise of responsibilities on the part of both personnel associated with the athletics program and student-athletes.  As a student-athlete, I understand my responsibility to commit to the principles of self-discipline, collaborative effort and team building, and to be an ambassador for the institution.

Academic Standards

Transforming a Culture of Physical Abuse to One of Respect

The macho, tough-it-out culture of highly competitive sport encourages athletes to endure physical pain or abusive levels of exertion in silence.  It is also common for competitive sport environments to breed an expectation of student-athlete obedience to the demands of coaches, even if such demands are unreasonable.  Student-athlete acknowledgement of physical distress is often interpreted by teammates and coaches as a sign of weakness, generating peer pressure to maintain silence and play through injury and potentially dangerous levels of fatigue.   Often, misguided no

Q: What role should the athletics policy board play in advancing diversity?

A:   In higher education, an athletics policy board, usually named the Intercollegiate Athletics Council, consisting of faculty, administrators and alumni from outside the athletics department is often a governance association requirement.  Even if it isn’t, having an objective, majority faculty oversight board in place to annually review key diversity performance indicators and to be involved and invested in the achievement of diversity objectives is very beneficial.  Consideration should be given to establishing a goal for this group to be 40-60% minority (female and n