Jacksonville Olympian urges legislators to support bill to protect young athletes from sex abuse

By: Jenna Bourne , Action News Jax

Updated:

A bill that would help protect young athletes from sexual abuse awaits action in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This week, Jacksonville Olympic gold medalist, attorney and rape survivor Nancy Hogshead-Makar sent letters to representatives in all 50 states urging them to move forward.

The bill passed in the Senate last month.

“I trusted USA gymnastics, but I was sexually abused, as were so many other athletes,” Jacksonville native and national rhythmic gymnastics champion Jessica Howard told senators in March.

She told them her story of abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar, the Team USA gymnastics physician. Nassar, who possessed child pornography and assaulted gymnasts, was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison in one of three criminal cases.

Hogshead-Makar said young athletes are at risk for abuse by the adults they trust most.

“Coaches can abuse their power, like Harvey Weinstein-like power, over scholarships, and playing time, and skill development, and how much attention they get, and whether or not they get introduced to the college coach,” Hogshead-Makar said.

She’s urging representatives across the country to support the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017.

“It gives the Olympic committee and all of the national governing bodies – so USA swimming, USA gymnastics, USA track and field, etc., there’s 47 of these – gives them all a legal duty to protect that kid from abuse,” Hogshead-Makar said.

The law doesn’t just protect Olympic athletes; it also makes adults who work with kids in club sports mandatory reporters of abuse, the way teachers and physicians already are.

“They won’t be able to just let a coach quietly go away. They’re going to have to report them both to police and to this new entity that’s going to be created by the statute called Safe Sport,” Hogshead-Makar said.

She said the changes would create a safer playing field in Jacksonville and across the country.

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