Washington News Bureau

Athletes call for changes to SafeSport to better protect survivors of abuse

WASHINGTON — The bravery of many Olympic gymnasts to speak up about abuse sparked change with the conviction of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

“I will persevere, but I never should have been left alone to suffer abuse by Larry Nassar,” Simone Biles said during a congressional hearing in September 2021.


Nassar’s case led to Congress creating the U.S. Center of SafeSport, a nonprofit that investigates reports of abuse and misconduct within the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic system.

But years later, some athletes say SafeSport isn’t living up to its crucial mission with delayed investigations.

“I want to ensure all allegations of abuse are taken serious,” Mana Shim of the U.S. Soccer Federation Participant Safety Task Force said.

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Shim is a former National Women’s Soccer League player. She told Congress was sexually harassed by her coach in 2015 and now her own SafeSport report isn’t resolved.

“He sent me explicit text messages and ordered to come alone to his hotel room where I found him waiting undressed,” Shim said. “At first, I felt like there was nothing that I could do to stop it because of the power imbalance that exists between player and coach. He determined whether I started or how much I played which meant he controlled the entire trajectory of my career.”

Shim wants more transparency and fewer investigations that end with “administrative closures.”

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“Administrative closures leave both parties in limbo indefinitely and at its worst, it can allow sexual predators to fall through the cracks and remain in sport,” Shim said.

During this hearing, Congress also heard directly from the CEO of SafeSport.

“We acknowledge that we must continue to listen and to evolve,” Ju’Riese Colón, CEO of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, said.

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Colón said they’ve heard the criticism and they’re already taking action.

“One of the things that we’ve heard loud and clear is that the Center for SafeSport needs to be more trauma-informed and more trauma-sensitive,” Colón said.

The CEO said SafeSport is working to improve communication with athletes and change how cases are resolved. SafeSport said there are also more than 2,000 names listed on its disciplinary database online.

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“It’s a first-of-its-kind public resource listing individuals who been restricted or banned from sports which any parent, local sports, legal, or employer can easily access,” she said.

Colón is also asking Congress for more support.

“With additional resources, the Center will move forward with maximum ceilings on timeframes for case resolution, as well as add additional investigative staff to meet the growing demand,” Colón said.

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