Overwhelmed by Complaints, U.S. Center for SafeSport Faces Growing Criticism

by Riley Overend 30

July 31st, 2023 News

Mounting criticism of the U.S. Center for SafeSport is reaching a boiling point.

Created in 2017 to address abuse in Olympic sports, the Denver-based organization is overwhelmed with 150 new complaints each week piling on top of 1,000 open cases — a quarter of which are more than a year old. Fewer than 15% of SafeSport investigations have resulted in formal resolutions, while almost 38% were “administratively closed” with no findings, sanctions or even allegations released.

“Too often, the investigations take months or years to begin, and in the end are too slow to be effective within the real-life timeframe in which our athletes and sports happen,” former U.S. Biathlon president Max Cobb told the Associated Press last week. “This creates a long period of inaction that in many cases is worse or nearly as bad as the initial offense.”

Two weeks ago, the entire U.S. women’s World Cup team lobbied Congress for reform, writing that “SafeSport is failing in what it was meant to achieve.” Last year, former U.S. attorney general Sally Yates concluded in a report that SafeSport “does not have the resources necessary to promptly address the volume of complaint it receives.”

SafeSport is currently operating with about 60 full-time investigators on an annual budget of $23 million. The government funds just $2.3 million of that budget — compared to more than half of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s $28.5 million budget — with the rest coming from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC).

Last year, ESPN and ABC News learned that the USOPC raises part of its $20 million portion by making individual sports federations pay fees based on the number of allegations reported to SafeSport and the amount of work required to resolve them.

Some have questioned whether SafeSport can accomplish its mission of ending abuse in sport if the organization is funded so heavily by the organizations it is supposed to regulate.

“Going to SafeSport is like your local diocese saying ’Hey, got a problem with a local priest? Call us,’” said attorney Jon Little. “There’s no way the way it’s set up was ever going to work.”

SafeSport CEO Ju’Riese Colon said the organization’s budget was calculated back when about 2,700 complaints were coming in; now that number has ballooned to 8,000. “All things considered,” Colon said, she thinks SafeSport is doing “quite well.” But more resources are a must.

“If I was to look into the future about what we really need, we need at least double what we have today,” Colon said.

SafeSport has also been granted a level of legal immunity. Last August, U.S. Paralympic gold medalist swimmer Robert Griswold was given a temporary suspension for unspecified allegations of misconduct, his second appearance in the SafeSport database after an entry in September of 2020. SwimSwam uncovered those allegations of misconduct in the coming months as fellow para swimmer Parker Egbert filed a lawsuit against Griswold, USA Swimming, and SafeSport for failing to protect him from alleged abuse.

“SafeSport had actual knowledge of multiple prior instances, or at a minimum credible allegations, of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse perpetrated by Griswold, yet turned a blind eye and/or conspired to cover-up such allegations, on each occasion,” the lawsuit read.

However, nearly a full year later, SafeSport has yet to release any updates. SafeSport has since been dropped from Egbert’s lawsuit because legal precedent has determined that the organization has absolute immunity from lawsuits challenging its eligibility decisions: “SafeSport simply cannot serve its purpose of protecting amateur athletes if it subject to the threat of liability for every eligibility decision it makes.”

SafeSport cited the number of complaints it receives as an argument for absolute legal immunity in the Griswold case.

“Given the sheer volume of cases handled by the Center, allowing lawsuits like this — when someone disagrees with how the Center adjudicated allegations of misconduct — would effectively bury the Center in lawsuits and end its ability to function,” SafeSport wrote in its motion to dismiss.

Colon defended SafeSport’s system, saying that only focusing on elite athletes would leave “around 10 million people in a place where they had no recourse.” In response to the letter from the U.S. Soccer Athletes Council, she commented that “there is no way to satisfy every party in a Response and Resolution outcome, but the Center is deeply committed to continuous improvement.”

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Sammy B
2 months ago

Deciding on problems of this magnitude based on some ridiculously flawed, biased rules was doomed from the very beginning. One cannot apply “preponderance of the evidence” on serious cases. Real victims of crimes cannot be served though these cangoroo courts such as Safe Sport, neither can people wrongfully accused. Mind you, it is enough for someone to place an anonymous claim for someone to be immediately removed from their place of work. Even if an accusation is false, it would take a person at least to years to reverse the charges (if innocent, of course) after which (and hundreds of thousands of Dollars payed to lawyers) they can sue their false accuser and pay another outrageous amount of money. Most… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Sammy B
Kevin Henderson
6 months ago

USA Swimming Safe Sport is ineffective.  There are thousands of kids emotionally abused or neglected every week in America by insecure and controlling coaches.  These abuses are orders of magnitude more damaging to USA Swimming than any physically abused child.  Any parent with a modicum of sensibility would be able to prevent grooming or sexual predation, both of which are matters for local law enforcement, not Safe Sport.

Safe Sport is the greatest failure of USA Swimming.  The management deserves ridicule and contempt and should be disbanded.

Sammy B
Reply to  Kevin Henderson
2 months ago

Safe Sport should be disbaned, I agree. For the sake of real victims and for the sake of the wrongfully accused.
If in doubt and need of protection, we should encourage our athletes to contact our law enforcement where the main rule is ethe vidence-based inquiry.

6 months ago

SafeSport was implemented to protect the NGBs under the guise of athlete protection.

Air Quality at YMCA Pools
6 months ago

Justice for all the women who have to share the same locker room as biological men, some of whom still have their male reproductive organ.

Swimmin in the South
Reply to  Air Quality at YMCA Pools
6 months ago

Bringing this full circle, the girls should have called the safesport hotline during the meet to report a biological male in the locker room walking around naked, thus colliding the two major issues.

Air Quality at YMCA Pools
Reply to  Swimmin in the South
6 months ago

That would be hilarious! Unfortunately, I think the trans community is winning the battle on that one. RIP to women’s rights.

Stop defending predators
Reply to  Air Quality at YMCA Pools
6 months ago

Men can’t help but make everything about them.

6 months ago

Horribly run organization. After nearly 4 years a coach of 36 years still can’t get a resolution to his case.

6 months ago

I quit being a S&T judge for USA Swimming for exactly this reason. I was being asked to report any allegation of safe sport, where *I* could be held liable, but not USA Swimming

6 months ago

Call the lawyer, Bob Allard. He is Safesport! The way this organization is set up is like the foxes (USAS/USOC) guarding the henhouse (athlete protection)…

6 months ago

It’s sad that doping gets more money but safe sport is concerned with more important crimes. Add a fan of sport I care about clean sports but don’t think it is the government’s problem to stop it. Child abuse is almost always a part of Safe Sport complaints, should be a much higher priority to stop.

Reply to  JimSwim22
6 months ago

And unfortunately cases like those of USA Gymnastics have demonstrated that these organizations may not have the best of intentions.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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