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'Pure Baseball' Aims To Guard Kids

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When USA Baseball’s chief development officer Rick Riccobono mentions Senate Bill 534 to anyone, he knows that he usually is going to get a lot of blank stares.

A year from now, he hopes that is no longer the case. Very few people in baseball realize it yet, but a new law is requiring significant changes to how coaches, trainers and other adults interact with athletes who are minors.

“We’ve got to get the word out,” Riccobono said. In the wake of sex abuse scandals that rocked USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics, Congress approved the “Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act” last winter. The new law puts in a lengthy list of new requirements for any team, organization or individual who works with minors. The goal of the legislation is to safeguard kids from sexual abuse.

“You think about what’s happened in other sports in this country and around the world, you look at our participation numbers and knowing this is a societal issue,” Riccobono said, “(and) I think to sit here and say this just doesn’t occur is a very foolhardy approach. It’s one we’re going to work hard to raise awareness against and get people on board.”

The goal is one everyone can agree with, but to adhere to the law will in many cases require coaches, trainers and other baseball staff to significantly change the way they interact with players.

“We’re going to save some kid somewhere. We can’t lose sight of that,” Riccobono said. “That’s the kind of commitment we’re looking for. I think the baseball community will respond to this, but there is a lot of work to do.”

In the past, it’s been common for a coach to swing by and pick up some kids on their way to practice. Going forward, it is recommended that no coach or other baseball staff member travel with minor athletes (other than their own children) unless there is another adult present.

Similarly, it is recommended going forward that coaches and other baseball staff not text or otherwise communicate electronically with minor athletes on a one-on-one basis. Group texts are OK, but direct messaging a player individually is against recommended policies. And when a team hits the road, any team meetings should be held in a public meeting area, not a hotel room.

All the policies and rules are all set up to limit one-on-one private meetings between an adult and an athlete who is a minor, because it is in those one-on-one settings that abuse is most likely to occur. It’s going to require sweeping changes for many, and it applies to most everyone. If you are a part of a team, organization or company that has adults interacting with children under the age of 18, this law is aimed at you. And it is not optional.

“What (the law) essentially says is, if you are an organization with adults with regular access to minors, this applies to you,” Riccobono said.

To help baseball organizations and teams adapt to the new law, USA Baseball has unveiled Pure Baseball which is a set of resources that will enable pretty much any baseball group who works
with minors to be on the right side of the new law.

To be in compliance with the new law, there are four main items that organizations and teams need to adopt. Pure Baseball will provide resources to meet all four requirements.

The first is proper reporting of incidents. Under the law, if anyone in an organization is told of an incident, that incident must be reported to proper legal authorities within 24 hours, which means groups will need to set up policies and train everyone on staff to be aware of the reporting requirements.

The second focus is background checks. Too often in the past, banned or suspended coaches in one city or state have been able to move on to another state where no one is aware of their previous problems. To fix that, USA Baseball will maintain a public list of banned/suspended coaches and staff. That list will be shared with USA Softball (and vice versa) to ensure banned coaches can’t just shift to a new area.

Anyone working with minors in athletics going forward is required by the new law to have a background check. At the minimum, baseball teams and organizations must run a search of the national criminal database and sex offender registry. With Pure Baseball, USA Baseball will provide a resource that can execute background checks for any baseball organization. The background check will carry a cost, but USA Baseball is passing it along at direct cost with no markup.

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The third focus is proper education. Both adults and minors are required to have training for abuse awareness. USA Baseball is providing a pair of free Webinars hosted by long-time major league catcher David Ross that meet those abuse awareness training requirements for adults and athletes.

But probably the most important aspect of the new law is the requirement that organizations have proper policies in place to protect minor athletes. Any organization that adopts Pure Baseball’s recommended policies and best practices will be in compliance with the law as well.

“There are no one-on-one meetings. There’s going to be me and another staff member. There are no closed-door meetings,” Riccobono said.

The new law is going to require plenty of baseball organizations around the country to spend time preparing and adjusting how they conduct their business. But Pure Baseball (available at www.purebaseball.org) provides the resources to allow any organization to be in compliance with the new law.

“We feel like we are providing everything you need to be successful in this area . . .

We’ve done all the work. Any organization can just adopt all these policies and be covered,” Riccobono said. “When all the resources you need to be successful to the degree that is possible are laid out for you in November (before the season). You’re kind of going to be on an island if you are the organization that doesn’t have these solutions in place.”

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