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AAU Forbids One-on-0ne Adult-Youth Contact After Abuse Inquiry

The Amateur Athletic Union is banning all one-on-one contact between adults and youths as part of steps to prevent abuse following allegations last year that a former president of the group molested two basketball players.

The organization, which says it has 500,000 youth participants, released the policy today after a review by two independent task forces. The studies were implemented after two former athletes said the group’s one-time president, Bobby Dodd, 63, abused them in the 1980s when they were 12 and 16. Dodd has denied the allegations and no formal charges have been brought against him.

In addition to the ban on one-on-one contact, the AAU will require that all adults -- from volunteer coaches to the organization’s staff -- have detailed background checks, and that all volunteers and staff be required to report any incidents of suspected child abuse to law enforcement and to officials of the AAU and related sports clubs.

“The new steps the AAU is taking will safeguard children participating in amateur sports across the country, so that we can continue our proud philosophy of ‘Sports for All, Forever,” AAU President Louis Stout said in a statement. “These steps are not being implemented because we suspect anyone -- rather, we must make these changes because we expect everyone to be willing to help us build a deeper trust and culture of safety.”

Dodd stepped down in November to undergo colon-cancer surgery after being the organization’s president since 1992.

The AAU, based in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, created two task forces in December -- one of child-safety experts and another of law-enforcement officials -- to review its policies for protecting young athletes from sexual predators and for screening adult volunteers.

Allegations Elsewhere

The organization’s actions came as two high-profile coaches were accused of sexually abusing children.

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with 52 criminal counts of child sex abuse over a 15-year span. Testimony in his trial started yesterday. Sandusky has denied any wrongdoing.

Syracuse University men’s assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, 65, was fired in November after police initiated an investigation into allegations he molested two former ball boys. No charges have been brought and Fine has denied wrongdoing. In April, Maccabi Bazan Haifa of the Israeli Basketball Super League hired him as a consultant, according to ESPN.

AAU’s Recommendations

The AAU’s study of its policies resulted in a 31-page report with 42 recommendations, ranging from education programs to reporting policies and the banning of people from participating in AAU activities for breaking the rules.

Stout says the recommendation likely to have the most immediate impact is the requirement for background screening of staff and volunteers at the club level. The AAU has contracted LexisNexis Solutions to conduct background screenings whenever a coach, volunteer or other individual registers for or renews an AAU membership. This will begin Sept. 1.

“Every adult who wants to volunteer or wants to be involved with AAU athletes will be screened,” James Parker, director of operations for the AAU, said in a statement. “This screening process will be an effective deterrent to keep the bad guys away.”

Parker said the new policies will require changes that will affect the thousands of adults who have done nothing wrong. For instance, when an athlete is disciplined, the coach will no longer be allowed to be with the youngster alone. At least two adults will have to be in the room at all times. Parker said special emphasis will be placed on this rule when traveling to AAU competitions.

Adult Screenings

Many national youth organizations have policies that include background checks and pre-employment screening for adults.

USA Swimming promoted Susan Woessner to the role of athletic protection officer in September 2010, about nine months after the sentencing of former San Jose-area swim coach Andy King, who pleaded no-contest to 20 molestation charges and is serving a 40-year prison sentence.

The swimming governing body used to conduct background checks on coaches, but expanded that to include any of the 30,000 adults, whether coaches or volunteers, who interact with youths. It also now requires pre-employment screenings for local clubs that include reviews of motor-vehicle records and education and requires clubs to check references. It also lists the names of coaches and volunteers who have been banned from the sport.

Little League

Little League Baseball oversees 7,000 leagues worldwide, with more than 1 million volunteers and more than 2.5 million players. Every adult, whether a coach or concession-stand worker, must fill out an application that matches their names against the national sex-offender registry as part of a background check. The system has been in place since 2003.

Child sex-abuse cases dropped 55 percent to 65,964 in 2009 from about 150,000 in 1992, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A second study mandated by Congress reported in 2010 that the number of sexually abused children decreased 38 percent to 135,300 in 2006 from 217,700 in 1993.

The numbers from the second study are larger because it includes additional data collected by teachers, police officers, health-care professionals and day-care workers.

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