USA Volleyball CEO Jamie Davis testified before a House Subcommittee this morning, talking in detail about the two life-time bans of former volleyball coach Rick Butler. Davis was one of a group of sports executives who testified in today’s hearing.
Also testifying were U.S. Olympic Committee acting CEO Susanne Lyons, USA Gymnastics CEO Kerry Perry, USA Taekwondo executive director Steve McNally, USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey and U.S. Center for SafeSport CEO Shellie Pfohl.
The hearing itself lasted almost three hours, and while there were notable exceptions, the questioning was much less harsh than the much-discussed Mark Zuckerberg Facebook hearing earlier this year. Many of the representatives lamented that the many positives of the Olympic movement weren’t able to be discussed. In some ways, that was perhaps a product of the testifying group’s very short tenures with their organizations.
None of the testifying CEOs have been in their posts longer than a year and a half. Hinchey took over USA Swimming last summer. Perry is brand new to USA Gymnastics as of December 2017. Lyons took over the USOC just under three months ago after Scott Blackmun resigned. McNally took over USA Taekwondo last fall and Davis started with USA Volleyball in early 2017. Pfohl is actually the longest-tenured of the bunch, and was only named to her post in November of 2016, the year the Center was officially founded.
The notable exception was Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA), who was very harsh in his criticism of USOC acting chief Lyons and Gymnastics head Perry for their organizations failures to address sexual abuse concerns, though several representatives jumped in after him to note that neither Lyons nor Perry were in charge of their organizations when the subjects of Carter’s complaints took place.
The questions from Congress often centered around a few key topics: public banned lists for sporting organizations, background checks for coaches and the lengthy 3-year delay between the 2014 USOC approving the creation of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and the opening of the Center in 2017. We’ll break down some of the specifics of Davis’s testimony and the testimony of the other executives below.
USA Volleyball Specifics
More than the other CEOs, Davis spoke glowingly of USA Volleyball’s past reputation for player safety, saying the organization was leading in the area of SafeSport before it became widely known as “SafeSport,” and that USA Volleyball was proactive in preventing abuse, rather than changing policy in response to scandals.
“We were one of the first NGBs to implement a robust background screening policy,” Davis said in his testimony, noting that the organization required background screens for anyone coaching youth volleyball as early as 2004-2005.
Davis spent most of his testimony talking about the specific case of Rick Butler, a former coach and volleyball club owner who has now been lifetime-banned by the organization twice.
Per Davis, Butler was banned for life in 1995 on allegations by three of his former players that he’d had sexual relationships with them while they were under the age of 18. Butler eventually requested reinstatement, and USA Volleyball conditionally reinstated him in 2000, on the condition that he would never be able to coach junior girls again.
In late 2016, several more women came forward with sexual misconduct claims against Butler, dating back to the 1980s. As a result, USA Volleyball banned Butler again in January of this year with no chance for reinstatement. Davis read from a letter in which advocacy group Champion Women CEO Nancy Hogshead-Makar applauded the decision.
Butler was in the news just last month, as he was spotted on the sidelines watching his former club compete. He is banned from coaching youth players, but legally, the event couldn’t bar him from watching the event as a spectator.
Later in the hearing, Rep. Jan Schakowski (D-IL) called Butler’s reinstatement “unacceptable,” criticizing USA Volleyball for allowing him back into coaching for 18 years after he’d been previously banned.
U.S. Center for SafeSport:
The Center for SafeSport was created last year to investigate sexual abuse allegations in all Olympic sports. You can read more about it here.
- Pfohl provided some numbers that show the growing role of the Center in its just more than a year of existence. She said the Center got more than 500 reports last year and was expecting to at least double that number this year. She said that where at this time last year, the Center was dealing with 20 to 30 reports a month, it is now dealing with 20 to 30 reports a week.
- The Center has handed down 169 sanctions, 142 of them being lifetime bans.
- More than half of the Center’s current budget is coming from the USOC, which contributed $2.7 million last year and will contribute $3.1 million over each of the next two years (2018 and 2019). The total budget of the Center is $4.6 million a year, and it employs 5 full-time investigators and 7 externally-contracted investigators.
- The Center has previously said it is looking to diversity its funding to avoid conflicts of interest with the NGBs and USOC funding most of its budget. But Pfohl said at the moment, the Center doesn’t even have the resources to carry out the audits of NGBs that new federal legislation requires it to conduct.
- “We deal in facts,” Pfohl said, in addressing concerns that the Center’s investigative process wouldn’t provide fairness or due process to victims or accused individuals.
- She said investigations average 63 days in length, though she said some are significantly longer and some much shorter.
Pfohl also laid out more specifics on the Center’s investigative process:
- A report comes in, whether via phone, e-mail, named or anonymous
- The Center triages the reports, addressing the most pressing ones first. Pfohl said reports involving accused abusers who are still active get priority, as do cases involving a minor.
- If the report alleges a crime (particularly sexual abuse of a minor), the Center contacts law enforcement
- If a victim is still in “harm’s way” or if there is potential for others to become victims, the Center will hand down an interim measure (like an interim suspension) before completing its investigation.
- An investigator carries out the investigation, gathering evidence from the alleged victim, the accused and any witnesses, and puts all the evidence into a report
- The Center’s Director of Investigations analyzes the report, determines if a violation of the SafeSport Code has occurred and hands down a sanction
Pfohl said there are options for arbitration at both the stage of the interim measure (if given) and at the final sanctioning stage.
- Representatives pressed Lyons about the USOC’s ability to fund the Center, noting that USOC revenue is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Lyons said the USOC was willing to fund more if the Center needs it.
- A representative brought up several pieces of the USOC’s own official documents that reference the impact on the USOC’s reputation as one factor to consider in handing out a suspension. “I have to admit to not having seen that before, and I have to say it does not belong on that list,” Lyons said. Pfohl was also questioned, and noted that the intent of those lines were to allow organizations to suspend members for conduct that could hurt the image of the organization, rather than to caution against handing out penalties that would hurt the image of a federation. Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) cautioned the organizations that the wording could be misinterpreted or used wrongly in the future and recommended rewording those sections.
- The USOC was also chided for its slow process in establishing the Center for investigations. The USOC approved a working group in 2010 (Lyons said that was largely due to the huge scandals in USA Swimming at the time), the working group recommended in 2013 that an independent entity be established to investigate sex offenses, the USOC approved the Center in 2014, but the Center wasn’t established until 2017. Lyons admitted that “it did take too long,” and said the delay was due to funding and insurance issues, as well as getting individual NGBs up to mandatory compliance requirements.
You can watch the full session here: