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Columnist: SafeSport Seeks to Prevent More Nassars

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Copyright 2018 Freedom Newspapers, Inc. Jan 25, 2018

The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado)

 

Today, a young American athlete who is being abused can go to SafeSport.org and click on a complaint link.

A welcoming and powerful organization awaits the complaint. Seven investigators work for SafeSport and three more will be hired in coming months. An office in a white building on Denver's Colorado Boulevard is filled with women and men determined to cleanse the stains on American sport.

I talked Thursday morning with Shellie Pfohl, CEO of SafeSport, which opened in February.

"We've tried to make the reporting process very easy," Pfohl said. "... We exist to provide an independent, neutral, safe place for individuals to report misconduct."

From ABHow to Stop Sexual Abuse in Sports

I wish - we all wish - SafeSport had existed before Dr. Larry Nassar invaded and polluted America's Olympic movement.

This has been a brutal week. As an American and a father, I'm appalled by and enraged at Nassar, who abused dozens of gymnasts under his care. He's evil and creepy, and to top it off he's unrepentant as he marches off to jail for 40 to 175 years.

"I was a good doctor because my treatments worked, and those patients that are now speaking out are the same ones that praised and came back over and over," Nassar wrote. "The media convinced them that everything I did was wrong and bad."

Nassar traveled to the outer limits of depravity. Now, he travels to prison, where he will face an ocean of time to consider his vile nature along with the graceful words of those who convicted him.

"Larry," former gymnast Rachael Denhollander said, "I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was. ... And I can call it evil because I know what goodness is. And this is why I pity you.

"Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you."

Retired gymnast Kelly Johnson Clarke was not a Nassar victim, but knows many who suffered.

"We cannot move forward if we can't be honest," Clarke wrote, "even if it rips our hearts out."

The ripping has begun. Senators from both parties have called for a select committee to examine the Nassar scandal, and the U.S. Olympic Committee has announced a third-party committee will investigate.

USOC chairman Scott Blackmun, a Colorado Springs resident, issued an apology Wednesday night.

"We are sorry for the pain caused by this terrible man, and sorry that you weren't afforded a safe opportunity to pursue your sports dreams," Blackmun wrote. "The Olympic family is among those that have failed you."

That family failed, but that family was behind the formation of SafeSport, created to prevent future Nassars from pillaging America's Olympic movement.

In a required step, USA Gymnastics is being purged of its leadership. For too long, those who ran the organization were blind to Nassar's sins. When the Indianapolis Star finally put a light on Nassar, those leaders sought to blur the truth.

USA Gymnastics, like other Olympic National Governing Bodies, was constructed to raise money and win gold medals, not to search for sexual predators. This does not excuse the fallen leaders at USA Gymnastics.

This does point toward the requirement for an independent organization that aggressively chases bad people. SafeSport is that organization.

Travis Tygart, who lives in Rockrimmon, serves as CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. He's motivated to serve clean American athletes, who are cheated every time a doping athlete triumphs.

"You can't promote and police effectively at the same time," Tygart said Thursday of Olympics NGBs.

Athletes, Tygart said, require an organization that will "fight hard for their rights even when it's tough to do. ... They deserve to have champions who are concerned with nothing but their rights."

At this moment in the American Olympic movement, it's as dark as a moonless night in the middle of nowhere. Children were abused, again and again, by a doctor sanctioned by USA Gymnastics. Children wondered, with cause, if revealing the actions of a beast would crush their Olympic visions.

Pfohl has watched the horror show with intense interest.

"This week has shined the light on how critically important the Center for SafeSport is," she said. "... The outrage that I feel from what I've seen and heard from this sexual predator ignites my passion even further to expand our resources, to expand our training, to expand our services to help athletes."

For too long, young athletes could find no route to safety, no path to rescue. For too long, a monster named Nassar preyed on innocents.

It's been a sad week.

But change is a click away.

Credit: David Ramsey

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