From Endurance to Dressage
SafeSport: Who is it Protecting?
It's no secret that I am not a fan of SafeSport. Not a fan is an understatement, actually. I recognize that my opinion on this particular topic is not shared by many people, but frankly, I am okay with that.
I should probably provide a bit of context before essentially saying that I don't support an organization who's purported goal is to a build "a sport community where participants can work and learn together free of emotional, physical and sexual abuse and misconduct." Because really, what kind of human being would not want that? So here goes ...
I am a veteran elementary school teacher of thirty years. I am a mandated reporter who could face prison if I were to knowingly fail to report child abuse, or even suspected abuse. Penal Code 11166 states that “a mandated reporter shall make a report whenever the mandated reporter, in his or her professional capacity or within the scope of his or her employment, has knowledge of or observes a child whom the mandated reporter knows or reasonably suspects has been the victim of child abuse or neglect." Just last year I submitted a Suspected Child Abuse Report (SCAR) because of something I heard during a Zoom meeting. I cry every time I have to complete one of those forms, but I do it because I love my students. Child abuse is real, it happens, and I am not okay with it.
Each year I undergo hours of professional training in not only recognizing child abuse, but also bullying, sexual harassment, active shooter scenarios, and many, many more. It is my job to keep kids safe from their parents, coaches, strangers, and psychos. It is my job to keep my students safe in the event of a fire, an explosion, an earthquake, or a national emergency (9/11 was a tough day). We stay with our students even if our own families are threatened. In the event of an active shooter on campus, we are trained to hide our students when possible or help them to run when it is not. And if there is no other way, we teach them how they can fight. It would be my job to step in the line of fire if that's what it took to keep my students safe. Child safety is my priority 180 days a year.
Despite my absolute commitment to my student's safety, it is my opinion that SafeSport is a badly applied bandaid whose real purpose is to merely check off a box that says, See? We're doing something about the abuse of young athletes by their coaches. Why do I think this? First of all, it hasn't proven to be a very successful deterrent if the case of gymnast Simone Bile being sexually abused by USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar is any example.
A few weeks back, I completed my annual SafeSport training. This makes five times that I have been trained. SafeSport for dressage competitors was launched in 2018; I completed my initial training on August 31, 2018. Since then, competitors in good standing have been able to complete "refresher" courses. This year, I had to complete the full NGB1 course which had 109 sections. Yes, you read that correctly, one hundred nine sections.
After each section, my eye rolls got more exaggerated, and my temper flared higher and higher. Here is the long and short of it: misconduct by adults towards children in sports is Not. My. Problem. #notmyproblem #parentsgetyourshittogether #educatetherightpeople.
You beast, you radical, you horrible person, you! I can hear you saying it right now. Guess what? I don't care. If society truly cared about child athletes, parents wouldn't leave their kiddos in the care of a man (typically) for 18 hours a day all in the hope of their child reaching stardom. If parents provided supervision for their children with their own eyeballs, abuse of young athletes would not be happening.
You know who should be reading through 109 sections of the SafeSport training? Parents. That's right, parents. It is parents who need to recognize the machinations of human predators. It is parents who need to recognize signs that their child is being groomed by a pedophile. It is parents who need to teach their children which behaviors by adults are okay and which are not. It is parents who need to teach their kids to recognize and respond to bullying and sexual harassment whether it is being perpetrated by an adult or a peer.
You know who else needs to be trained to recognize adult and peer misconduct? KIDS! It is our young athletes who need to be taught to recognize inappropriate behavior whether it be sexual, emotional, or physical abuse. You know who doesn't need to be trained in recognizing adult misconduct with children? Adult athletes who do not compete with kids. Adult athletes who understand consent. Adult athletes who understand that rape and abuse of power are criminal offenses that can and should be reported to law enforcement. SafeSport is educating the WRONG people.
It benefits our children not at all to train adult athletes to recognize misconduct toward children while at the same time ignoring the two groups who would benefit the most from the training: parents and kids. SafeSport is completely missing the mark by leaving parents and kids out of the training equation. Why has is it become my responsibility to watch out for someone else's kid? Frankly, I am too busy managing my horse and my own anxiety to keep an eye on some kid's coach. Expecting me to do that job is a very bad plan. Instead, how about parents step up and do that so that I can focus on my own goals? How about THEY get trained so they can actually parent instead of letting some coach raise their kid?
Being a dressage competitor is my hobby. It should not be my responsibility to study the relationship between each coach and child. And if I were to ever observe misconduct between an adult and a child, you can bet your ass I would be calling law enforcement immediately. I don't need to be trained to do that, and I bet you don't either.
So, SafeSport, if you really want to build "a sport community where participants can work and learn together free of emotional, physical and sexual abuse and misconduct," reflect on your current practices and invite the actual stakeholders to participate.
So throw your stones. But before you do, explain to me why parents and kids don't need training.
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About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
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CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
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2023 Completed …
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Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
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3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: