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How can we end the cover up of sexual assaults in college sports? (By Dr. Emmett Gill)

The answer to this question is not complex. Nor does it require legislative reform, millions of dollars, or “check the box” student-athlete development programming. If every athletic department hired, empowered and created visibility for a MSW-level social worker, then the likelihood of cover-ups like the scenarios at Michigan State, Baylor, Penn State and the myriad of others we do not know about would be greatly reduced, if not extinguished.


Despite the stereotype, social workers do more than take peoples’ kids! Social workers now occupy space in athletic departments at the University of Georgia, University of Tennessee, University of Texas, Louisiana State University and other Division I programs. Moreover, social workers are mandated reporters. A mandated reporter is a person who, because of his or her profession, is legally required to report, among other things, any type of abuse to relevant authorities.


With this in mind, efforts to more effectively address sexual abuse or assaults in college sports may not be as simple as just hiring a trained social worker. Athletic departments would have to insure their social worker is visible, not necessarily in athletics only, but across the university community - where alleged victims, victims and potential victims can see them. Secondly, if athletic directors pursued this efficient, novel and feasible approach to sexual assault cover up risk management, then they cannot hide social workers in the basement of their department. Conversely, vice-presidents of athletics would have to strongly consider giving social workers a fancy title, minus the fancy office, such as Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Social Work. (I love the way that sounds.) This description emphasizes the importance of the social work role in serving athletes from the administrative perspective as well as reiterating the value of the social work profession within collegiate sports.


Now, if athletic directors are really uninterested in protecting themselves from the plethora of civil lawsuits, public shame, and criminal liability, then college presidents can step the “heck up” and hire social workers to eyeball athletics from the outside - like they attempted at the University of Utah. Utah, in the aftermath of its abusive (swimming) coach scandal created a position called Student-Athlete Advocate. Although, a social work degree was included as the preferred degree in the job description they did not hire a social worker but hopefully you get the idea. If not then the point is there are ways to approach creating an atmosphere that supports student athletes and their multifaceted life challenges whether accessible within the athletic department or simply within the university. The inclusion of an athlete competent social worker on college campuses must become a priority for all divisions and sports programs.


The bottom line is that there appears, in some athletic departments, to be too many irresponsible employees who fail to do what’s right. some say, “it wasn’t their place to say anything” or “they didn’t know who to tell” or “they thought they did tell the right person.” If staff had a social worker that they knew they could process through a controversial situation with, then the social worker could guide them through the reporting process and explain why reporting is vital to keeping them, their athletes, and programs safe. Hiring a mandated reporter is a step in the right direction of ending cover-up of sexual assault involving college athletes.


Please encourage your local universities to hire social workers in their athletic departments. Social workers, look into job openings that would allow social workers access to athletes and then prove why social workers are vital to the healthy, balanced support system of collegiate athletes.

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