Talking Point

The Systemic Problem with Sexual Abuse

Nancy Hogshead-Makar - sexual abuse
Nancy Hogshead-Makar

Why the legal system protects systemic sexual abuse in sport and what needs to change to protect the victims

Talking Point is Presented by Dr. Lisa Ingarfield

Full transcript below

Podcast length: 54′ 45″

Lisa Ingarfield and civil rights advocate Nancy Hogshead-Makar discuss the legal, systemic and cultural structures behind the athlete-coach relationship that provides an environment for sexual abuse to go unchecked  and exploited by abusers. They unpack the work that is being done to prevent it and educating our communities, coaches, athletes, parents to shift the culture around sexual abuse in sport. Nancy is a 1984 Olympic gold medalist swimmer, and the chief executive officer of Champion Women, an organization that provides legal advocacy for girls and women in sports. 


Champion Women

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Champion Women

Lisa Ingarfield


Champion Women

Nancy Hogshead-Makar

Lisa Ingarfield 


Lisa Ingarfield

[00:00:00] Welcome to this month’s episode of Talking Point where we delve more deeply into the issues relating to women’s sport and women in sport I’m your host Lisa Ingarfield and I hope that I can provoke deeper thought and encourage you to think about this conversation in your communities and really extend it beyond the individual to the system. Last month in our Talking Point episode we chatted with Jessica Luther about women in sports media. We touched on how women are marginalized in the media both in terms of the opportunities that they have and how they are treated. Today we’re going to continue the conversation and we are lucky enough to have Nancy Hogshead-Makar and she is going to focus in particular on sexual abuse and the work being done to prevent it and educating our communities, coaches, athletes, parents to shift the culture around sexual abuse in sport. Nancy is a 1984 Olympic gold medalist swimmer. She is the chief executive officer of Champion Women, an organization that provides legal advocacy for girls and women in sports. She’s also a civil rights attorney who has successfully represented athletes in precedent setting legislation and is one of the nation’s foremost experts on gender equity in sports.

[00:01:16] Well welcome to the show Nancy thank you for taking the time to chat with us at Talking Point today, we’re excited to hear from you.

[00:01:23] Well thank you for having me on Lisa I really appreciate it.

[00:01:27] So why don’t we begin by having you share with us your reasons for beginning Champion Women and the kinds of activities that you all do champion women.

[00:01:39] Sure. Well I was a civil rights lawyer and a professor of law for many years and I really saw that for the rest of my career my highest and best use is being able to work on a policy level with with different issues related to women in sport. And I could have individual cases and made more money. But I really thought that you know I would move the needle more if I worked on a policy type thing.

[00:02:13] So as an example we do we’ve got a big project right now dealing with athletics just pure athletic departments making sure that they have the same the right proportion of women athletes who are participating to get the same scholarship dollars in the same recruiting dollars and the coaches are paid the same etc. We have a very big project going on there and then we do a lot of pregnancy discrimination.

[00:02:37] We do employers discrimination which usually includes LGBT work as well. There are very few out lesbian coaches out there which is really sad. And then we do a lot of sexual harassment work both in schools and separately in the club an Olympic sports arena where there is very little that I as an attorney can do to help somebody who’s been molested by their coach. In schools I really have a lot of tools at my disposal in club and Olympic sport I really don’t.

[00:03:18] So the reason for that is because folks who are in club sports and Olympic sports are neither an employee or a student. Is that right.

[00:03:24] That’s right yeah. So employees are covered by Title VI would support discrimination based on race or sex or religion or national origin. So and then students are covered by Title IX which says that you can’t discriminate based on sex at a school that receives federal funds. So yes students and employees are pretty well covered but athletes who are not part of a school program right – they walk across the street – and the parents think it’s roughly the same. And I’m here to tell you it was not. Yeah most of those clubs for athletes the parents sign a waiver that say that they won’t sue – they have very little insurance. They do usually do not have a general counsel position. Usually they’re just not that sophisticated there. That’s a moneymaking organization that really doesn’t want to have to deal with sexual abuse and is not sort of in it to make it safer for the next kid if you will.

[00:04:27] Yeah and so a lot of this behavior is left unchecked. It sounds like. Students not students I guess athletes in these situations don’t really know where to turn. I imagine.

[00:04:40] Exactly. I mean to think about it sort of reverse perspective of it – if you really wanted to molest kids – where would you go. Would go someplace that was unregulated. You would go someplace you have absolute authority over these kids and what they said when you said jump they have to say how high. Break down the barriers that normally exist between the adult and child so that you set them up perfectly to be able to molest. And then again like you know insurance companies usually do a good job of making sure that if they’re going insure the organization that that there are protections. Right. And if they don’t have insurance as many of these clubs have way too little then that’s like another oversight that you don’t normally have.

[00:05:38] I’m the state of Colorado and I know that a couple of legislative seasons ago or it has repetitively appeared has been an attempt to regulate club sports in a more defined way and one of the requests has been that coaches have to go through background checks. And I recognize that background checks will not on their own end sexual abuse in athletics however it’s one piece of the pie right… it’s not. It doesn’t solve it but it can be helpful. But that has failed consistently at the state legislature because folks are wary of requiring background checks that parents or people in your community would then have access to. And so they’re framing it as a violation of privacy… right.

[00:06:31] Oh my gosh.

[00:06:32] And so it’s pretty interesting to me how when you talk about the system right and how our systems respond to any attempt to protect or to regulate young people particularly women and girls that we who we know are very vulnerable to sex abuse. And the pushback gets framed as a privacy issue.

[00:06:58] Yeah you know that’s a that’s a coach a power issue more than a privacy issue because look I as an attorney are very well regulated of course I have a background check done on me before I can be an attorney. Same with being a teacher saying with being a physician. I mean we do background checks on almost every type of profession where there’s a power imbalance between the parties. Right. Why. So why not coaching? I just find that weird. I understand that it is expensive. I mean they cost 20 bucks per background checks but background checks are sort of like on a Maslow Hierarchy of Needs – sort of step one. I mean you’re right it’s background checks that only pick up what happens to the criminally if they have their been charged or if they have been arrested or they’ve been convicted of a criminal crime. Vast majority of those that abuse children never see a day in criminal court. Right. It’s actually not even I mean it is it is going to pick up the worst of the worst. I call a bad molester – a bad molester is somebody who grabs a kid pulls them into the weight room and fondles them or whatever that kid runs over to their parents and reports them and then they get sent to prison. A good molester develops a relationship with a child, with a family, with the community so they all think this person is a really great guy and then has access to children over and over and over and over again. So your average good molester. By the time they hit prison has molested you know 100 kids.

[00:08:47] Right. And we know the research shows that the vast majority of individuals who perpetrate sexual assault of any kind are people that we know. Right. So it’s not very infrequently the person that grabs you and pulls you into the weight it pulls you off the street. so that not just creates additional barriers for folks coming forward. And then in an unregulated system where there’s there’s no recourse, it’s just a problem compounding problem in terms of supporting survivors of these experiences in any comprehensive way.

[00:09:20] Absolutely, could not agree more. In 2014 I represented 19 victims of sexual abuse in the sport of swimming. And we did it because Chuck Wielgus – at that time he was the Executive Director of the United States Swimming and he knew about all these molesters running around the country and did nothing about it. And so. So he was slated to go into the Hall of Fame and these these these victims along with 29 other – what I would call the stalwart of swimming said, no, he had done such a bad job when it came to this issue that he should not be in the Hall of Fame. And let me tell you because the victims didn’t have the normal recourse of being able to go to court or being able to sue or you know being able to issue a demand letter or being able to get an apology. They couldn’t get anything. That this was very powerful for all the victims to give them a voice as something to make sure that the sport was doing what it should be doing to weed out some awful, awful people in the sport.

[00:10:33] ANd I think this comes back full circle to some of the themes that we’ve been talking about so far on Talking Point in the previous episodes around the system, and so you had talked about Champion Women being an organization that really tries to address some systemic inequities and the systemic prevalence of sexual abuse. And I think that that’s an area that folks often struggle with right particularly with sexual abuse because the desire is to identify person A as a bad apple. And it’s just this one person and they’re deficient in some way versus taking a step back and saying you know what this individual is part of a larger system and the system is permissive to this kind of behavior because it’s not regulated or it’s not structured or individuals in higher positions turn their back. They don’t want to hear it. They disbelieve survivors. And so we have kind of a multitude of forces working on a system and a cultural level that create the conditions for sexual abuse to occur. I mean the #metoo campaign right now obviously it’s not sport related per se that it is demonstrating that there are industry upon industry where the same abuses of power are happening and individuals are turning their back or they’re just saying it’s this one person let’s just get rid of this one person and the problem will be solved. I don’t know if you have a perspective on that.

[00:12:03] Yeah. No I think that’s absolutely brilliant. And I think that much harder lift up as you try to get change is trying to change a culture where the athlete is not able to say no. So right now we have Larry Nassar just yesterday with sentenced to 60 years in prison for molesting the number that I’ve heard is 145 women – and girls and women – and it’s estimated it’s going to cost Michigan State University a billion dollars in civil settlements.

[00:12:38] And it’s sort of like this has been sort of the the tipping point if you will of all the sexual abuse but the the reason why these women were so well sort of primed to be sexually abused is because it means that they had to go to work out and smile all the time. They had to, they didn’t have any say over their own nutrition. They didn’t have any say over whether or not they were really ready for a particular skill. They didn’t they couldn’t say I’m about to get injured you know. You know I was a world class athlete and swimmer in the Olympics and you know between the ages of – I was world class between the ages of 14 to 22 and after age 16 I never got injured. And the reason why is because I could say no to my coach. There was a boundary of I knew like when like my shoulder would start to click – it didn’t really hurt. Right. And so if if if an athlete isn’t doesn’t have their own autonomy if it’s not a partnership between them. If it’s a authoritarian relationship is of an authoritative relationship you’re likely to not just see all kinds of bad things happen. I mean injury and getting sick as well as sexual abuse. One of the things Larry Nassar preyed on was ever there was like with this dour, you know harsh judgmental atmosphere that was going on within the gym and he would be the nice guy and he would be the one who said here’s some candy – right. And so they didn’t want to lose that.

[00:14:14] And it also seemed like well how could he be molesting me if anybody’s giving him such praises and says I got very lucky to be able to have him right. But changing as you were saying earlier Lisa the the hard part is changing a system that when the athletes go when it’s not a dour experience for them that they do have autonomy in their in their own boundaries that happened between coach and athlete. That right now. Coaches are used to near Weinstein Wlike power over other athletes they literally control whether or not they make a team whether or not they get introduced to a college coach whether or not they whether or not they get scholarship money – on and on. I mean they really can control a lot. Until that changes until we recognize brand new boundaries between coach and athlete that you’re going to keep having the same thing happen. You said it’s not about just getting Larry Nassar out, it’s not one person. How do you have systemic change in sport so the athletes are not so vulnerable to sexual abuse.

[00:15:24] And then also yeah creating the environment where if something occurs it feels safe and supportive to come forward and say that this doesn’t feel right. I mean that’s the other piece of it. We think about how many individuals don’t say anything. And then years later they come forward. And the backlash kind of from the general public is it can’t – that can’t have happened because if it had happened you would have said something in the moment and that really kind of identifies how little I think our culture or our community really understand sexual abuse and the way in which power that you just described kind of manifests particularly in that coach athlete relationship and if the coaches is a guy and the athlete is a young woman – there’s certainly a whole level of manipulation that happens in that context.

[00:16:20] Yeah, the manipulation can happen in a number of ways. And let me just go over three of them that I have seen frequently is one is in the sport of swimming there were a lot of marriages between coaches and athletes usually right around the time that the athlete turned 18. And it was normalizing abuse that had been happening for years before then. Right. But and what a marriage or what a quote unquote relationship – let’s say she’s 25 – does is it normalizes it. It it makes it seem like that the only thing that’s wrong between a coach athlete relationship is the age issue and that’s not it. The rule -coaches should not have sexual relationships with athletes that they coach regardless of age or consent. Because if the 25 year old gets married when a 12 year old is kissed she thinks it’s true love. She thinks that she’s headed down the altar and she thinks she thinks she knows that it’s inappropriate because of age but that’s sort of like titillating he he, I’m so much more mature than your average 12 year old. That’s what they get told all the time so I should be able to you know to have this – ‘you know my parents just don’t understand’. As opposed to if everybody understood that rule from a young age as to what the appropriate boundaries are. Your coach will never text you individually; a good coach, an ethical coach will never close the door, will never be alone with you. If you go down. Go down the list as to how do you establish those boundaries without having some kind of birds and bees discussion. You can protect kids pretty well but by having them know like when boundaries get violated long before you get to any you know any sexual touching. I mean it has to do that. So that way number one is that get this cultural way. Two is that that when — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this happen – is when the sexual relationship is discovered… that the team rallies on the side of the coach and they want the athlete out. So the you know the all the rest the team was like we were perfectly happy with this coach. It’s just you that has this problem here. So they want. They want the kid gone, not the athlete gone. And then third is a lot of times – look families for very legitimate reasons don’t want their kids to be subject to the police department. They don’t want you to be subject to cross-examination. They just think they’re too young to be vulnerable they’ve been through this terrible sexual abuse type situation.

[00:19:15] And so they really want the coach to go away because it’s allowed to go away. The coach then goes and gets hired right down the street. And so it doesn’t solve the problem. There’s no reporting there’s no litmus test. There’s nothing to to keep that coach from going out and abusing again and again again again.

[00:19:40] That is troubling right because that also speaks to this again the cultural permissiveness around an individual’s behavior. Well we’ll just take them out of that environment and we’ll put them somewhere else. They’re not, there’s not an acknowledgment of how this environment within which this coach has behaved this way kind of supported what they’re doing right. You see that, you saw that with the Catholic Church also with priests that will move around and around. Right and then that massive scandal and a huge cover up and there are these similar themes and they’re happening across industries and across professions repeatedly and at some point you have to ask like what is it going to take. Right. What is it going to take before there is a tipping point before there’s a shift in so there’s certainly been stuff in the media right now around that perhaps now with the #metoo campaign with all of the stuff that’s coming out around senators and congress people that this is that moment. And I don’t know if you have a perspective about whether you believe that we are in this space where we’re going to tip in something cultural is actually going to shift around understanding and addressing sex assault, sexual abuse, sexual harassment.

[00:20:54] Yeah I do think it is a tipping point. However I understand that it’s not like a moment… that it is a marathon. Like the kinds of questions that you were just sort of alluding to like why didn’t they say something sooner.

[00:21:08] You know it’s it’s – the culture has to understand why they didn’t say something sooner. Right. We have terrible laws deal with statutes of limitations. Really. Usually when a case that you usually in most states is between two and four years and most kids by the time they’re twenty two years old they’re just not ready yet. And I would say the average age of the person that calls my office is 40. And they may have very tangible evidence of sexual abuse they may have letters, they may have video, there may be photos. Right. They may have lots of evidence of that happened but because we have these arbitrary statutes of limitations they can’t do anything criminally, they can’t do anything civilly and so a lot of times all they want from our office from Champion Women is; how do I get this coach out? How do I make you an example of them? And and so you know that’s that’s what we do because we try to do everything we can to get that coach out.

[00:22:13] One of the things you had said earlier around boundary – I just wanted to circle back to that. I think that’s a really important piece because one of the struggles I think culturally particularly for young girls is understanding that they have autonomy over their body right that they get to say who does and who does not touch them even down to things like we’re in the holiday season right and I think back and how many families forced their children to sit on Santa’s lap. Santa Joe Schmo random in a shopping mall a dude right. And so then you’re putting young children because the family wants a cute picture. And so the implicit message in things like that with hug your grandma, kiss your aunt, you know is that you don’t get to control who you engage with intimately. And so from a very very young age we’re sending this message both within the family, within our communities and in the larger culture that your body is not your own. So then these young girls and boys enter athletics in whatever form that is and so they’re kind of bodily autonomy has already been corrupted.

[00:23:25] Yeah I would even I would even take it earlier. So you know our family I have three kids and in our family the kids you know even like tickling or rough housing or wrestling or you know any of that kind of stuff and it we would always kind of make a joke out of it. Like I would always say that like it’s your body kids and so if I’m massaging – we give I give them I give my kids a deep tissue every night before they go to bed – if I’m not doing it right or you don’t want it or whatever. You know it’s your body. My son when he was little we used to go like it’s my body – in that way but I’m like hands off it’s his body. And you know it will be smooch kisses at night and you’d be like smooching into the cheek and again sometimes they’re just not into it and if they’re not into it then it is. I always make a big point out of saying that you get to choose on what happens to your body.

[00:24:25] And and so there are lots of ways that we as parents and non coaches can reinforce that message that that their body is their own. And you could do some research online there’s different kinds of relationships with children. One is authoritarian and one is authoritative and authoritarian parents want to tell their children how to feel, how to think. You know they really want to sort of make a little mini me’s or perfect little.. right. But it’s it’s a top down type relationship as opposed to an authoritative relationship certainly has the wisdom and authority and whatnot. But but it’s a collaborative, it’s much more of a recognition that this person has their own walk with God, their own life path that has nothing to do with you. But it’s much more you know working together it’s much more you know it’s not it’s not just telling somebody who is supposed to feel about something. Letting them happen their own emotions.

[00:25:44] Right. It’s more of a partnership with with some limitations I suppose. So one of the things I know that Champion Women is doing and that you’re spearheading is some changes at the federal level. Trying to pass a law that creates some regulation and some structures and parameters around adjudication of abuse within athletics in particular. I think one of the provisions of the law is publishing a list of individuals who have been sanctioned. And so I was wondering if you would share a little bit about the progress that this is happening and how you’re hoping that this federal law will shift the culture of what we’ve been talking about.

[00:26:22] Sure, well thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about this. Some of the gymnast’s went to Senator Feinstein and talked to her about the lack of their power within sport and how how that that that United States gymnastics and the United States Olympic team did not protect them from a raging pedophile. I mean he had thousands and thousands of images of violent child pornography on his computer as well as he was abusing all these girls and how they really didn’t have a voice they really couldn’t do anything about it and how they tried to. But OK. So there’s this really great piece of legislation from the Judiciary Committee that really protected athletes. So it does a couple of things that are important to point out. One is everybody in youth sports not just the Olympic committee but in youth sports as long as that as long as they’re the entity competes in interstate competition. So he traveled games are you know that most sports teams are they they have a mandatory duty to report. So just like teachers do just like emergency room physicians and pediatricians say it’s not a question and you can have a jail time if you don’t do it. So rather than seeing like well I’m not really sure if that’s what happened. It’s a mandatory report of sexual abuse. 2 is the statute also it makes it easier for plaintiffs to be able to sue those that molest them. So not it not United States Swimming or United States Taekwando, not those entities, but the person who actually molested them. And third is believe it or not the legal strategy for the Olympic Committee the Olympic movement in general has been to say we don’t owe a legal duty that extends to this kid. It’s just not our job. We don’t do that. And what the statue does is it does very clearly. It is your job. You have to figure out.

[00:28:34] You have to educate your members. You need to have a way to report within the system within the support system to be able to support. You have to investigate you’ve got a sanctioned sexually abusing coaches – you’ve got to get them out of sport. And and you know that the the the legal duty part you know when you think of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA, Special Olympics, Police Athletic League, virtually every other youth serving organizations already accepted this legal duty. It’s rather shocking that only in sports that we don’t have a legal duty that extends to kids. And I’m not quite sure why that is why that is thrown out that way – we’r talking millions of kids virtually unprotected. Right. So anyway so the statute does that. Senator Thune who is in charge of the the Commerce Committee that oversees the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act passed the statute that governs the Olympic movement. He got involved and said well let’s do even more. So they say they’re going to give money to this new organization called Safe Sport. So they set a separate independent entity that is going to do the training and do the investigating and sanctioning. When you think of the independence that the United States Anti Doping Agency as soon as it got independence they used to have about 4000 drug tests a year. And as soon as they had independence there were about 45 positives. That’s what independence gets you. There’s no way the United States cycling is going to sanction Lance Armstrong by itself because it’s a money maker. Same thing like Larry Nassar is so popular inside of gymnastics that there’s just no way United States Gymnastics is going to go against sort of one of their own.

[00:30:31] All right. So. So so anyway so that would authorize a safe sport it gives them money and it also gives them protection from defamation lawsuits will say somebody gets kicked out of sport.

[00:30:51] And they want to sue they say you know you did it wrong or you you’re you know defamed me by saying I’m a sexual predator. And so unless they act with actual malice which is a legal term meaning prosecutorial misconduct right. The sort of willfully out to get somebody they’re not going to be able to bully a national governing body into letting them back into the sport. And I have to tell you that happens quite a bit as the bullies win.

[00:31:24] Yeah.

[00:31:25] So it always gets past the Senate and they reconcile that. Senator Feinstein, Senator Thune, and I have to get Senator Blumenthal’s name in there as well, was very very helpful. And and they got everything worked out. And then shifting it now over to the house the house needs to pass it they passed something very similar with almost the unanimous vote. So you know let’s keep our fingers crossed that this is going to pass the House.

[00:31:58] Do you have a timeline on when that’s likely to happen?

[00:32:00] I don’t, it doesn’t have an H.R. number yet. It is a Senate Bill 534 and it’s called Protecting Young Athletes from Sexual Abuse Act. So but you know as soon as it gets the number, hopefully it’ll get fast tracked and and and I mean because this has been sort of a long process it has allowed you know the Olympic Committee supportive of this, the national governing bodies, of the independent state board is in favor of it. We Champion Women we have a letter that I gave you that has seven pages of you know ten point font single spaced two columns of sign ons from elite athletes from victims from coaches from sport leaders from experts in sexual abuse in general, experts in general in sexual abuse. And we did that in part because not that we needed all those sign ons but we wanted to let all the stakeholders know about what was happening. It’s an opportunity for us to educate them because it was something that I know from dealing with other statutes like Title IX or the Amateur Sports Act is that really getting legislation passed is step one, to really protect kids it’s a heavy lift to do that. You and I Lisa were just talking about this cultural change. Yeah. Having the coaches not having absolute authority over their athletes recognizing boundaries between them. So that that’s that’s a much longer term project to make sure that happens.

[00:33:55] And do you see this bill is really integral in that long term marathon project?

[00:34:01] Yeah I think it’s I think it’s essential because I don’t think that particularly the part about the legal duty. So if I can just take a couple minutes here to kind of explain the concept of duty to everybody out there. If you and I are crossing the street and I can see very clearly that you’re about to get hit by a car and very easily I can stop you from getting hit by a car. But I don’t do anything you can’t sue me because I don’t owe you a duty to keep you safe. So even a could have been easy and I should have done it and morally certainly should have done it. OK. As opposed to let’s say that now I say here Lisa let me hope you walk across the street. And I do a bad job of it. You get hit my car. Same accident, same amount of harm that happens you can now sue me because I did a bad job of helping you across the street. So now I’ll get this back to athletics – by giving the national governing body a legal duty. What you’re saying is you have to do it and you can’t do it poorly to protect athletes from sexual abuse. So you train coaches and athletes and their family members and everybody. And it’s a new world out there as to who is right what the what the rules are going to be. And I really think a lot of reasons why athletes have that right now are not being protected it’s because the United States Olympic Committee and all of different sports were more concerned about civil liability than they were about keeping athletes safe. They want to protect their own hide more than they wanted to. But they all they’ve all known this is a very big problem in sports. And so once this attaches they’re just not going to be able to ignore their insurance companies not going to allow them to ignore it. So and I would say the biggest change that needs to happen. And you know you as a coach I’m interested to hear what you think about this. But you know I’ve done a lot of trainings and I’ve participated in a lot of trainings. And the one message that needs to get across to every child, parent, coach everybody is coaches shall not have a romantic and sexual relationships with the athlete they are coaching, regardless of age or consent. There is no there is a bright line rule there. It’s the same rule that goes for doctors and lawyers and family members and counselors and religious leaders. And right. It’s it’s no different from lots of other places. What what do you think about that?

[00:36:51] I mean I think it’s great. I’m thinking back to my… I went through USA triathlon training and I had to do a safe sport webinar several chapters long about what is and is not sexual harassment and sexual abuse. I mean for me like my professional life is knee deep in addressing sexual assault. And so it was not new information from me but a number of the trainee coaches in my cohort had identified that it was very educational for them and so on the one hand I’m like great you learn something. And on the other hand I’m thinking why do you not know this right because some of the stuff that was in there felt so self-evident and obvious that you know blatant things like you know do not touch one of your athletes inappropriately without their consent. There is very what I perceived to be extremely basic rules you know are based not even like legally just respectfully. Right. And so I thought that was fascinating kind of an observation that there were a significant number of people who were uneducated on some of these areas and so…

[00:38:10] You know let me just push back a little bit on the one thing that you said which was that they didn’t know they couldn’t touch somebody inappropriately without somebody’s consent. I mean you can get consent from a five year old. I mean a good molester can get consent and good molester has to get consent in order to be able to do it over and over and over again. Right.

[00:38:31] Yes I suppose I mean I think about consent differently. I would say like you could you could manipulate a 5 year old into giving consent but it’s not really consent because the five year old doesn’t truly understand what that means.

[00:38:43] Right. And that’s my point is that I don’t even talk about consent when it comes to children because legally it’s true. They just they are not legally able to consent. My husband had the United States Supreme Court case. He got to argue in front of all the judges about the issue of whether or not you can put somebody to prison for the rest of their life when they didn’t kill anybody who is a minor. And all this brain research I learned as he was going through the process of what’s the difference between a 17 year old’s brain and a 21 year old brain. Holy moly is that the law reflects those those differences. Right. So somebody may be physically developed and they may look much older but their brains development is something entirely different. I have a 17 year old right now. I can tell you that you know when I remember I thought I was so mature at age 17 but I look at him who’s such a great kid but really doesn’t. But when you say touch you inappropriately I would say that regardless of age or consent you just don’t touch it.

[00:39:57] Yeah yeah I think my language choice wasn’t great there. I totally 100 percent agree with what you’re saying. OK. It was more kind of I was just surprised that these what I perceived to be fairly basic boundaries between coach and athlete was a new learning for many of my triathlete coach cohort members and to varying degrees I did not have an at length conversation but I know that the folks you know who are running the show asked if it was helpful and a lot of people like yeah I learn new things and…Right. So you know that was really interesting to me and primarily the coaches in the room would not even necessarily be working with young people like under 18. They were a lot of them are working with individuals who are doing Ironmen and various long course triathlons. Right. So primarily adults but then I think that’s also really interesting and goes back to your point about what do I think about the relationship piece is I agree. I mean I think there is a boundary there and whether or not your athlete is quote unquote consenting to a relationship that’s a line that you shouldn’t cross as a coach. But then you think about the employment. Right. And so there are lots of employment rules and regulations within an organization that say a supervisor and a supervisee could be in a relationship together. We just have to sever that supervisee – supervisory relationship like you can’t then be supervising your partner.

[00:41:35] Right. You cannot have power over them.

[00:41:38] Exactly. So I think that why then can these same principles that exist in all these other places not be applicable to the field of athletics and coaching. Right. So I fully support changes in that area. And it is odd to me that it’s taken so long and it is odd to me that coaching is somehow perceived as different or should be excluded from some of these rules because of. I mean I don’t even know what a legitimate argument would be.

[00:42:11] Let me bring up two scenarios of adults and bad things that could happen. One is when when this happened on the Olympic volleyball team when one of the coaches was having a relationship with one of the athletes she started getting preferential treatment, started getting more playing time and special skill training and spent more time with her and everything else. So what it did was it set up the other athletes of thinking if want to succeed in my sport, I need to provide the same sexual favors that this other athlete is doing. So it really kind of messed up the whole team dynamics – number one. Number two is there are situations. Eva Budowski was a speed skater and her biggest competitor for making the Olympic spot was having a relationship with Mike Rowe who is the who was the head coach. He was the decider on who is going to get to be on the Olympic team. And he protected his paramour and protected his the person was having a relationship with him and Eva never made an Olympic team. And that is that is just sad beyond words.

[00:43:27] But that’s when we talk about the kind of power that that a coach has that it doesn’t just affect the two people that are in that relationship. You know they may at least I’m sure of it. Mike Rowe and the person was having a relationship where they had no complaints whatsoever. But the people around them also can be affected by those relationship. And that’s another reason why they’re unethical.

[00:43:51] Yeah and I think it all comes back to me around this abuse of power and how do we successfully and effectively address abuse of power whether it’s in sport, whether it’s in Hollywood, whether it’s in an institution of higher education where individuals many times men are exerting authority or power or manipulation over individuals who are beholden to them in one way or another because of that power relationship. That’s the larger question. And I think that’s the question that very frequently gets missed because we always come back to that bad apple it’s just this one person and let’s just get rid of them and everything will be fine. This is let’s look systemically and culturally and the ways in which we construct these relationships and then also the ways in which we construct masculinity or we construct femininity and we engage with these narratives. I think that’s a huge piece of it.

[00:45:00] I could not agree more. I know it’s a much bigger conversation than than just getting that one bad apple out. I mean when if I if I post something about sexual abuse on my Facebook page I can guarantee you the first three responses the first one is going to be kill him. Second response is going to be take off the testicles. The third response is going to be put him in prison forever. And let me tell you none of those three things are ever going to happen. Never gonna happen. It just allows somebody to emotionally vent but it doesn’t actually that doesn’t make it safer for kids even if you put this one person away. It doesn’t. Right. It requires actual thinking about it like you like when I give talks to move people from the emotional part of their brain into the thinking part of the brain like the strategy where the brain. Because people get so freaked out about the idea of children about adult sex. No it’s too much. That they can’t come up with effective strategies that will actually make kids safer. That will that will happen as you were talking about these conversations about masculinity and about systemic changes forward and and realign the coach – athlete relationship.

[00:46:20] Yeah and you just maybe you just triggered something else in my head. I teach a graduate class on human sexuality and we often have conversations about sex education in the United States and how problematic and poor it is you know also unregulated really not not particularly structured. And so you have young people who are both perhaps not getting clear messages around boundaries because of the Santa and because what the grandma and then they’re also not getting good comprehensive sex education to understand developmentally like what is and is not appropriate. And again those reinforced messages around bodily autonomy. And so it’s just this feels like this big ocean of problems. And so like the Bill that you’re championing is certainly one way to attack it. Right. Background checks are another way like education and training is another way holding it actually holding people accountable for their behaviors and not blaming the victims for the perpetrator’s behavior, right? That’s all it’s all part of this larger conversation that I sometimes just feel like we never get to and is in part the intention of this podcast is to dive a little deeper so that we can kind of like pull the rug out from under some of these experiences and cultural norms that people just don’t question very often right.

[00:47:39] Yeah, if we were much better at addressing improper boundaries right in the early stages like you know the first sign that a coach – first of all an athlete has got to have somebody that they trust they go to that they can report this to and the first time that they are texted inappropriately that they can report that before anything else happens. First time that they are given a present you know – coaches should not [be giving presents]. And you know you can train a 6 year old that your coach should never give you a present. That’s just not something that an ethical coach will do. And yeah I’m getting that message out to little kids. I want a coach who is typically a really great guy standing next to me nodding his head vigorously to say reinforce that like for the rest of your life your coach should not be giving presents. Right.

[00:48:34] All the things that you do to set up kids to be abused is you can really give a kid an inoculation if they if they are given this kind of bodily autonomy and also appropriate boundary relationships at an early age. And again you don’t need to have the birds and the bees conversation with them. You don’t need to be talking about sex or intercourse or you don’t need to be doing any of that you know. But you certainly want to give them tools that will help long before you get to the conversation about good touch, bad touch.

[00:49:12] Right. And that can help young people and adults alike identify problematic behavior that are a pattern of behavior that maybe hasn’t yet manifested into physical touch that is laying the groundwork because I think some people folks are like well it is just just one mistake right. Like no, a mistake is you know leaving I don’t know leaving my cup of coffee on top of my car and driving off – that’s a mistake. Like a mistake is not sexually abusing someone right and thinking about this as a long term set of behaviors that pave the way and then create the conditions for the physical abuse to occur. And it’s you know it starts with a comment it starts with a gift it starts for the little nudge here and there. And. It’s not like I didn’t just trip hop and assault someone you know.

[00:50:02] But I would even say look I want coaches to suffer consequences and to be called on the carpet the first time that they text another athlete individually. There’s no reason for them to be texting individually.

[00:50:15] It needs to get addressed at the front end at the very beginning of the behavior the unethical behavior that manifests, that’s when it needs to get addressed not 15 years down the road. Oh you sexually abuse 17 girls on the gymnastic team. That’s too late. I mean it needs to still happen but it’s not could have all been prevented if people had been paying attention. Yes. Is that it. Yeah. Well this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time today to talk this through and kind of like delve a little deeper into some of the structures and systems and problems that exist specifically for women and girls and boys in sport around sexual abuse and sexual harassment. We wish you a lot of luck with your federal bill and hope that it gets through the house as quickly as you anticipate that it will.

[00:51:10] Yes I hope so. If anybody wants to hear more we have a very active Facebook page campaign. We also have a web site

[00:51:23] Great. And folks can sign up on your web site for updates. Right. They can learn about progress and the advocacy that you’re doing and get and ways to get involved in this movement.

[00:51:32] That’s right. And donations – it’s the lifeblood of a nonprofit workers is to be able to have donations. You can make them right there on that on our Web site.

[00:51:45] Yeah I think that that’s that’s an important piece is that a lot of entities doing this work across the country to try and address sexual harassment, sexual abuse or women’s and girls equity, gender equity often really struggle for support for many of the reasons we discussed. So if you’re able to support champion women or organizations like that in any way whether that’s five dollars or telling your friends about it or supporting the Facebook page then we certainly encourage you to do so because it does take a village. It really does, it’s a big team. Absolutely. Well thank you so much Nancy.

[00:52:22] Thank you Lisa.

[00:52:23] We really appreciate the time you took today to talk to us.

[00:52:26] That was really enjoyable. Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to be able to reach more people about this issue. I really appreciate it.

[00:52:35] Yeah great. Well check out champion women We hope that we will be able to learn a lot more about what’s happening in your world Nancy as things progress for you.

[00:52:51] Thanks so much Lisa.

[00:52:53] Thanks again to Nancy Hogshead Makar for sharing her perspectives and expertise about the challenges women and girls encounter in sports particularly as it relates to sexual abuse. We’re very excited to have her on the show and for her to share her wealth of information and experience. And as we had mentioned you can learn more about the work that she does at the and information about the work that she does will also be in the show notes. For more compensation from the world of women’s sports. You can go to Talking Point can be found at that same location and on WiSP Sports Radio which is available on iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, and Google Play all for download to your local podcast player. With over 700 episodes across 30 unique shows and a global audience of 1.5 million, WiSP Sports Radio is the world’s largest network of podcasts for women’s sport. Thank you so much for tuning in this month to Talking Point. You can access this specific podcast online like I just shared and you can also reach us for comments and ideas at You can also reach me directly at try to defy on Twitter or on Instagram. We look forward to hearing from you.





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