Local Doctor Selected for U.S. Soccer's New Safety Taskforce

Local Doctor Selected for U.S. Soccer's New Safety Taskforce title=
U.S. Soccer Logo (courtesy)
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By Lauren Bray, edhat staff

A local physician has been selected to be part of the U.S. Soccer Federation's (USSF) new Safety Taskforce to prevent emotional and sexual abuse.

Dr. Amy Saltzman, a Santa Barbara resident, created an international training program "Spot a Spider" that teaches children, teens, and young adults how to protect themselves from all types of abuse. 

Earlier this month, U.S. Soccer announced it is "continuing to deliver on its commitment to convene leaders across soccer to protect everyone involved in the sport" following the release of former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates’ independent investigation of abusive behavior and sexual misconduct across multiple teams, coaches, and players.

Yates and her investigators interviewed over 200 people and reviewed nearly 89,000 documents ultimately producing a 317 page report.

"Abuse in the NWSL [National Women's Soccer League] is rooted in a deeper culture in women's soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players," Yates wrote in the report.

Although the report is detailed, it does not address abuse in youth soccer.

"It is extremely concerning that all three clubs with documented patterns of abuse have youth academies, and all three of the coaches named in the scandal also coached at the youth level prior to, during, and/or after their NWSL involvement," said Dr. Saltzman to edhat. "Regarding how players have been affected by abuse, we know abuse has serious life long effects- anxiety, depression, PTSD, suicidality. Victims of abuse need compassionate support and trauma sensitive therapy."

Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim were the first to bring awareness to the topic after speaking with a journalist about their allegations of harassment and sexual coercion dating back a decade involving former NWSL North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley. Since then, five of the ten head coaches in the NWSL last season either were fired or stepped down amid allegations of misconduct.

"The verbal and emotional abuse players describe in the NWSL is not merely 'tough' coaching. And the players affected are not shrinking violets. They are among the best athletes in the world," Yates wrote.

The newly formed USSF Taskforce is charged with coordinating and collaborating on conduct-related policies and procedures from the youth level all the way up to professional leagues and senior national teams. While the new Yates Implementation Committee of the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors focuses on quickly and effectively implementing the recommendations in the Yates report, the Taskforce will push beyond those recommendations to drive change across the entire soccer ecosystem, according to the USSF statement.

Shim will serve as Chair of the Taskforce and former U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Shannon Boxx will serve as co-Vice Chair with executive director of the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association, Greg Smith. Current U.S. Women's National Team Players Alex Morgan, AD Franch, Tierna Davidson, and Naomi Girma will participate as Taskforce members.

Dr. Amy Saltzman (courtesy)

Dr. Saltzman said the Taskforce is committed to setting the world standard in protecting athletes at all levels from all types of abuse, although age-appropriate educational materials for younger athletes are almost nonexistent.

"USSF appointed me to the Taskforce because I have created resources for all involved- youth athletes, parents, coaches, teams, clubs, national and international governing bodies… The Spot a Spider program includes two educational videos to teach children, teens and young adults how to spot covert emotional abuse (aka grooming) and overt emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, hiring questions, screening guidelines, conduct agreements, codes of ethics, anonymous athlete surveys, comprehensive policies and procedures, and my article for adults titled Ending Cycles of Abuse in Sports and Society," said Saltzman.

Dr. Saltzman said that while some parents may feel uncomfortable discussing the signs of abuse topic with their children, she created the videos to present the information in a straightforward manner.

"And I promise discussing abuse preventively is infinitely better than having heartbreaking conversations after a child has been abused," she said.

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