USBC Deputy Executive Director Jason Overstreet responded Friday to a handful of questions BJI sent him regarding some surprise and anxiety among youth coaches and youth tournament organizers in response to recently implemented policies regulating interaction between them and the youth bowlers who solicit their coaching services or bowl their tournaments.
At a time when more youth coaches and youth tournament organizers have turned to social networking platforms to promote their events or engage with their students or tournament bowlers, one aspect of those policy changes that generated discussion pertains to ways youth coaches and youth tournament organizers now are permitted to communicate electronically with minor athletes.
Those changes, relevant only to those required to undergo training and background checks to earn Registered Volunteer Program approval because they are USBC-certified coaches or organize USBC-certified events, include the following:
The full policy document can be found here: http://usbcongress.http.internapcdn.net/usbcongress/bowl/rvp/pdfs/RVPPolicies.pdf
In response, numerous RVPs made posts on Facebook advising any minor athletes with whom they were friends on Facebook that the new policies required that they “unfriend” them immediately to ensure compliance.
One such post was made by Billy Gasn, whose annual Baltimore-area Mid-Atlantic Youth Team Challenge has paid out a combined $32,000 in scholarships over the past two years:
In a Dec. 31 edition of his “Kegler Korner” video series on Facebook, Gasn expressed hope that “reasonable accommodations” could be made when “Kids bowl well and you want to say, ‘Hey, great job!’ They put up videos and you want to say, ‘Hey, keep your slide foot down.’ Or, ‘Keep your back foot down.’ Sometimes you find out their parents are sick, or they post something about their family. And people see that; that’s not a private message.”
Gasn and other RVPs expressed confusion about whether the new policies prohibited them from being Facebook friends with cousins, nieces, nephews, or friends of their own children.
In response to discussion about the new policies among current or prospective RVPs, BJI sent the following questions to Overstreet:
- Are RVPs correct to interpret RVP Policy #5: Electronic Communications as an order to immediately "unfriend" on Facebook any minor athletes with whom they currently are friends, or similarly disassociate themselves from any minor athletes on other platforms such as Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat?
- For the most part, the language under RVP Policy #5: Electronic Communications refers specifically to "minor athletes," not generally to "minors." Does this mean that current or prospective RVPs do not, for instance, have to "unfriend" cousins, nephews, nieces or friends of their own children on social networks who happen to be minors to ensure strict compliance with this policy?
- Let's say I am a youth coach or someone who runs youth leagues and who is "friends" on social networks with many youth bowlers whom I coach or who bowl my tournaments, but I am not certain which among them are "minors." What guidance can you provide me as to how to proceed to ensure compliance with RVP Policy #5: Electronic Communications?
- Is correspondence between a youth coach/tournament organizer and a minor athlete posted publicly on a personal Facebook page that is viewable to other Facebook users allowable under RVP Policy #5: Electronic Communications, or is there no distinction between communication posted on an individual's personal/publicly viewable Facebook page and private communication conducted through, for instance, Facebook Messenger?
- How does USBC intend to enforce RVP Policy #5: Electronic Communications, and what penalties might RVPs face should USBC find them in violation of any part of that policy?
In response to these questions, Overstreet sent BJI the following statement acknowledging the concerns of some RVPs and noting that they are being taken into consideration:
“USBC has adopted its policy language directly from the U.S. Center for SafeSport. USBC and other USOC National Governing Bodies have expressed concern about the Electronic Communications policy language. We understand SafeSport is reviewing the language and the concerns.
The specific guidelines and language from SafeSport will be evolving and as USBC receives updates on the policy from SafeSport we will follow their direction. USBC recommends Registered Volunteers follow current policies using reasonable judgment.
USBC will handle complaints and enforcement related to RVP policy consistent with our organizational policy for Due Process outlined in the Bylaws.”
Overstreet's allusion to "SafeSport" pertains to the aftermath of the scandal that brought down USA Gymnastics following Dr. Larry Nassar’s conviction for sexual misconduct, which continues to reverberate throughout the Olympic community. Consequently, many amateur sports organizations are enacting new policies and procedures to comply with the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act President Trump signed on Feb. 14 in response to the scandal, including USBC.
According to a fact sheet released by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the law requires National Governing Bodies such as the United States Bowling Congress to “offer and provide consistent training to adult members who are in contact with amateur athletes who are minors.”
Overstreet told BJI in November that, “We’ve been waiting for guidance from the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which has authority from USOC related to athlete safety, on how they expect all of the National Governing Bodies to implement an education and training process. Once we received that from them, it allowed us to put together our implementation plan and then announce it.” He added that, “All NGBs have been collaborating with USOC similarly over the past year” on implementation of SafeSport guidance, and that, “USBC has been part of those discussions.”
USBC’s announcement of its own implementation plan came in a November 8 release advising that, “Online training and education through the U.S. Center for SafeSport now is a required component of the [USBC’s] Registered Volunteer Program, and to comply with [USOC] regulations, the program has been expanded to include local and state association board members.”
Those seeking RVP approval had until Jan. 1 to complete that training. As that deadline approached, Overstreet stressed that all those requiring RVP approval should “visit Bowl.com and look at the RVP information. All of the resources are there for our volunteers, whether that be at the association level or coaches. It’s important for them to be aware of the information and understand the process.” That information can be found at Bowl.com/RVP, where those requiring RVP approval could access and register for the SafeSport training. SafeSport education, which comes at no cost, is mandatory for anyone interested in completing the RVP process.