Frequently Asked Questions About SafeSport Violations and Hearings

    April 04, 2023, 09:00 AM

    What is SafeSport?

    The Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 established the U.S. Center for SafeSport (“SafeSport”). Under the Act, SafeSport is responsible for training and education to prevent abuse and promote accountability in amateur athletics. Additionally, SafeSport is responsible for investigating and adjudicating allegations of misconduct in collaboration with national governing bodies (NGB) that are part of the U.S Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

    What is the SafeSport Code?

    Although most NGBs maintain their own code of conduct, the SafeSport Code applies to all participants for sports that fall under the authority of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement. Specific types of abuse are required to be reported under mandatory reporting laws, but other types of misconduct like criminal charges or reports of emotional abuse can trigger an investigation and hearing for alleged violations. SafeSport has established hearing procedures and potential consequences for different types of violations.

    What Kinds of Violations Can Result in a SafeSport Investigation?

    The U.S. Center for SafeSport investigates allegations of several types of violations, including criminal charges, sexual misconduct, physical abuse, and emotional abuse including bullying, hazing, and harassment:

    • Criminal charges relevant to an individual’s fitness to participate in amateur sports can result in sanctions. These can include criminal convictions for certain offenses but can also include merely being charged with a particular offense or even a dismissed charge if it was achieved following participation in a deferred prosecution or diversionary program.
    • Registration on a state, federal, or tribal sex offender registry is a prohibition on participation.
    • Sexual misconduct includes any sexual activity that is non-consensual or unwanted.
    • Physical abuse refers to any physical contact that results in harm, injury, or pain.
    • Emotional abuse includes any behavior that causes psychological harm, such as verbal abuse, humiliation, or isolation.
    • Bullying refers to repeated, intentional, and harmful behavior that targets an individual or group of individuals.
    • Harassment includes any unwanted behavior that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive.

    What Should You Do If You Receive a SafeSport Notice of Violation?

    If you receive a notice of violation from SafeSport, it means that an allegation of misconduct has been made against you, and SafeSport is initiating an investigation into the matter. The notice of violation will include the specific details of the allegation and the specific rule or policy that you have allegedly violated. The first thing you should do upon receiving a notice of violation is to take it seriously. Ignoring the notice or failing to respond could result in serious consequences. Hiring an experienced attorney to assist you will better enable you to understand and navigate the hearing process and defend your rights.

    Bear in mind that if you have received a notice of violation, SafeSport has already made a determination that the allegation falls under the SafeSport Code and that SafeSport has the authority to address and resolve the matter. In some instances, although SafeSport may have discretionary jurisdiction, a decision could be made to refer the matter to the relevant NGB for resolution. Each NGB maintains its own separate process for investigating and adjudicating potential violations. When a notice of violation is issued by SafeSport, temporary sanctions can be imposed when the process moves forward, however, a hearing may be requested to address any preliminary measures.

    How is a SafeSport Investigation and Hearing Conducted?

    The hearing process typically involves the following steps:

    • Preliminary Review: After you receive the notice of violation, SafeSport will conduct a preliminary review to determine if there is sufficient evidence to move forward with a formal hearing. The review by SafeSport will likely include gathering basic information and interviews with relevant people. Temporary sanctions restricting participation in the sport may also be imposed with the right to request a hearing.
      •  If insufficient information is found, the matter may be administratively closed.
      • An information resolution may also be possible which includes acceptance of responsibility for a violation and determination by SafeSport of an appropriate sanction that becomes finals and may be published by SafeSport.
    • Formal Resolution: If SafeSport determines that there is sufficient evidence to proceed, an investigator will be appointed to conduct interviews and evidence and prepare an investigation report. An accused is not required to participate in the investigation but does have the opportunity to submit information and relevant evidence to the investigator. Refusal to cooperate with the investigation will result in a decision about whether a Code violation occurred based on available evidence. In the event that a decision is issued finding that a violation occurred, a hearing may be requested.
    • Hearing: Once a decision is issued, an arbitration hearing can be requested within ten (10) days. The accused, called the Respondent, may have an attorney representative. The appointed arbitrator is responsible for conducting a hearing, which may involve testimony from witnesses and the parties involved in the case. The hearing is subject to a pre-hearing conference, discovery procedures, and other specific rules under the SafeSport Code. Except in extraordinary circumstances, the hearing is conducted either telephonically or by videoconference and is recorded but is otherwise closed to the public.
    • Arbitration Decision: Following the hearing, the Arbitrator issues a decision “promptly” which must be no later than seven (7) days after the close of evidence. The arbitrator’s decision weighs the evidence using a preponderance of the evidence standard and must outline findings of fact and include recommendations.
    • Appeal: While the procedures outlined in the SafeSport Code states that an arbitrator’s decision is final and not subject to appeal, review of the matter by a court of appropriate jurisdiction or the Court of Arbitration for Sport may be possible and warranted.

    What are the possible consequences of a SafeSport decision?

    In the event of an adverse decision by SafeSport following a notice of violation, the potential consequences for violations of the U.S Center for SafeSport’s code of conduct can be severe. One of the most significant consequences for violating SafeSport’s code of conduct is suspension or expulsion from participation in sports activities. Depending on the severity of the violation, the offender may face a temporary or permanent ban from participating in any sports activities. As a lesser measure, SafeSport can impose individualized restrictions including prohibitions on travel, coaching, or communication limitations. Regardless the type of sanction, it can apply to all levels of competition. Additionally, although SafeSport does not have the authority to pursue criminal action, an investigation could lead to referral to law enforcement authorities in the event that criminal offenses are identified. Additionally, decisions are published publicly which could be damaging to an individual’s reputation. As a result, sponsors or potential employers could choose to distance themselves from an offender, leading to financial loss.

    An investigation by SafeSport can be daunting and the consequences in the event that a violation is determined to have occurred can result in a ban from participating in sports or other sever restrictions. If you have questions or are under investigation by SafeSport or a national governing body, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced attorney.


    Joe Houchin