Olympics reform bill passes House after abuse scandals rocked sports

Born out of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the gymnastics world and toppled the leadership at the USOPC, the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act empowers Congress to decertify individual sports’ governing bodies and dissolve the USOPC’s board of directors. It also calls for better athlete representation in governing bodies and more funding for the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a nonprofit charged by Congress with policing sexual abuse in Olympic sports. Rep. Ted W. Lieu (D-Calif.), co-sponsor of the House bill, called it a potential “sea change.”

“We know from the Larry Nassar scandal and other scandals that we have to make the entire Olympic system much more athlete-centered,” Lieu said in a telephone interview.

Lawmakers from both parties have said they hope Trump will quickly sign it into law. A White House spokesman this week declined to comment on the president’s plans.

The bill effectively means that Congress will keep close watch on Olympic organizations, receiving annual reports and audits, and will be poised to take further action, if needed.

“Laws are dead letter and worse than worthless if they are not effectively enforced,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a co-sponsor in the Senate, said in a phone interview. “So I want to make sure Congress continues its strong oversight. …If there’s a need for more reform, I will have no reluctance to advocate more measures. I have no illusions that this legislation is the end of the story or that it’s a perfect solution. We’ve done our best on this first set of reforms, and I think it’s designed to change the culture and character of these agencies, as well as the culture of sport.”

Some of the biggest potential changes might not be known for months or longer. The bill calls for the creation of a bipartisan commission that will conduct a top-to-to-bottom review of the USOPC and the complicated system of Olympic sports. The group will report its findings to Congress, which could result in a more substantial overhaul of the Olympic framework in the United States, scrutinizing everything from the economic model to the spiderweb of governance.

“It’s gonna send shockwaves through the system,” said Olympian Eli Bremer, a former pentathlete and outspoken critic of the USOPC. “I think there is going to be a lot of changes that come out of this, and some pieces will take a bit of time to understand their true impact.”

Bremer is part of the Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOPC, an advocacy group that worked with lawmakers on the text of the bill, which marks Congress’s most significant Olympic-related undertaking in years. The Amateur Sports Act was originally passed in 1978, empowering the USOPC, and was updated and expanded in 1998.

“The entire system back then was around $1 million, not really big,” Bremer said of the 1978 legislation. “Now it’s probably half a billion to a billion with all the [national governing bodies]. It’s time to start rethinking the system.”

Congress would appoint the

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Domestic abuse has risen during the pandemic. Groups like the House of Ruth are ready.

But when schools closed in March, she couldn’t go to her job as a school art therapist and the boys stayed home, watching the rage of their mom’s boyfriend build and burst.

“Because of covid, there was no escape,” she said. “And my sons saw the abuse. And the fear I saw in their eyes was the same fear I had in my eyes when I was little and put in foster care.”

Like this mom, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was scared that her abuser would find her, thousands of others saw dangerous relationships worsen when the pandemic shrank their worlds.

It was her pastor who sensed the woman’s plight and pointed her toward the House of Ruth, where she could stay in a safe house.

Since the shutdown began in March, the House of Ruth has moved 16 women, many with children, into its emergency shelters, said Elizabeth Kiker, development director for the D.C.-based nonprofit organization.

That’s the same number it moved in last year during this time. Except this year, it had double the number of requests, she said.

So it’s perfect timing that House of Ruth this week opened Kidspace, a beautiful facility where these children — and the others who will follow as the pandemic drags on — have a place to safely play, learn and heal.

The same surge in abuse during the pandemic happened at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where radiologists found nearly double the “total number of victims sustaining injuries due to strangulation, stab injuries, burns or use of weapons such as knives, guns and other objects” this spring compared to the same period during the past two years, according to a study published in the journal Radiology.

The number of reported abuse cases, however, dropped by nearly half at the hospital, according to the study.

The paper trails aren’t being made, but the bodies of abused women are telling the real story. They’re trapped. And it’s harder to get help.

The counselors at House of Ruth knew this was going to happen — more abuse, fewer opportunities for escape. They’d have to find a new way to operate.

“Our staff was like doctors and nurses going into a war zone,” Executive Director Sandra Jackson said.

They received more calls for help as soon as the shutdown happened, but the counseling sessions were cut short — women didn’t feel safe talking while trapped at home with their abusers, who might overhear a call for help.

“We had to find a way to talk to them,” Jackson said. “So we helped people find a way to take a walk away and make the call, or we found a safe word they can use on the phone or text when they were in trouble, like telling them: ‘Say toilet paper if you need to talk right now or if you can’t stay there any longer.’ ”

The pandemic — and the high unemployment rate, evaporated savings, and the

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NHL let Florida Panthers handle abuse probe, discipline of former assistant Mike Kitchen

The NHL said it was aware of an incident where a Florida Panthers assistant coach allegedly kicked a player on the bench, but said that it left any investigation and punishment up to the team.

Canada’s TSN reported this week that coach Mike Kitchen, 64, kicked a Panthers player on the bench during a Jan. 20 game between Florida and the Minnesota Wild. The report claimed that Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Dale Tallon were made aware of the incident after the game.

The Panthers announced this week that Kitchen would not return to their coaching staff next season, though they didn’t specify why. After the incident, he remained on the staff through the March 12 “pause” due to COVID-19. Kitchen opted out of joining the team in the Toronto “bubble” for the restarted postseason. Florida was eliminated by the New York Islanders in the qualification round.

The alleged incident happened just over a month after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said there was a “zero tolerance policy” for teams not informing the league of incidents of abuse.

“Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind,” Bettman said at the December 2019 board of governors meeting in Pebble Beach, California. “Going forward, our clubs are on notice that if they become aware of an incident of conduct involving NHL personnel, on or off the ice, that is clearly inappropriate, unlawful or demonstrably abusive or that may violate league policies, either [deputy commissioner] Bill Daly or me must be immediately advised.”

Daly said the Panthers did reach out to the league about the incident.

“The team made me aware of the incident a while ago. We discussed with the team the appropriate approach,” Daly told ESPN on Saturday. “The team conducted its own investigation and made its own decision.”

Kitchen had been an assistant coach for 26 seasons, including with Quenneville on the Chicago Blackhawks bench from 2010 to 2017. He was head coach of the St. Louis Blues for 131 games from 2003-04 to 2006-07. He rejoined Quenneville in 2019-20, the head coach’s first season in Florida.

Tallon’s contract expired after the season, and he was replaced as general manager by Columbus assistant GM Bill Zito. Tallon is also under investigation by the NHL for allegedly using a racial slur while with the team in Toronto.

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