Making Sure Our Athletes Are Safe

As an athlete who is passionate about the game of basketball, this is a special time of year: March is Madness as the college game puts all of their “dancers” on the hardwood in pursuit of the National Championship. I do have favorites, as I am in continuing awe of Coach Auriemma and what he continues to accomplish at the University of Connecticut, setting a level of unmatched excellence for all men and women who play the game. I feel the same about Coach K, who inspires me with his leadership and his commitment to excellence on and off the court.

As a mom of athletes, those were the days when I was loading up the car with all the gear making sure I was at the right field or court at the right time on the right day. The opportunity to compete provides valuable lessons, and to do that with good positive coaching in a safe environment is most important of all. I suppose, that’s what makes the horrific uncovering of over 20 years of abuse in girls gymnastics, followed by those in swimming and others that may not have grabbed the headlines, but has happened nonetheless, has all of us concerned about the safety of our kids. The USOC, while in the headlights of Congress right now, has been working to get ahead of this situation when they hired Shellie Pfohl, the former leader of the President’s Council of Physical Fitness in the Obama Administration, to create an organization to fight misconduct in sports through education and empowerment, as well as to support athletes that have been sexually abused.

The love of the game is one of the reasons why she became President & CEO of the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Her work is not just reactionary but is proactively working to change the culture of sport itself, to bring it back to what it was meant to be. “My best education has come on the field of play,” Shellie said in an interview with the Des Moines Register. “It’s there I learned how to understand people’s strengths and help them work on weaknesses and to believe in my ability and my team’s ability to get the hard stuff done. That has served me better than any accounting or economics class ever could.”

While much is being done to ensure that athletes of all sports and all ages are safe, there is still so much work to do—and each of us can help. Shellie will be leading one of our breakout sessions during this year’s Generation W, sharing more details about what SafeSport is doing but also giving us insight into what WE can do to help ensure the many benefits of sport are never undermined by disrespect or behavior that compromises the well-being of athletes. “It’s awesome that we win games and win medals, said Shellie, but our greater goal is to build confident human beings and utilize sport to do that.”

I hope you will join us for this year’s Generation W to be held on April 13th at the University of North Florida. Click here to visit our event site where you can get more information on Shellie and our other amazing speakers a well as purchase tickets.

Game on!



Donna Orender