Keeping its athletes safe when not supervised by their parents or guardians is a top priority for US Lacrosse, and one the Maryland-based organization goes above and beyond to achieve.
As the sport’s national governing body, US Lacrosse must focus on protecting its over 400,000 members from not only concussions and routine injuries, but also physical and sexual abuse by those seeking to leverage roles within the organiztion to gain access to potential victims. As a result, in 2013, the organization adopted a set of initiatives to safeguard players from misconduct.
These protocols create a standard for athlete safety and training, outlining boundaries and rules for appropriate physical conduct and one-to-one interactions between players and coaches. The goal is to prevent crimes against minors and to protect the integrity of the organization and the sport, according to US Lacrosse’s website.
One of the most important components of US Lacrosse’s commitment to athlete safety is background checks of all adults interested in becoming coaches, administrators and volunteers. To that end, the organization partnered with the National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI) to conduct comprehensive screenings as a first line of defense in its effort to prevent abuse.
Based in Cleveland, Ohio, NCSI is trusted by more than 50 national governing bodies to complete their background screenings. For the past fifteen years, NCSI has worked primarily with youth-serving organizations to champion policies and programs to help keep kids safe from harm while supporting organizations with comprehensive safety services.
“It’s an issue we can’t be lax about,” said Abby Morris, US Lacrosse’s SafeSport program manager. “We want to be preventative versus reactive, to provide awareness and training before abuse happens.”
US Lacrosse decided to partner with NCSI because it needed to guarantee consistent and comprehensive results for all of its member coaches across the country, Morris said.
Every NCSI background screen is extensive, consisting of two searches in all 50 states, two national sex offender registries, numerous terrorists watchlists and fugitive databases, and a county courthouse search.
While many screening companies conduct national searches that provide instant results, NCSI uses the national databases as a supplement to in-person county courthouse searches.
“A lot of companies are happy to take your money, but unfortunately, not all background checks are created equal,” Morris said. “NCSI gives what they promise, because pride goes into what they’re doing and they stand behind that.”
An NCSI case study analyzed every disqualified applicant from a national youth sports group between 2015 and 2016 to determine if the crime would have been captured using the database-only method and without the county courthouse search.
The results were astounding. Of the 56 disqualified individuals, 41% would have slipped through the cracks if background screenings were done using solely a national database. Crimes including violence, felony drugs and sex offenses were all found through local courthouse searches, but not via a database search.
“The thoroughness of the NCSI screening is eye-opening,” Morris said. “Being able to screen our coaches across the nation under the same standard boosts safety for athletes.”
That track record of safety has led NCSI to conduct more than 36,000 background screenings of US Lacrosse’s member coaches, officials, trainers and volunteers.
While NCSI has the capacity to complete hundreds of thousands of background checks for an organization such as US Lacrosse, grass roots clubs often have the most to gain with the in-depth searches.
“Human and financial gaps can create issues in keeping kids safe,” said NCSI co-founder Trish Sylvia. “We look to help bridge that gap for organizations.”
US Lacrosse remains focused on safety as its membership and popularity continue to grow with the hope of it eventually becoming an Olympic sport. Since the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) also uses NCSI for its background screening, US Lacrosse hopes its commitment to the same background check standards will help in its efforts towards becoming an official Olympic sport.
NCSI’s personalized approach goes beyond just running background screens. NCSI also provides US Lacrosse guidance and resources to enhance player safety.
In January 2020, NCSI was a presenter at the inaugural Safe Sport Symposium during LaxCon in Philadelphia. The symposium was an opportunity for US Lacrosse to connect with local coaches and club leaders on the importance of protecting athletes from abuse.
Most recently, Sylvia presented a webinar hosted by US Lacrosse in conjunction with National Child Abuse Prevention Month (April). Sylvia emphasized online safety, especially how it relates to communication shifting online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sylvia said she’s motivated to stay on the pioneering edge of protecting athletes, because on the other side of her work is a vulnerable population that deserves to have a safe environment in which to play the sports they love.
“It’s something that’s going to take all of us working everyday and commitment to have an impact,” she said. “That will help lead to every child being in a safe environment.”