Current Issues in American Sports: Protecting the Health and Safety of American Athletes
- Dr. Jay Clarence Butler, Chief Medical Officer, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services
- Ms. Maureen Deutscher, Family Representative, Prescription Opioid Abuse Advisory Committee, South Dakota Department of Health
- Ms. Shelly Pfohl, Chief Executive Officer, United States Center for SafeSport
- Mr. Scott Sailor, President, National Athletic Trainers’ Association
- Dr. Robert Stern, Professor of Neurology, Boston University School of Medicine
- Ms. Lauryn Williams, TrueSport Ambassador, United States Anti-Doping Agency
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
This hearing will take place in Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
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Chairman John Thune
Chairman John Thune
Good morning and welcome to today’s hearing.
It is no exaggeration to say that Americans love sports. We love watching them, playing them, collecting sports memorabilia, and even arguing about our favorite teams and athletes.
Whether it’s watching the Super Bowl with friends, joining an office bracket pool for March Madness, or stretching out for the Turkey Trot 5K races on Thanksgiving morning and the pickup football games later that afternoon, we love our sports.
Personally, I’m a Dodger and a Packer fan, and some of my happiest moments have been spent competing in sports, or cheering on my two daughters at their meets and games.
This Committee is committed to promoting American success in international competition, ensuring exciting play in our professional leagues, providing opportunity for our student athletes, and maintaining a vibrant sports culture for the benefit of all Americans. At the same time, protecting the health and safety of American athletes of all levels – professional, amateur, student, and youth – is a longstanding priority of the Commerce Committee.
The issue of sexual abuse within the United States Olympic movement has received considerable media attention in recent months. The troubling nature of these reports triggered the Committee’s inquiry into the ability of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the National Governing Bodies for individual sports to conduct effective, timely, and impartial investigations into allegations of abuse. I am glad that Shellie Pfohl of the United States Center for SafeSport is here today to discuss the center’s work to protect these athletes.
While I believe that nothing in the current law prevents the USOC and NGBs from taking immediate steps to remove a suspected predator from being in contact with athletes, it is also clear that certain stakeholders have, at times, sown confusion about the legal requirements of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, and manufactured ambiguities behind which to hide.
I am pleased that Senator Feinstein and her colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee have advanced legislation to address this issue. I look forward to working with her to strengthen her bill as it advances to the full Senate.
Specifically, any legislation to address this issue must include unambiguous language clarifying that it is the responsibility of our Olympic leaders to provide an environment that is free from abuse. In the same way Congress codified the United States Anti-Doping Agency to combat the use of performance enhancing drugs in 2001, I believe we should authorize the U.S. Center for SafeSport as an independent organization with the expertise to investigate and adjudicate abuse allegations as they arise.
Speaking of anti-doping, I am pleased we are joined here today by Olympic medalist and True Sport Ambassador Lauryn Williams who will testify on behalf of USADA. The Committee last reauthorized USADA in 2014, and since that time has been active on a number of clean sport issues.
For instance, in 2016, following the revelation of an elaborate doping program sponsored by the Russian government, the Committee conducted oversight of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s response, prompting the agency to appoint a new independent investigator and to expand the scope of its investigation.
Following a reanalysis of samples collected during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, which revealed cheating in the men’s pole vault event, I wrote to the International Olympic Committee to correct the final results of that competition and to award the bronze medal to an American, Derek Miles just last month.
The issue of prescription opioids to treat sports injuries is another growing concern, in particular because of the addiction and overdose risks they carry. Though substance abuse and misuse affects all demographics, athletes are a particularly vulnerable population.
While the media has focused recent attention on the use of prescription opioids in professional sports leagues, this issue impacts all athletes, including at the high school and collegiate levels.
While I wish she were here under different circumstances, I am glad we are joined by Maureen Deutscher, and her husband Jeff, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who will testify about their family tragedy involving the loss of their son, Nick, to opioid painkillers.
Maureen and Jeff, I’m deeply sorry for your loss, and thank you for your bravery in sharing your story with us today.
Finally, the issue of concussions in sports is a longstanding issue that this Committee has sought to address. Concussions are common injuries among athletes participating in contact sports, and are among the most complex injuries to manage in sports medicine. The Committee has conducted oversight of efforts to prevent and mitigate the occurrence of concussions in sports, including game rule changes, coaching and player education, guidelines, as well as the development of brain injury and equipment research.
Dr. Jay Clarence Butler of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Mr. Scott Sailor, President of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, and Dr. Robert Stern of Boston University School of Medicine will we be able to speak to this issue as well as many others that affect our nation’s athletes. I thank you for being here today and look forward to hearing your testimony.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. I’m pleased that we’ll be able to start a conversation about what more can be done to protect America’s athletes of all ages and at all levels.
For instance, we must protect our young athletes, many of whom are children, training for Olympic sports. We were all shocked by the revelations of widespread sexual abuse in USA Gymnastics, USA Taekwondo, and other Olympic sports. Even more appalling was evidence that responsible adults were indifferent and looked the other way. When so many young victims can be horribly abused by adults for so long without repercussions, it’s a stain on America’s proud Olympics heritage.
Congress needs to respond to this national travesty. It’s why I’m proud to cosponsor the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act of 2017. This bill would require immediate reporting of sexual-abuse allegations, require national governing bodies to adopt strict protocols and measures to protect children, and make it easier for victims to come forward and report to the authorities.
We also need to examine athletic doping at the international level. There are allegations that the Russian government runs a doping program for the sole purpose of providing its athletes an unfair advantage. Over 100 Russian athletes were banned from Olympic games in Rio. We should address attacks on clean, drug-free sports and protect athletes who do things the right way.
Finally, the issue of head injuries in sports is something that only becomes more alarming as more research comes out. As we all know, concussions and CTE are not limited to pro-sports. It’s also about kids and the devastating effects on their still-developing young brains. I want to recognize Senator Udall, who’s been such a champion and leader on this issue. His dedication to preventing concussions and youth athletic safety is well known to everyone here, and I want to thank him for raising awareness about this very troubling issue.
Dr. Jay Clarence ButlerChief Medical OfficerAlaska Department of Health and Social Services
Ms. Maureen DeutscherFamily RepresentativePrescription Opioid Abuse Advisory Committee, South Dakota Department of Health
Ms. Shelly PfohlExecutive OfficerUnited States Center for SafeSport
Mr. Scott SailorPresidentNational Athletic Trainers’ Association
Dr. Robert SternProfessor of NeurologyBoston University School of Medicine
Ms. Lauryn WilliamsTrueSport AmbassadorUnited States Anti-Doping Agency