AAU announces mandatory screening

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Amateur Athletic Union will begin what its national president said Tuesday he hopes will foster a "culture of safety" with the implementation of several reforms, including mandatory background screening for all staff, coaches and volunteers.

The new screening is set to begin Sept. 1 and coincides with the youth organization's new membership cycle. No one will be exempt from screening and any questionable information that turns up could permanently disqualify people from participation in AAU programs. AAU's Board of Directors will have final say on all membership decisions.

Everyone involved in AAU programs also will be required to report any known or suspected child abuse to law enforcement.

"The new recommendations are not because we suspect anyone, but rather because we expect everyone to do their part to create a strong, new culture of safety," AAU president Louis Stout said.

The moves follow a six-month review by two AAU-commissioned task forces that focused on youth protection and adult volunteering screening. They produced a joint 30-page report with 42 recommendations for changes to AAU's policies, protocols and procedures.

Donna Lopiano, president of Sports Management Resources and a former CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation, said by email Tuesday that "no matter what the gold standard in background checks, the policy, education and child welfare advocate pieces are even more important because (1) they don't cost anything, and (2) they are needed if the background check doesn't pick up anything."

AAU commissioned the review last December in the wake of decades-old sex abuse allegations against former president Bobby Dodd. The organization had never faced any abuse allegations prior to those against the 63-year-old Dodd, with whom it severed all ties, and he to date has never been charged with a crime.

AAU had previously done some random screenings of officials, but they were not mandatory.

The oldest organization dedicated to youth athletes in the country, the 124-year-old AAU oversees about 30 sports programs for all ages nationwide, from major sports like football, basketball and baseball to bocce ball, baton twirling and competitive jump rope. More than 500,000 athletes and 50,000 volunteers participate in its programs.

The new screening will be done through a contract with LexisNexis Risk Solutions and will take approximately several days per person depending on the applicant.

The company has a special program for nonprofits, which will help to defray a lot of the costs. The company has done more than 5.5 million screenings for different nonprofit organizations over the past 15 years including the Boys & Girls Club, Little League Baseball and Boy Scouts.

"They are coming to the right place," said Beverly McIntosh, who heads LexisNexis' volunteer screening division. "This is what we do."

But some of the costs will be passed to AAU members, with membership rates increasing by $2 in each of its categories. That means that youth athlete fees will increase from $12 to $14 and from $14 to $16 when new member registration begins.

In addition to the background checks, policies will be in place to prevent adults form being alone in rooms with youths. Also, AAU will put together a child protection manual to guide its members, and have a zero-tolerance policy for hazing.

"It probably should have been done a long time ago. ...There's a term we use every day -- change. That's what all this is about," Stout said. "I don't think about what we didn't do, I think about what we are going to do. And that is change the perception of this organization hopefully across the rest of its serving youth across this country."

It's a perception that probably needs changing after the Dodd allegations.

ESPN's "Outside The Lines" reported in December that two former basketball players had accused Dodd of molesting them as children in Memphis and other locations in the 1980s. But Memphis police suspended their investigation a month later because they could not find any victims, and no one has come forward to file a formal criminal complaint.

Dodd's attorney, Steve Farese, said in January that his client is innocent. Farese said he was not surprised that police did not go forward with a criminal investigation.

One of Dodd's accusers is 43-year-old Ralph West, who alleged that Dodd fondled him, tried to fondle him or masturbated in front of him at Dodd's home in Memphis, the AAU Junior Olympics in South Bend, Ind., and tournaments in Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee. The other accuser spoke to ESPN anonymously and accused Dodd of molesting him at Dodd's home.

Both men said news reports about the Penn State child sex abuse case prompted them to independently confront Dodd in November.

Dodd coached AAU basketball teams in Memphis before joining the organization's national staff more than 20 years ago. Dodd had been an executive with AAU since the 1990s.

Lauren Book, founder of Lauren's Kids child abuse advocacy foundation, served on the youth protection task force. She applauded AAU's efforts in putting the recommendations into action.

"There's a lot of work left to be done, but we have a road map now to begin making these changes," Book said.

AAU director of operations James Parker said while feedback is welcomed by its membership, it won't deter the organization from its new commitments.

"This is about reorientation ... nothing less than a change in our culture," he said. "We must recognize that we are all responsible for protecting our youth."

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN investigative reporter Tom Farrey was used in this report.