USA Hockey takes preemptive strike at scandal

By Lauren Cook -- Medill News Service   |   May 1, 2013 at 5:23 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 1 -- As professional hockey enters the post season, USA Hockey unveiled a new program Wednesday to make sure scandals that have affected other sport do not reach the ice rink.

“The catalyst for it is absolutely and admittedly a byproduct of the horror of what took place at Penn State University with the football program and Jerry Sandusky,” said Dave Ogrean, USA Hockey Executive Director, at a Congressional Hockey Caucus briefing Wednesday.

Operationally, SafeSport will be zero-tolerance program for instances of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, bullying or hazing activities within the sport of hockey. It will also set parameters regarding locker room supervision, social media usage and team travel.

The SafeSport program was initially founded by the United States Olympics Committee in 2010, but was re-tooled for use by USA Hockey, the national governing body for the sport of hockey, and is set for implementation this fall.

In addition, Ogrean said SafeSport will outline a procedure for reporting abuse, provide an educational program for recognizing the symptoms of these issues and create a hotline that allows for the anonymous submission of abuse reports.

“We have an obligation, if parents are going to give us their young boy or girl, to make sure that we protect them on and off the ice the best we can,” Ogrean said. “That’s why the SafeSport program has become such a priority for us, as well as our emphasis on safety on the ice.”

The SafeSport program is part of hockey’s ongoing efforts to broaden the popularity of the sport. That includes improving rink access for children in urban and low-income areas.

“There are a finite number of ice surfaces in the country right now,” said Ogrean. “Until we do have a lot more facilities, there is something of a governor on the growth of our game.”

Yet despite the challenges, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Washington Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis, who joined Ogrean at the briefing, pointed out the game is growing in popularity as it becomes more accessible.

“Thanks to strong development programs in the United States, six American-born players were claimed in the first round of our draft last June,” Bettman said. “Fifty-six U.S.-born players were claimed overall, representing 17 states; including from such hockey hotbeds as Florida, Texas and North Carolina.”

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