A Lawyer For Equity: “Collateral Damage” For Whom?

Feb 4, 2020 - 3:03 PM

On Dec. 9, the Chronicle published an interview with Diane Carney, president of the new organization Athletes for Equity in Sport. Attorney Ryan Lefkowitz wrote a blog responding to the interview.

To continue the conversation, the Chronicle is publishing a subsequent response from Carney and Packy McGaughan, as well as Lefkowitz’ rebuttal below.

Athletes for Equity’s willingness to recognize SafeSport as necessary oversight for athletes participating in Olympic sports, and its vocalized support for SafeSport’s mission of protecting those athletes from sexual predators, is heartening.

Athletes for Equity accuses SafeSport of taking advantage of “societal norms established by our constitutional courts” in one breath while admitting in another that it operates within “case law that allows SafeSport to ignore those norms.” This simply does not make sense, and such vague and confusing language only continues to cloud the conversation around SafeSport. Unidentified “societal norms” are not legally binding. Rules established by our courts are. SafeSport is under no obligation to operate within Athlete for Equity’s interpretation of “basic rights and responsibilities.”  

Despite its claim that SafeSport is a state actor and bound by the Due Process clause, Athletes for Equity has not indicated any intention to actually assert its claim in court. It is correct that the issue has not been explicitly decided with respect to SafeSport. But if Athletes for Equity truly believes that a case involving SafeSport would have a different outcome, despite the Supreme Court finding that an analogous and associated organization was not a state actor, it should file a lawsuit saying so.  

Meanwhile, SafeSport can and should continue to prevent the sexual abuse of minors by evaluating the merit of the accuser’s claims, not with the goal of determining punishment or compensation, but instead to protect others from abuse. It is not a question of whether the merits of a claim should be evaluated—but rather the unique role SafeSport serves in why it is evaluating such claims. Evaluating the merits of a claim to determine punishment or compensation is the province of our criminal and civil justice system. Instead, SafeSport evaluates each claim with an eye towards another goal: the safety and security of athletes. If the trier of fact evaluates a claim and determines that expulsion is necessary to prevent further abuse, that expulsion absolutely may carry with it incidental and unavoidable consequences and punishment. The intent is to expel perpetrators of abuse from a system that gives them unique and frequently unfettered access to minors. The end goal of preventing abuse is served by removing sexual predators. Of course the end justifies the means when the means are sexual predators facing consequences for their actions.  

Athletes for Equity relies on its “practical experience” in pushing a narrative that false accusations are a prominent problem in reports of sexual assault, particularly in SafeSport. Fortunately, a peer-reviewed study published in 2010 in the international journal “Violence Against Women” analyzed 10 years of reports and found the number of false reports of sexual assault to be about 5.9 percent. This means that roughly 94 percent of all sexual assault reports are true. Athletes for Equity may believe that it has encountered all of the 5.9 percent who were falsely accused. But branding the statistically proven miniscule number of false reports as “collateral damage that has already begun piling up” is an insult to the 94 percent of sexual assault victims who are finally being heard for the first time. Victims who now, after years of going unheard and unheeded, are reading about the “collateral damage” being caused by their accusations. 

That is why labeling its organization as “a force that will improve SafeSport’s processes for everyone under its jurisdiction” is disingenuous at best. The president of Athletes for Equity says it is “not about not protecting children.”  When an organization cannot even plainly state it is for protecting children, we should believe it. 

Have an experience with SafeSport that you’d like to share, on or off the record? Email Erin at eharty@coth.com.


LefkowitzR_5x7headshotRyan Lefkowitz grew up riding horses in Westchester County, New York, and rode for the SUNY Geneseo Equestrian Team while in college. After college, she was a working student for Findlay’s Ridge and a barn manager for Spring Ledge LLC. She has previously blogged and freelanced for The Chronicle of the Horse. After graduating magna cum laude from Syracuse University College of Law, Ryan began working at a law firm in Manhattan, where she is currently a litigation associate.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of The Chronicle of the Horse or any related entity or individual. Any content provided by our authors are of their opinion and are not intended to constitute legal advice provided by The Chronicle of the Horse, the author, or any related entity or individual. The Chronicle of the Horse does not guarantee that any information in this article is accurate and up to date, as the law can change quickly. Additionally, the law differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and is subject to interpretation of courts located in each jurisdiction. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the tools and information provided to you may not be an appropriate fit in your case. Nothing that you read or is provided on this website should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship between any reader and The Chronicle of the Horse or any related entity or individual or the author.

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