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Little League International's Efforts Fail to Protect Children From Sex Offenders, Convicted Criminals and Injury

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I am the mom of a nine year old Little Leaguer and I am worried about the safety of my child, and all the other innocent children who step on fields across the country, who are at risk of having their lives destroyed by sex offenders and convicted criminals who prey on them as youth sports coaches.

Little League International is aware their volunteer screening system is severely flawed, allowing sex offenders and convicted felons out onto the fields - and they are doing nothing to stop it. Little League International requires local leagues, at minimum, to check volunteer names against the National Sex Offender Registry. It sounds safe enough, until you know that the registry lists just a fraction of all sex offenders. The National Sex Offender database contains only 665,000 records, while criminal databases such as Choice Point contain records on 11 MILLION sex-related crimes.

Little League International feels so strongly that leagues should go beyond the minimum requirements that they secured a deal with Choice Point so each chartered local Little League organization receives up to125 criminal background checks for free. Yet surprisingly, most leagues aren’t taking them up on their offer. Last year, only 25% of all leagues voluntarily ordered criminal reports, the largest percentage of participation ever. When they did, they found what they had seen two years earlier, which is that criminals are applying to be Little League volunteers in droves. Leagues that voluntarily ordered reports between March 2003-September 2006 on a total of 256,000 volunteers found that two out of five applicants they screened had a criminal record, including armed robbery, aggravated assault, adult sexual assault and murder. The 2008 results included the same crimes. Are you comfortable with the fact that only 25% of volunteers were screened last year and that any convicted criminals who applied in the other 75% were never identified? Why does Little League International require a criminal background check on the reporters and photographers that cover the Little League World Series, yet does not on the adult volunteers on their teams?

Another way criminals gain access to your child is that local league’s Executive Boards are given complete autonomy by Little League International to choose who they will ultimately allow to volunteer. Although Little League International has stated its policy does not allow anyone convicted of a crime against a child or of a felony drug conviction to volunteer, it does not follow-up with local leagues to ensure this. They don’t check whether or not applications were completed on all volunteers, nor do they check on the results of any reports ordered or if they were even ordered at all. As a result, previously convicted sex offenders have joined local Little Leagues, gained access to the children and parents, secured their trust and become their “friends.” Do an internet search and you will see how many “friends” are subsequently convicted of molesting Little League players in their homes, on camping trips and even in the dugout. When you do, you will also find Little League boards that voted to keep on coaches when they found out they had criminal convictions against them, such as selling heroin, felony child abuse and even a history of sex crime convictions against a child.

Time after time, when an adult Little League volunteer is arrested and a previous criminal record is exposed, local league board members are interviewed by the media. They are quoted as saying how they wished they had known about the previous record and wish that they had ordered the reports, but that they will from now on. Their hindsight does not erase the irreparable damage these children suffered and will now live with every day of their lives. Little League International warns that parents should be vigilant for signs of a sex offender, which is good advice, but by not requiring criminal reports and not following up on local leagues ordering any reports to screen out convicted felons and all those with child-related crimes on their record, they create a situation that potentially sets a trap for our children. Unless all leagues become proactive and not reactive, this cycle will likely continue. You will not hear, however, from the children suffering in silence from the acts of convicted criminals whose identity have gone undetected.

You pay for the fields your Little Leaguers play on with your tax dollars. Your children pay for the acts and omissions of Little League International with their lives.
Also disturbing, when my child got hit in the face by a baseball two years ago, I started reading about baseball safety to see what I could do to make it safer for him to play the game. As I did, I began to discover some serious flaws in Little League International’s safety program. I also uncovered proof that Little League International is aware of these flaws but does not address them, and as a result, the chance that your child will be a potential victim is much more than you think.
Baseball is a leading cause of facial and dental injuries and maxillofacial fractures in youth sports and is the number one cause of sports-related eye injuries to children ages 5-14. One reason is that the average speed of a Little League pitch is 30–50 mph and the injuries that happen to an unprotected batter’s face with a projectile of that speed are severe.

One way to reduce the risk of these injuries would be to require that all batting helmets be equipped with faceguards to protect players’ faces, teeth and eyes. There is a huge amount of support for faceguards from medical, consumer and sports organizations as well as statistics that back them up, including a study with members of the USA Baseball’s Medical/Safety Committee and Little League Risk Management, who concluded that using faceguards reduces the risk of facial injury by 35%. Dixie Baseball, the second largest youth baseball organization in the world, has used them since 1993 and has said it virtually eliminated facial injuries for their batters.

Last year, Little League International said, “Little League International understands that injuries are part of the game, but let it be known that the governing body for the largest youth sports organization in the world sees even one injury as too many to dismiss as acceptable”.
If they truly believe that, then why haven’t they mandated a piece of equipment that has such widespread support?
Little League balks that there are not enough injuries to justify the cost of faceguards, but the fact is, they have no idea how many injuries there are. What Little League officially reports to the public as the total number of injuries each year is actually the total number of insurance claims that were paid through Little League accident insurance. Little League insurance is a secondary carrier, and private insurance must be exhausted in order for payment to even be considered. How does this skew the numbers? Any doctor’s office visits, physical therapy, trips to the emergency room or hospitalizations paid for by private insurance, as most are, are not factored into their injury totals. Artificially lowering the number of injuries by using insurance claim figures in place of true injury data is a travesty. You can see it in action when Little League says that out of the 2.7 million children running, sliding, batting and fielding in 2002, the total number of players seriously injured was 38.

Injuries aren’t tracked nor reported accurately and neither are the numbers of Little League deaths. I was shocked to discover how many children have died while playing Little League baseball and how gross the errors are in what Little League presents as its “official safety record” to the public. In 1990, Stephen Keener, President and CEO of Little League Incorporated claimed that only 3 children had died playing Little League since it was founded in 1939, yet Little League will readily admit they did not keep records until the 1960’s. There were no records for over twenty years of that time span, so how could they possibly know that?

Their tracking is so poor that Keener has also stated there have been no play-related deaths in Little League since 1990, yet a Little League International report states between 1990-1994 alone, five players died from injuries on the field. I have found out that at least 42 Little League players have died since 1960, according to the newspaper accounts, CPSC reports, Little League International studies and reports and other sources I have read so far.

I am outraged that Little League keeps putting out figures for numbers for injuries and deaths to show how “safe” playing Little League is, yet they don’t have a clue how many there actually are. If they don’t look at the true numbers and identify the causes, how can they learn how to prevent future injuries and deaths? How can we not question any statistic they have ever given to us about safety?

Little League is an American tradition and the positive experiences it provides are valuable to our culture and to our children’s development. I believe that Little League International shares the goals that I do-of creating a safe and fun environment in which to play the game, but following their current course will never achieve those goals. It is clear that ignoring these safety issues does not make them disappear. Little League International has said they have “no higher responsibility or priority than the safety of the children and volunteers in its program,” but their words ring hollow. You need to ask yourself if Little League Incorporated does not make reforms immediately, is that organization guilty of child abuse?