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The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is distributing a publication to all its member institutions urging athletic departments to create policies that “unambiguously and effectively” prohibit sexual relationships between coaches and student-athletes.
Of course, these relationships create conflicts of interest. But the issues run deeper than that, argue authors Deborah L. Brake, a University of Pittsburgh law professor, and Mariah Burton Nelson, executive director for the American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation.
The authors state that such relationships do not necessarily constitute sexual harassment because some of the relationships are consensual. But regardless of whether they are consensual, these relationships are a form of sexual abuse (though not necessarily criminal assault) because the employee holds a position of power over the athlete – rendering an athlete’s consent, stated or unstated, illegitimate. “The public understands that children can be manipulated into ‘agreeing’ to behaviors that are inappropriate and even criminal because they are, relative to adults, powerless,” the document reads. “Whether the student-athlete is 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, or older, she or he is significantly less powerful than a head coach, assistant coach, athletics trainer, sport psychologist, athletics director, or other athletics department staff with supervisory control or authority over student-athletes."