USA Wrestling implemented what appears to be a first-of-its-kind policy, effective beginning at the U.S. Open Wrestling Championships in as Vegas, Nevada, during the final week of April.
“All media seeking to receive credentials to cover an event on USA Wrestling’s national and regional schedule will be required to pass USA Wrestling’s background check, as well as go through the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s online training,” the national governing body announced on April 16— less than 10 days before the championships. “These will available to journalists online and will be provided free of ost to all members of the media seeking accreditation.”
The new media procedures are part of USA Wrestling’s efforts to increase safety in the sport, which already includes requiring background checks and Safe Sport training for national staff, coaches, referees, medical staff, state leaders, club leaders, event directors, event volunteers, vendors and others. In addition, USA Wrestling has and will continue to inform adults affiliated with USA Wrestling about their responsibilities for mandatory reporting of suspected abuse, the organization said.
“When you start looking at doing everything you can to create a safe environment for kids that are participating in your sport, you look to see who has access,” Rich Bender, USA Wrestling’s executive director, told The Washington Post. “Obviously, I think a lot of focus has been placed on coaches and adult supervisors who are around kids in our sport. Members of the media fit into that criteria.”
Not surprisingly, some members of the wrestling media aren’t happy with the new policy. As The Post points out, “new protocols are more stringent than what’s required by other sports entities in the United States, including professional leagues and college conferences.”
Jeff Rosen, president of the Associated Press Sports Editors, called USA Wrestling’s new requirements “problematic on multiple levels” in a statement and said the organization will advise journalists to refrain from covering any event in which the new credentialing restrictions are in place.
“APSE applauds the effort to protect the safety of USA Wrestling athletes, but making journalists qualify for a membership and take a course in how to identify abuse and bullying is misguided,” Rosen, sports editor at The Kansas City Star, said in the statement. “The lack of specificity on background checks, including the extent and areas of the checks, and the disposal of information and indemnification of the media is both alarming and dangerous.”
Jason Bryant, president of the 64-member National Wrestling Media Association, doesn’t think the new policy for journalists is a big deal. “There’s a group of us wrestling people who actually kind of are endorsing it,” Bryant told AwfulAnnouncing.com, a website for sports fans that does not represent any media organization. “Wrestling, we don’t get the mainstream attention. [The national championships in] Vegas, nobody’s covering that. The Vegas paper covers it, but most people who cover it are wrestling people to start with. … This shouldn’t disrupt anyone who normally covers wrestling from covering wrestling.
“It’s another peace of mind thing [for parents], who’s talking to your 17-year-old daughter after she wins the match,” he continued. “It’s less about The Washington Post or The L.A. Times getting credentials, it’s more about saying ‘Okay, let’s make sure that everyone that’s here has a legit reason to be here.’ We’ve got a lot of volunteer photographers. It’s a niche sport, so it has niche media.”
USA Wrestling’s action comes in the wake of sexual abuse allegations and lawsuits in the U.S. Olympic sports community.
Will more NGBs follow USA Wrestling’s lead? Stay tuned.