Youth Soccer League Sued Over Molester Coach
The parents of a girl who was raped by her youth soccer coach when she was 13 are suing the local soccer league and its national umbrella organization for negligence in failing to adequately vet the coach before allowing him access to children.
The lawsuit, filed in Santa Clara County, California, names U.S. Youth Soccer and the California Youth Soccer Association-North, claiming that if they had a policy of conducting background checks they would have discovered that coach Emanuele Fabrizio had a prior domestic violence conviction.
Fabrizio, 37, pleaded guilty to abusing the youth victim last year and is now serving a 15-year prison sentence. The lawsuit claims that he told the girl that “a secret romantic relationship would help her become a better soccer player” and groomed her with physical contact and promises of a bright future in the sport starting at age 12.
After the girl turned 13, Fabrizio raped her at least five times over a six month period, created child pornography of her and engaged in other offenses with the assurance that the maturity and emotional discipline she was learning through the secret abuse would help her reach her potential on the soccer field, authorities said.
“Emanuele Fabrizio should never have been allowed to coach this victim or anyone else. Public records show a past conviction for domestic abuse and disturbing levels of uncontrolled arrogance and narcissism,” victim’s attorney Kelly Raftery said at his trial.
Responsibility for Safety
The case law for liability for coaches in youth leagues is largely untested. “The question is whether or not youth sporting leagues and programs have a duty to protect their players from an unreasonable risk of harm,” says Jon “Mitch” Jackson, a personal injury attorney with Jackson & Wilson in Orange County. “In this case, that means taking the necessary precautions to avoid exposing children and young adults to sexual predators.”
Coaches and other youth volunteers have extensive access to children and those with malevolent intentions are in a perfect position to gain false trust. “Those of us who have played youth sports, coached youth sports, or have children playing in youth sports know how easy it would be, for many different reasons, for a coach or other volunteer who is a child predator, to commit a crime,” Jackson says.
Given how much cheaper and easier it is to conduct background checks than in the past, they would be a simple first step toward screening out adults at risk of harming children. The current policy in the youth soccer league is for coaches to self-report criminal histories. Fabrizio was convicted of abuse against a woman he was dating in 2007 and had a restraining order taken out against him, but the league apparently didn’t know about it.
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“The good news is that some leagues are starting to incorporate background checks using third-party sources that reveal prior arrest records, court cases and sexual predator registration information,” says Jackson. “The bad news is that most leagues are still not correctly completing background checks. Some leagues ask for this information but then never follow up with a background check. This isn’t OK and it will probably expose leagues to liability and damages.”
Youth sports should be a safe, fun and educational refuge for children, and like any organization that takes responsibility for supervision of kids, the leagues have an incumbent mandate to take basic steps to prevent the worst from happening.
“When these leagues are held financially accountable for failing to do a proper background check resulting in a child being harmed, then I think you will see a majority of these cases being eliminated because of the filtering and review process,” the attorney says. “As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t agree to a background check, then you shouldn’t be allowed to coach or volunteer in youth sports.”