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The power-driven, win-at-all-costs milieu of many sport settings can create fertile ground for athlete victimization and abuse (Roberts et al., 2020). Victory can in fact be so sovereign that abusive coaches and staff are enabled and “even rewarded. . . in the name of winning” (Armour, 2020). Athlete abuse prevention therefore requires systemic cultural change (Letourneau et al., 2014; Rhind and Owusu-Sekyere, 2017). Thus far, however, enacting this idea has eluded organizations in sport (Mountjoy et al., 2016; Harris and Terry, 2019; Kerr et al., 2019; Rhind and Owusu-Sekyere, 2020) as well as in other settings (National Academies of Sciences, 2018; Fort Hood Independent Review Committee, 2020). Moreover, authority figures in sport have historically hindered abuse prevention efforts. As activist reformer Brackenridge (2001) wrote, their “collective denial effectively blinded [them] to the possibilities that they might actually be harboring or facilitating sexual [and others forms of] exploitation”.

This opinion piece first identifies the limitations facing current approaches to athlete abuse prevention. It then offers a novel solution: an athlete-centered safeguarding strategy based on positive reinforcement theory (Skinner, 1953). This approach, as described in Komaki and Minnich (2016), will enable sports authorities to transform the culture, the most powerful predictor of victimization and abuse (National Academies of Sciences, 2018).


This article was originally published in Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, available at

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