Due Process and Its Role in Amateur Athletics

Aug 14, 2009

By Holt Hackney
The impetuses of due process for amateur athletes in America may well have its roots in one defining moment in 1968 when Tommie Smith and John Carlos shocked the world by raising their gloved fists on the victory podium in a Black Power salute in the (1968 Summer) Mexico City Olympic Games.
Smith and Carlos were sent home the next day by USOC officials.
While some saw the Smith and Carlos incident as a racial equality protest, it was much more than that. It was also an athlete rights issue. The four years between 1968 and 1972 were a period of growing unrest among elite athletes across all sports in America. Athletes had no input – no voice – in any matter related to rules or governance of the sports they were dedicating their lives to.
By the time the plane landed returning the 1972 team home to the US, the athletes were frustrated and disenchanted with their experiences in the Munich Games. So they formed a group to look into the many concerns that were brewing. It was from this “informal” group of Munich athletes that the concept of the Athletes’ Advisory Council was (eventually) born.
This growing dissatisfaction was aimed at the leadership in both the US Olympic Committee and the old Amateur Athletic Union. The AAU of old was the major US “umbrella” sports empire. At one time there were as many as 19 sports managed under the AAU “umbrella” including, among others, basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, wrestling, track and field and the aquatic family swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming. The truth is the AAU had its hands full. It became clear the administration of sports in the United States across the spectrum – both winter and summer — were a mess in the 70’s.
It was U.S. President Gerald Ford who had the interest and the foresight to address the problems facing amateur sports in this country. In 1975 he appointed a Presidential Commission on Olympic Sports. On the Commission were Micki King, Lamar Hunt, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey, Donna DeVarona, Mike Elliott, Dr. Barbara Forker, Dr. Jerome Holland, Dr. James McCain, Howard K. Smith, Ernest Vandeweghe, Willie White and Bud Wilkinson.
The Commission’s recommendations included many monumental improvements, many of which were incorporated into the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. Three of the most significant were: (1) reorganizing the USOC and creating National Governing Bodies that had to meet strict membership requirements; (2) giving athletes a 20 percent voice and vote on the Board of Directors of the USOC and NGBs; and (3) requiring, by law, that athletes must be provided “fair notice and opportunity for a hearing” BEFORE being denied the opportunity to participate in amateur athletic competition.
This was a far cry from Mexico City in 1968.
But what does “fair notice and opportunity for a hearing” mean? This term is a buzzword for due process. What does due process mean? Due process means different things in different circumstances. However, in April 1984, the then General Counsel of the USOC, Ronald Rowan, Esq., made a presentation to the USOC’s House of Delegates explaining the USOC’s position in the matter. That “Due Process Checklist” has been updated from time to time since then and the most recent version appears below.
The Elements of Due Process Include at Least the Following:
1. Notice of the charges or alleged violations, with specificity and in writing, and possible consequences if the charges are found to be true;
2. Reasonable time between receipt of the notice of charges and the Hearing with respect to the charges, within which to prepare a defense;
3. Notice of the identity of adverse witnesses provided in advance of the Hearing;
4. The right to have the Hearing conducted at such a time and place so as to make it practicable for the person charged to attend;
5. A Hearing before a disinterested and impartial body of fact finders;
6. The right to be assisted in the presentation of one’s case at the Hearing, including the assistance of legal counsel, if desired;
7. The right to present oral and written evidence and argument;
8. The right of the athlete to call witnesses to testify at the Hearing, including the right to have individuals under the control of an adverse party attend; and to confront and cross-examine such individuals;
9. The right to have a record (i.e., transcript) made of the Hearing;
10. The burden of proof shall be on the proponent of the charge, which burden shall be at least a “preponderance of the evidence” unless the rules of the NGB or tribunal requires or provides for a higher burden of proof;
11. A written decision, with reasons therefore, based solely on the evidence of record, handed down in a timely fashion; and
12. Written notice of appeal procedures, if the decision is adverse to the person charged, and the prompt and fair adjudication of any appeal.
The price Tommie Smith and John Carlos paid over 40 years ago was historic on many levels, including the athlete’s right for Due Process.


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