Saturday, August 4, 2018

USA Racquetball upheaval

There has been upheaval at USA Racquetball, (USAR) which has led to the dismissal of their Executive Director Jason Thoerner. The cause of the upheaval is unclear, as parties are unwilling to discuss the matter, but the recently created U.S. Center for SafeSport was involved, and it was reported in USA Today. What's going on?

SafeSport’s Mission “is to make athlete well-being the centerpiece of our nation’s [the USA’s] sports culture. All athletes deserve to participate in sports free from bullying, hazing, sexual misconduct or any form of emotional or physical abuse.” No one would argue against that mission, and athlete abuse is serious business. Thus, if SafeSport is involved in this USAR situation, it’s not good news.

Yet the SafeSport spokesperson quoted in the USA Today piece on this matter suggests it wasn’t an abusive situation, but rather about adopting “proactive policies that … set standards for professional boundaries, minimize the appearance of impropriety and have the effect of preventing boundary violations and prohibiting grooming tactics.” Not good, but again it’s unclear what exactly we are talking about, and why it cost Thoerner his job.

Thoerner is a racquetball lifer, so he’s well known in the sport. He was an elite player - a World Champion in Men’s Doubles - and top 10 player on the International Racquetball Tour. After retiring as a player, he worked in the industry for Head / Penn, and later became USAR President. In an unusual move, Thoerner was hired as USAR Executive Director from the President’s position.

Thus, if Thoerner had ever acted inappropriately or even if there was a suspicion of him acting inappropriately, shouldn't someone have known about it, and that knowledge prevented him from getting involved in the USAR in the first place? In our experience he has always been reasonable and helpful with The Racquetball Blog. It was good news when he became involved on the USAR Board, and although it’s unusual to go from a volunteer position to a staff position, it seemed like good decision to put someone as sensible as Thoerner appears to be in the role of Executive Director.

So, we’re left wondering whether the matter in question was really something that SafeSport should have been involved in. That is, if an abusive situation isn’t going on, and based on SafeSport’s statement it appears not to be, then should the matter have been brought to SafeSport at all? Now, SafeSport would likely say that such an omission would be an example of the behavior they are trying to quash.

But when there is conflict between two parties, it is best to solve it at that level of conflict before appealing to higher powers. If your brother has taken some of your candy, try to work it out with him before going to your parents for help. And certainly don’t call the police to report your brother for candy theft unless you are looking to escalate the consequences for him, because once the police are involved, things will get serious and you won't be able to control what happens. Of course, if your brother stole millions of dollars from you, then a call to the police could be in order sooner than later.

Thus, we wonder if this is a tempest in a teapot that once brought to SafeSport’s attention demanded that someone take the fall for it. Hence, Thoerner’s dismissal.

Although much is unclear in this matter, it does seem clear that Nick Irvine is involved somehow, as he was also dismissed following Thoerner, although Irvine has not been accused of anything by SafeSport. He is appealing for wrongful dismissal.

Also, it’s clear to us that this is not over. USAR will have to deal with its repercussions for months to come, including the hiring of a new Executive Director, the defense of their decision to dismiss Irvine - and perhaps Thoerner if he files suit against USAR - as well as generally fielding questions regarding this matter, and potential impact on USAR sponsorship. That will take considerable time and energy.

Finally, it’s also clear that USAR is not a big organization, so the resources and energy needed to deal with this situation will tax it severely. As the National Governing Body (NGB) for racquetball in the USA, where racquetball has been treading water for sometime now but wants to move forward, it won’t be helpful for USAR to be putting as much time and resources into this matter as are going to be required to see it through.

But they won’t have a choice.

Follow the bouncing ball….

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