On this episode of Champion in Every Corner, Erin Zimmermann White, joins us to kickoff our Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policies (MAAPP) miniseries. She discusses how adult athletes pay a role in preventing and responding to abuse and misconduct in sport.
Disclaimer: This podcast episode features a guest who is not an employee of the United States Center for SafeSport. The opinions, recommendations, comments, or representations made by the podcast guest do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the Center.
Additionally, the podcast guest makes references to “necessary reporters” which are actually references to “Mandatory Reporters” as defined in the SafeSport Code.
Welcome to Champion in Every Corner, the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s podcast. Building a safe and positive sports community is what we're all about. So, you'll hear from experts about innovative ideas and abuse prevention practices you can put in play today. Before we begin, be sure you know your obligations for reporting actual or suspected child abuse, and other abuse and misconduct. Ask a leader in your organization what policies and laws apply to you. This episode is hosted by Mariah Bures, Training Manager at the Center.
On today’s episode, we are looking forward to hearing from Erin Zimmerman-White, a horseback rider who is a supporter of the Center's mission. Welcome Erin, could you tell listeners a little bit more about yourself?
Yeah. Hi, thank you for having me today. My name, as said before, is Erin Zimmermann-White. Professionally, I am a mechanical engineer in the aviation industry, but really my kind of great love is, is equestrian sport. I started riding when I was five years old. My mom has been almost a lifetime rider as well as my aunt is both a rider and a breeder. I started in just, you know, simple lessons growing up. I went to a lesson barn that had a number of kids, adults, people who had their own private horses, and lessoned horses available. And I did that through most of my childhood until high school. In high school, I did a lease on a more experienced horse and went to a private barn and, uh, was able to work out of there.
In college, I did the IHSA, which is the Intercollegiate Collegiate Horseback Riding Club sport which is a really great opportunity because you don't have to own a horse it's very accessible and you can go compete on a team against teams from different schools. And then after college, I took a quick break. Then got back into it for a little bit. You know, just being, taking lessons. Took another break to finish up my master's degree while I was working, and then I moved here where I am in Cincinnati. After about a year of being back on the sport, I bought my very first horse. Her name is Aeris. I bought her as a three-year-old and we compete in Dressage. We have done competitions for eight years together. We are currently competing at the Intermediate One which is the second highest level in the sport and we are training towards the Grand Prix. So we've come a long way and I've been to, you know, I usually go to about three, four, sometimes if I'm lucky, five competitions a year.
Wow, Erin, that's awesome. Thank you so much for being on the podcast and for sharing that with us. As we mentioned, the podcast is focusing on the Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policies, or the MAAPP. The MAAPP provides proactive prevention policies for everyone in the sport community. Let's just start off with talking about why do you think the MAAPP is important?
I think that the MAAPP is important, particularly in equestrian sports, because we are actually a very unique sport in terms of age range and just who is in the sport. We have everywhere from little kids to, you know, people in their seventies, eighties. We've got every gender, every age available to us. And I think it's really important when you're getting people from that wide of a range to have an understanding of how to communicate, how to work together and just an agreement on what's appropriate and what's not. Also, just like I take a training at work for various ways of etiquette or, you know, acceptable versus unacceptable behavior, I think it's good to set a baseline of where everyone should be so that when you encounter any sort of issues, you can have a real conversation or have the appropriate conversation for the moment. I don't have a kid or anyone, any minor in the sport myself, but it is important for me as an adult in the sport to know if I hear something who I can talk to and report to, and just kind of the process and chain of command that's available to me and available to everyone in this sport.
At the level that you're at, are you around minor athletes?
Yeah. If you go to any kind of equestrian competition on any given weekend, and I think there's a lot more out there than people realize, you know, while there's different divisions for kids, everyone's just kind of stabled together. The stables, you know, where the horses are during competition is very much kind of the social area. You're maybe, maybe your horse is next to, I've actually been stabled next to little kids. So making sure that everyone keeps in their space, but also you tend to mingle a lot. You tend to have to have conversations about hoses and space and where things are going to go. It is very much a community space, even if you're not actually competing against each other.
I think that resonates to other sports as well, that sport for a lot of people brings that community, brings that social aspect. As you said that's why it's important that we have some policies in place. Everyone is on the same page whenever they're at these events or in stable or wherever they're really at.
I think also, and this is kind of silly, but I do run a meme page for dressage people because we're funny too, even though, even in equestrian sports, we're kind of considered the nerds and just while my content and my followers tend to be of my age range because dressage tends to attract more adults than kids, it is important to remember that it's not appropriate for me as a 35 year old person to be friends with a kid. And so just kind of keeping in mind that there are so many people in this sport and how we can all work together and enjoy the sport, but also maintain those correct relationships and boundaries.
Absolutely. I love that you have that Instagram page.
Thank you. Yeah. It's more popular than I thought it would be. I'll say that.
That's awesome. You said that you started horseback riding when you were five years old. Were there prevention policies like this when you were a kid?
No. No. And you know, I think the funny thing for my generation is that what's really coming out is that this is much more prevalent than I think I could have assumed as a kid. As a kid, I think if I was approached with this stuff, I wouldn't necessarily know what to do with it. I'd be like, “Okay, that's weird. Like, is that gonna happen?” Not in a scary way, but just of like, you know, the same way you think as a kid, you think you're going to have quicksand is more of a problem than you do when you're an adult. You know, the actual dangers are not quite what we think they are. We didn't have anything like this and it would've probably been helpful, but I think that it is even retroactively being helpful to people of my generation, because they're starting to talk about their experiences that could have been helped by this or their people are coming out, especially in the horse world, talking about the issues that they've had in the past and how to try to rectify that and keep people the bad actors from being able to continue their access.
I think we definitely see that, like people learning more about what's appropriate, what's not appropriate. And then as you said, kind of reflecting back on those experiences and realizing like, okay, maybe what did happen to me 30 years ago, 25 years ago wasn't appropriate.
Absolutely. But I think the barn is such a safe space and especially for me growing up, and I know a lot of people in my generation feel this way too. By the time I was a teenager, most of the time I was being dropped off at the barn, I would clean stalls, I would do all this work and it was my safe space. I had friends with common interests there, we handled our work. We hung out. I mean, most of my closest friends that have continued into my adulthood were people that I grew up with riding. And I think that just maintaining that safe space is so important and it keeps people in the sport as well. As I say, this is a sport where you don't really have to retire until very, very late in life if you want to. So having that barn as the quiet place that people we can go to when the world seems really an upheaval sometimes is just so important.
Absolutely. My husband's grandmother was involved in equestrian. She was involved through her eighties.
Oh my gosh. That's amazing. My mom still rides. I won't disclose how old she is because I'll respect that. She still rides, she doesn't jump anymore, I don't either. Dressage doesn't have any jumping because that is, you know, a little bit less safe, but every oldest Olympian pretty much in every summer Olympics is always an equestrian. We see people go through like six, seven Olympics. That's how long their careers can be.
That's awesome. We talked about the past now let's kind of get back to the present. What else is it like as an adult athlete, adhering to these policies? Thinking about like the one-on-one interactions and, and things like that.
First of all, I'll say, I know people like to point out, “Oh, it's such a time suck. I have to do this training. It's such a bummer.” I'll be the first to say it doesn't take very long and it is so informative. Because I didn't have these processes when I was a kid, I wouldn't know that there were channels available to me unless I did this training. It is very good at giving very specific examples and highlights of how power imbalance can happen. And riding also has kind of a unique power imbalance because it's no secret that it is a very expensive sport. So that also adds obviously, you know, we're talking minor prevention here and that is the key piece, but when you're a kid and you also are coming from a background where maybe you don't have a lot of money, that is an extra way that power imbalance can come into this.
Knowing that something is there and knowing as an adult that something was created and that, you know, everyone has the same rules and what to look out for is so important because not just in how I work myself, but watching other interactions, hearing stories and just having something to kind of bounce against to say, is that really appropriate? It used to just be individualized behaviors and personal feeling on whether something is appropriate. And I think it's good to get a common understanding and then reminder of who and where things can be reported to. I'm not a lawyer, I'm not someone who works particularly in the legal system, so I sometimes forget, like who's a necessary reporter. I know people who have worked in social work, these sort of things they're necessary reporters, but as an engineer in my day-to-day life, I forget that that's a thing. I don't get tapped into that as much. It's really nice to kind of touch base and get a reminder of the available channels out there that maybe aren't immediately police or otherwise, or that there is a place where there can be non-partial exploration of some issues.
Thank you for sharing that about our online courses, because that is something that we hear often from people that it takes a long time or it's repetitive, but as you said, for people that aren't in this day to day, they may not remember that there is reporting requirements or we do update our courses as well. So, there is going to be things that they're to going to be learning next year that maybe wasn't included in the training last year. And I really appreciate you also talking about that power imbalance piece and really kind of giving that example to highlight why it's so important for us to recognize those power imbalances.
Yeah. Thank you. It's funny because when you're in the corporate world, you do so many more trainings even. I mean, I definitely have my annual spirit and letter and recognizing harassment trainings, these kind of things, very similar trainings, but not the same information. And I don't think that people who work outside the corporate world, remember that it is kind of a big portion of what we do. So when they see, you know, an hour, “Oh, I have to sit in front of my computer for an hour.” It's not that much to ask it really isn't. And I think that sometimes there are even examples in there. I'll use kind of a non-equestrian example that was in there about denying someone water during a football practice because they weren't pulling their weight or making them do extra pushups. And even thinking back to my childhood, like the water thing is extreme, but I can think of sports that I've done where it's like, oh, you didn't work hard enough, go do 50 pushups. That was very much still in our culture, even when I was a kid. And I wouldn't even think to myself, “Eh, that’s maybe kind of wrong.” I might still think that that's an appropriate thing to do when, if I stood back and said, is that an appropriate way to treat a kid? The answer's no, it's not fair. It's not nice. It's not a proper use to power over a minor athlete. It is important to update our cultural reference because it's a changing world and we need to kind of think back on how we can do better and not just repeat some of the mistakes that we've made in the past.
As you said it's not just like individual actions or individual responsibility – it’s on all of us. I think that is going to go into creating this culture of, of reporting, of caring, of as you said, calling out something, if you see it, if you see a child that's being treated that way and that example that we just shared, it can be hard to tell the difference between tough coaching and abuse, but really the first thing that you can do is ask for help.
Because I think it's really easy to just kind of turn a blind eye. And I think honestly, growing up on some issues, that's sort of the training that I was taught, you know, not just at home, but across anywhere I was, it's just like, look, that's their problem. That's just what you think, just move along. And there's definitely a line to say, no, that's inappropriate. I know that's inappropriate and I have a place to go to report that inappropriate behavior.
Absolutely. Well, I really appreciate you being on the podcast. Athletes play a really important role in ensuring that the MAAPP is effectively implemented. And as we've talked about too, just to kind of summarize this conversation, we all have a role to play no matter, no matter whether you're an athlete or a coach, a trainer, a doctor, we all have a role to play in implementing these policies and taking action.
Absolutely. It takes every single person in a sport to create a culture.
One final important note information about or reasonable suspicion of child abuse, including child sexual abuse, must be immediately reported to law enforcement and the U.S. Center for SafeSport and individuals must comply with other applicable state or federal laws. Visit safesport.buzzsprout.com to hear more episodes and share them with a teammate coach or colleague, and feel free to share your own ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for all you do to give athletes a champion in every corner.