#WeRideTogether Exists to Provide Holistic Support to All Members of Athletic Communities
My name is Michaela Shepherd, and I am delighted to serve as the Executive Director for #WeRideTogether. From my professional and recreational experiences as an athlete across many sports, I can attest to the importance of protecting the integrity of all sports environments. These environments bring us joy, better us as individuals, and become our homes. Part of my role, in addition to leading my diverse and talented team, is ensuring and sharing how #WeRideTogether uniquely meets the current needs of athletes at every level on every field, court, arena, and beyond. My hope and greatest intention is that our work helps nurture safe and healthy sport so that future generations never have to miss a game, leave practice early, or abandon sport altogether due to fear of abuse.
News articles with headlines exposing sexual abuse in sport have become a near daily occurrence. Backlash continues to unfold towards SafeSport, the nonprofit governing body established 6 years ago to address these concerns in athletics under the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement. It’s clear that our athletes and sporting communities are unsafe, and the systems designated to assist them are oftentimes ineffectual, nonexistent, or detrimental to athletes when they are at their most vulnerable.
While the magnitude of this issue cannot be understated, there are straightforward solutions. Until we change our behavior and our systems, sexual abuse will remain a costly public health issue. A consistent point of concern related to this issue is the argument for increasing SafeSport’s funding so that the organization can better serve athletes. However, an increase to SafeSport’s funding wouldn’t address the larger issue at hand. There are over 27 million children who play sports in the United States. SafeSport only applies to the 11 million individuals (minors and adults) throughout the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement. That leaves well over 16 million children (ages 6-17) with severely limited, if any, oversight.
The average number of victims before a predator is caught is 120. Furthermore, 50% of athletes experience sexual harassment or abuse, and 1 in 4 college athletes will be sexually harassed or assaulted by a coach or other athletic authority figure by the time they graduate. If we think about youth athletes in the United States alone, over 13 million children (ages 6-17) will be subject to sexual harassment or abuse.
#WeRideTogether was created to shine a light on the endemic issue of sexual abuse in youth and amateur sports. Our mission is to make youth and amateur sport environments safer for all athletes. We believe sport should be the safest and healthiest place for children and young adults to grow and flourish, and that every individual has the right to learn, play, and compete without fear of sexual abuse. We are committed to creating the radical change needed to fulfill that vision by addressing education and awareness, creating a safe place for survivors to find resources and share their voices, and eliminating the stigma around these necessary conversations.
We serve all members of every type of athletic community. This means that we can serve individuals who fall under the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement, as well as individuals who fall outside of this umbrella. In other words, all athletic community members, including the 16+ million children who are not covered by SafeSport, have #WeRideTogether as a starting point for awareness and prevention materials, resources for healing support, justice procedures, and other information.
At #WeRideTogether, we provide evidenced-based, professional, educational, ethical, compassionate, creative, inclusive, celebratory, and advocatory services. Heart-centered and mind-driven, our team commits to improving athletic communities in a sustainable and socially responsible manner. By focusing on current research, integrating insights from our trusted partners, and most importantly listening to athletes and survivors across all sports, #WeRideTogether delivers trustworthy and timely solutions.
We aim to complement the work and positions of other organizations in this space by offering athlete-centered services that focus on awareness, prevention, and support. According to the CDC, little investment has been made in primary prevention of sexual abuse. #WeRideTogether is filling the gap in primary prevention and access to resources, while serving as a bridge to other organizations that focus on services outside of our immediate scope, including, but not limited to, legislation, reporting, and legal counsel.
#WeRideTogether is uniquely positioned to provide support to all sports on a global scale. We believe in celebrating and providing individualized support to all members of athletic communities. We focus on creating resources that are survivor- and trauma- informed, as well as serving as a bridge to already existing, valuable resources.
While we are continuously expanding our services, our core offerings include:
We all play a role in promoting and maintaining safe and healthy sport. Prevention and awareness are our greatest assets in terms of protecting and empowering coaches and athletes.
See you on the field,
Michaela Shepherd, MBA
Executive Director of #WeRideTogether