Professional equestrian Robert Gage committed suicide on June 12th, 2019 following a recent ruling of permanent ineligibility to participate in USEF sanctioned sports due to SafeSport regulations. The verdict, Sexual Misconduct involving a Minor, was ruled in February of 2019 but did allow Gage the opportunity to appeal. No details regarding the case are available to the public other than the ruling.
The internet is abuzz with the news of Gage’s death today, both in remembrance of the three-time World Cup Grand Prix winner and in a state of turmoil over whether or not his SafeSport ruling led to his unfortunate death. As someone who cannot comment on the case personally, I cannot speak to whether or not Mr. Gage was a good person or a person who took advantage of others, but as a USEF member I feel I can fairly say that SafeSport, while GREATLY needed in our industry, has to make a change.
Before you get your bats and burning torches, hear me out.
SafeSport is necessary, that is the unfortunate reality of the world we live in. Men, women, adults and children abuse and take advantage of people on a daily basis. It is the job of our governing body to take a stand in making sure our sport is safe for those who participate in it. We need SafeSport, but in the rise of the “me too” movement, it feels as if SafeSport was rushed out without clear planning. Reports were filed almost immediately, with the list of sanctioned riders growing each day. Over 19 riders have been deemed permanently ineligible to participate in USEF sanctioned sports, and five riders are on a temporary suspension while their cases are ongoing. While to many, this may sound like progress, the fact of the matter remains that SafeSport lacks due process.
“Innocent until proven guilty;” we all know the phrase. However, because of the rush in which SafeSport was rolled out to the public, it is the opposite. The accused are guilty until their names are cleared, which is no quick task. What SafeSport lacks is the safety measures for ALL parties. Whether we like it or not, as citizens of the United States, we are guaranteed equal protection under the 14th amendment. Unfortunately, SafeSport does not currently possess the same due process regulations that protect all parties involved in these claims. In an attempt to protect the victims of these terrible crimes, we have left the door wide open for potential misrepresentation of innocent parties.
In an attempt to roll SafeSport out as quickly as possible, we did not tie up the loose ends that guaranteed the protection of the accused until the guilty verdict is charged. Now, we watch as SafeSport regulations quickly grow increasingly more stringent and claims of witch hunts grow rampant online. When is enough enough and when is it too much? I fear there is no clear answer, but I also fear we are rolling out regulations like candy at Halloween without clearly thinking them through.
One thing is for sure, SafeSport needs to analyze their system for fair protection of all parties involved. We NEED SafeSport. We NEED safe places for equestrians alike to participate in the sport that we love. However, we also NEED a fair “judicial system” that follows due process of the law.
Robert Gage’s death is an extremely unfortunate loss for our community. Whether he was guilty or innocent, no one should feel the need to take their life because of an unfinished system. SafeSport, as wonderful as the concept is, feels a little reckless at this time. SafeSport needs to be safe for everyone involved until final verdicts have been assigned.