MLS NEXT is an elite youth soccer competition platform with the mission of providing world class training, development, education, and competition opportunities for select soccer players across the United States and Canada. MLS NEXT values sportsmanship, fair play, skill development, and mutual respect among all Players, Coaches, Match Officials, and spectators. MLS NEXT will also provide a professional player development pathway and an elite development pathway for future college players. MLS NEXT is organized, managed, and administered by Player Development, L.L.C. (“PDev”), a subsidiary of Major League Soccer, L.L.C. (“MLS”). MLS NEXT includes league and postseason competition, practices, as well as other development-focused initiatives. Clubs that participate in MLS NEXT are MLS Academy teams or independent elite youth clubs from around the United States and Canada.
In order to pursue this mission in a manner that prioritizes the safety, wellbeing, and healthy development of all MLS NEXT Participants,1 particularly those who are under the age of 18 (which includes, but is not limited to, Minor Players and Minor Match Officials), PDev has adopted this Safety and Wellbeing Policy (the “Policy”). This Policy sets forth rules, minimum standards, and procedures for MLS NEXT and for its Members regarding the safety and wellbeing of MLS NEXT Participants. PDev, any soccer club participating as a Member of MLS NEXT (“Club”), any grouping of Players by age and by a Club to play in MLS NEXT Competitions (“Team”), and all MLS NEXT Participants must comply with the requirements of this Policy. The Policy incorporates the Safe Soccer Framework of the United States Soccer Federation (“U.S. Soccer”). The Safe Soccer Framework is a comprehensive program of policies and processes for screening, training and education, reporting, monitoring, and enforcement designed to help participants detect and report abuse, respond to it, and prevent future occurrences. This Policy incorporates each of those elements and, in some cases, may incorporate additional protections or adapt (in an equally or more protective manner) those procedures to suit the needs of MLS NEXT and its Members. Capitalized terms not defined in this Policy shall have the meaning ascribed to them in the MLS NEXT Rules and Regulations and MLS NEXT Disciplinary Code.
1. NOTE: As defined in the MLS NEXT Rules and Regulations to mean any Player, Club, Club Representative (means any Club personnel or an individual who the Club knows represents themselves as such, including but not limited to, any Club employees, Coach, trainers, Team administrators, other support or volunteer staff that assist the Club in connection with the MLS NEXT Season), PDev employee, Game Official, parent, spectator, volunteer, independent contractor (including, but not limited to, security or medical personnel that are not otherwise directly employed by a Club), or other individual that attends or contributes to an MLS NEXT Event.
The Policy was created in accordance with Public Law 115-126, Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and SafeSport Authorization Act of 2017 (the “SafeSport Act”), as incorporated into the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act (the “Ted Stevens Act”). Furthermore, this Policy is implemented in accordance with U.S. Soccer’s Bylaw 212 and Policy 212-3, which requires PDev to, among other things, establish a risk management program to promote the safety and protect the welfare of Minor MLS NEXT Participants, and adopt policies prohibiting sexual abuse. Therefore, all Clubs must comply with the substance of this Policy, regardless of whether a Club is a member of U.S. Soccer, or subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Center for SafeSport (the “Center”), which was established pursuant to the SafeSport Act to assist in the regulation and enforcement of the SafeSport Act.
The goal of this Policy includes preventing Child Abuse2—which is the physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, or negligent treatment of a child —from occurring through the screening of Adults, ongoing trainings, increased awareness, and mandatory reporting of any abuse. This Policy also seeks to create a safe and positive working and competition environment for all MLS NEXT Participants.
2. NOTE: The term “Child Abuse” has the meaning set forth in Section 203 of the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990 (34 U.S.C. § 20341), or any applicable state law.
PDev reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, and at any time, to modify, amend, restate, or supplement this Policy. PDev will use best efforts to provide Clubs with reasonable advance notice of any such change. Clubs must comply with this Policy and all such changes to it.
The MLS Integrity Hotline can be accessed in three ways: (i) at mlsreportinghotline.com on a web browser; (ii) mlsmobile.ethicspoint.com on a mobile browser; or (iii) by calling (844) 782-0353. No direct fees or other costs are associated with making a report to the MLS Integrity Hotline. Additionally, the U.S. Soccer Integrity Hotline is available at (312) 528-7004, as well as via its website at https://ussoccer.i-sight.com/portal. For more information, see www.ussoccer.com/report-a-concern.
When using the MLS Integrity Hotline, the identity of any individual submitting a report in good faith will be handled discreetly and kept confidential to the fullest extent possible, unless doing so does not comply with applicable law or prevents a full and effective investigation of the report.
The MLS Integrity Hotline also permits anonymous reporting. That said, MLS NEXT encourages those individuals reporting any concerns to provide their identity so that PDev may have the best opportunity to follow up and to ensure it has addressed the concern raised. If a report comes into the MLS Integrity Hotline that concerns facts giving reason to suspect a child has suffered an incident of Child Abuse (“Reporting Obligation”) (see “Reporting Suspected Child Abuse” on Page 8), PDev will make the report directly and/or work with the reporting individual to make the report to law enforcement.
In addition, the Center has exclusive jurisdiction over certain claims of suspected Child Abuse and other misconduct involving Players who are Minors.3 All reports of such Sexual Misconduct or abuse must be reported to the Center, which can be done on an anonymous basis, by visiting https://uscenterforsafesport.org/report-a-concern/ or by calling the Center at (720) 531-0340 during business hours (Monday-Friday, 8:00 AM MT – 4:00 PM MT) or toll-free at 1-833-5US-SAFE (24-hours per day, 7-days per week).
3. NOTE: For purposes of this Policy, any MLS NEXT Participant, whether Player, Game Official, or otherwise, under the lesser of (1) the age of 18, or (2) the age of majority in the applicable state or province, is considered a “Minor.”
PDev does not tolerate retaliation of any kind. Clubs shall ensure that no individual who makes a good faith report to the MLS Integrity Hotline, the Center, or to law enforcement shall be subject to any type of retaliation, including harassment, any adverse employment action, or any competitive consequences, as a result of making such a report. Any retaliatory act is a violation of this Policy and will be subject to discipline in accordance with the MLS NEXT Disciplinary Code.
It is the duty of all MLS NEXT Participants to attempt to make MLS NEXT a safe place for all other MLS NEXT Participants; therefore, every MLS NEXT Participant is responsible for reporting any concerns or suspected violations of any MLS NEXT Rule or Policy as outlined below.
B. How to use this policy
This Policy is incorporated by reference into the MLS NEXT Rules and Regulations. This Policy provides the guiding safety and wellbeing policies applicable to all Clubs and MLS NEXT Participants that take part in any MLS NEXT Event.
This Policy is not an exclusive statement of all policies applicable to Clubs. In addition, Clubs shall implement additional policies and procedures specific to their operations (provided they do not conflict with and are no less protective of Minors than this Policy), to the extent required to effectively implement the terms of this Policy or as required by the jurisdiction in which the Club operates.
C. Who is covered under this policy
All MLS NEXT Participants must comply with the requirements of this Policy; however, certain “Covered Persons” (as defined below) are required to comply with the SafeSport section of this Policy that is specifically directed at Child Abuse.
1. Covered Persons
“Covered Persons” means any individual aged eighteen or older (“Adult”) that is an MLS NEXT Participant who has Regular Contact (defined below) with any Player or Match Official, who is a Minor, in connection with Covered Programs (defined below).
- “Regular Contact” is defined as recurring, repeated, or periodic contact between an Adult and Minor, or a person with supervisory or decision-making authority over an Adult who has recurring, repeated, or periodic contact with Minors, including, but not limited to, overseeing, supervising, chaperoning, or otherwise interacting with Minors.
Even if a Club or individual is deemed by an applicable legal authority to not be subject to the jurisdiction of the Center or U.S. Soccer, the content of this Policy and all references to obligations and prohibitions of the Center’s code shall be fully applicable to such persons (who are deemed Covered Persons under this Policy) and entities, through their incorporation into this document.
2. Covered Programs
For the purposes of this Policy, a “Covered Program” is any sporting event, program, or academy program operated or organized in whole or in significant part by PDev or any Club (if the event is sanctioned by PDev), including MLS NEXT Competitions and MLS NEXT Events. This definition includes, but is not limited to, travel, tournaments, Showcases, Cup Playoffs, Pre-Season, Regular Season, Post-Season, Invitational Events,4 All-Star matches, and camps run by PDev or MLS NEXT Member Clubs, including local affiliate organizations.
4. NOTE: In an attempt to recruit the highest quality talent, MLS NEXT hosts invitation-only identification events, known as MLS NEXT Invitational Events.
Note that while PDev may not have authority or control over non-sanctioned events operated or organized by Clubs (i.e., non-Covered Programs), any act or omission prohibited by this Policy may serve as an independent basis for PDev disciplinary action if it calls into question a Covered Person’s fitness to participate in Covered Programs.
D. Note on minor match official safety
The abuse and assault of Match Officials is expressly prohibited by U.S. Soccer Policy 531-9, but a particular note is required regarding Match Officials who are also Minors. Minor Match Officials are trained match officials, and many are experienced players, but they are Minor participants nonetheless and are therefore entitled to all the protections extended to Minor Players by this Policy. Without limiting the foregoing, wherever this Policy includes protections for Minor Players or other MLS NEXT Participants, it should also be read as protecting any Minor Match Official, even if not expressly stated.
E. Note on Canadian Clubs
The national governing body for amateur sports in Canada is Athletics Canada. That organization has its own rules and regulations concerning the prevention of Child Abuse, and its own reporting requirements and background screening requirements, applicable to Canadian entities. Information on these rules and regulations can be found at https://abuse-free-sport.ca/. Clubs in Canada must follow the reporting requirements and background screening requirements imposed by Athletics Canada and Canadian law and are urged to consult Canadian counsel to determine the scope of those requirements. Canadian Clubs must comply with (i) the section of this Policy titled “Prohibited Conduct,” (ii) the section of this Policy entitled “Reporting Suspected Child Abuse” (with the exception of the requirement to report to the Center), (iii) the section of this Policy entitled “Prevention Policies: Limiting One-On-One Interactions Between Adults and Minors,” (iv) all regulations comparable to those promulgated by the Center, which have been adopted by Athletics Canada or any other applicable body, such as the Canadian Soccer Association, and (v) any Canadian law concerning Child Abuse or reporting applicable to a Club. Failure to do so will be considered a violation of this Policy and will subject the Club to discipline in accordance with the MLS NEXT Disciplinary Code.
The SafeSport Act requires amateur sports organizations to offer consistent training to Adult MLS NEXT Participants who are in Regular Contact with amateur athletes/Players who are Minors, and subject to parental consent, to Players who are Minors, regarding the prevention of Child Abuse. The “Core SafeSport Training” offered by the Center meets the requirements of this Policy. It consists of three modules: (i) Sexual Misconduct Awareness Education; (ii) Mandatory Reporting; and (iii) Emotional & Physical Misconduct.5 It can be accessed at https://uscenterforsafesport.org/training-and-education/training-and-education- services/.
5. NOTE: Emotional Misconduct – any conduct that is objectively and reasonably deemed to have caused harm to another person’s psychological or intellectual functioning, which may be exhibited by emotional damage such as severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggression. Physical Misconduct – any interaction with another person that inflicts physical injury upon another person or reasonably threatens to cause physical injury to another person.
A. Training for adults
All Covered Persons must successfully complete the required SafeSport training (either the Core Training or Refresher Course, as appropriate) every year in order to participate in MLS NEXT.6
6. NOTE: To the extent a Covered Person is a survivor of Child Abuse and feels that taking the Core SafeSport Training may be triggering, the Covered Person may request an exemption from the Club or PDev, as applicable, on a confidential basis. The party granting the exemption should account for the Covered Person as in good standing with regard to the training requirement.
Training provides MLS NEXT Participants the necessary tools, vocabulary, and information to monitor our sport, minimize the opportunities for child physical or sexual abuse and other types of misconduct, and respond to concerns more effectively.
For the avoidance of doubt, MLS NEXT requires at least the following persons to complete the Core SafeSport Training prior to the commencement of their association with MLS NEXT or a Club, or within 45 days of being hired, appointed, approved, or retained by PDev or a Club, but in all events before commencing any contact with Minors:
- MLS NEXT employees who will have Regular Contact with Minors;
- Club Representatives (Coaches; Club technical staff and administrators; ATCs, sport scientists, physicians, massage therapists, or other medical personnel/Qualified Medical Professionals (QMPs) (as defined below));
- Contractors and vendors with access to Minors (e.g., security, other medical personnel not employed directly by Club);
- Adult Match Officials;
- Adult Players;
- MLS NEXT scouts; and
- Chaperones, volunteers, and individuals who have access to Minor Players.
In connection with the annual registration process, all Covered Persons required to register with MLS NEXT will have to certify that they have completed the required SafeSport training, and the Club will need to certify that all others that are affiliated with the Club have also completed the required training.
Once a Covered Person has successfully taken and certified completion of all three “Core Training” modules (including Sexual Misconduct Awareness Education, Mandatory Reporting, and Emotional & Physical Misconduct), they have met the “SafeSport Trained” requirement. Each year thereafter, the Covered Person will only need to take the SafeSport Refresher Course.
B. Minor players
Minor Players who participate in MLS NEXT will be offered training from the Center every year and should take the training subject to parental consent. Age-appropriate training can be accessed at: https://athletesafety.org/training/index. Clubs will keep track of which Minor Players have taken the SafeSport training and when they did so. Such information will be made available to MLS NEXT on request. Clubs should encourage participation in this training. Clubs should also recommend that parents take the SafeSport training.
C. Non-SafeSport training
1. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training
MLS NEXT is an Anti-Racist, inclusive, and non-discriminatory platform. MLS NEXT will not tolerate racism or any discrimination based on age, gender identity (including gender expression), race, national origin, sexual orientation, or any other social identity category and/or defining characteristic. MLS NEXT recognizes that racism, sexism, and discrimination consist of principles and practices that cause and justify the inequitable distribution of rights, opportunities, and experiences. Each Club is required to create an inclusive environment and encourage equality, diversity, and inclusive behavior through communication, engagement, and programming. The goal for each Club should be to become a place where diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of the values and culture of the program. MLS NEXT also encourages each MLS NEXT Participant to report any behavior that violates this policy.
Each Club is required to provide and mandate comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion training for its Players and Club Representatives to explain the bounds of acceptable behavior. Such training shall be provided on an annual basis, and Clubs shall ensure that its Players and Club Representatives complete such training, including, where possible, prior to the beginning of the MLS NEXT Regular Season (and more frequently if needed).
2. Head Injury Education
Education plays a critical role in concussion identification and management. Prior to the commencement of each season, each Player registered in a Covered Program, all technical staff, and all medical contractors or staff are required to complete the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Heads Up to Youth Sports” online training program (available at https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/youthsports/training/index.html)))), and submit proof of completion in accordance with MLS NEXT registration instructions. Additionally, such parties should review the U.S. Soccer “Fact Sheet” for their respective groups (Players, Coaches, or parents) located at the U.S. Soccer site (http://www.recognizetorecover.org/head-and-brain)))).
Each Club shall implement a procedure to ensure that Players, parents, and Coaches are aware of such documents and encouraged to read them, such as posting the applicable version in locker rooms, technical staff offices, or emailing the link or a copy to parents, Players, and technical staff, as appropriate.
Further, each Club shall ensure that its technical and medical staff and contractors have reviewed the MLS NEXT Concussion Protocol in Section VIII.D, and the U.S. Soccer Protocol, located at the following site (or a replacement link): https://soc.cr/3ENxpb4
As directed by U.S. Soccer’s 2016 Concussion Initiative, players aged 13 and younger are subject to restrictions with regard to heading soccer balls. Players aged 10 and younger are prohibited from heading the ball regardless of the age group in which they play. Players who are 11, 12, and 13, 8 regardless of the age group in which they play, may head the ball during matches; however, these players must limit heading practice to a maximum of 30 minutes per week with no more than 15–20 headers per player, per week. Clubs are responsible for providing Coach education and support to parents to ensure appropriate instruction to Players in accordance with this Policy.
A. Reports to law enforcement
On February 14, 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and SafeSport Authorization Act of 2017 (the “SafeSport Act”). Among other things, this comprehensive law amends the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990, 34 U.S.C. § 20341, et seq., and clarifies who is a mandatory reporter for cases of suspected Child Abuse. Specifically, the definition of mandatory reporter now includes any “adult who is authorized, by a national governing body, a member of a national governing body, or an amateur sports organization that participates in interstate or international amateur athletic competition, to interact with a minor or amateur athlete at an amateur sports organization facility or at any event sanctioned by a national governing body, a member of a national governing body, or such an amateur sports organization.” § 20341(c)(9). By doing this, the law increases the standard of care and makes it a crime for an individual involved in a national governing body sports organization, including MLS NEXT, to ignore, or not report to law enforcement, any reasonable suspicion of an act of Child Abuse, including sexual abuse, within 24 hours. Consequently, PDev urges all Clubs and their employees, all PDev employees, and all other MLS NEXT Participants to understand their Reporting Obligations under this important federal law.
Under the SafeSport Act, the Reporting Obligation is triggered when a mandatory reporter becomes aware of “facts that give reason to suspect” a child has suffered an incident of Child Abuse. § 20341(a)(2). Under the Act, Child Abuse includes physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, or negligent treatment of a child. “Sexual Child Abuse” includes, but is not limited to, the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of a child to engage in, or assist another person to engage in, sexually explicit conduct, or the rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children or incest with children. “Mental Injury” means harm to a child’s psychological or intellectual functioning, which may be exhibited by severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or outward aggressive behavior, or a combination of those behaviors, which may be demonstrated by a change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition.
The SafeSport Act also includes qualified immunity for good faith reports. PDev urges all mandatory reporters to refrain from judging or evaluating the credibility of such allegations and to leave such assessments to law enforcement.
Failure to promptly report suspected Child Abuse to law enforcement authorities may constitute a violation of federal law and will also be deemed a violation of this Policy.
The message is clear: if you suspect Child Abuse, report it to law enforcement immediately.
B. Obligations of covered persons to report sexual abuse
In addition to the obligation to report to law enforcement pursuant to the SafeSport Act (as detailed above), Covered Persons are also charged with reporting suspected incidents of sexual abuse to the Center and to PDev (regardless of whether the suspected victim is an Adult or Minor). Additionally, any MLS NEXT Participant or any other concerned individual may report an incident of alleged sexual abuse to law enforcement, the Center, PDev, or to the U.S. Soccer Integrity Hotline, which is available at (312) 528-7004, as well as via its website at https://ussoccer.i-sight.com/portal. For more information, see www.ussoccer.com/report-a-concern. For further details, see the Section titled, “How to Report to the Center” and “How to Report to the MLS Integrity Hotline,” below.
Without limiting the foregoing Reporting Obligations of Covered Persons, Clubs are obligated to report any suspected violation of this Policy involving Club Representatives or Players of any age to MLS NEXT through the MLS Integrity Hotline (more details below). Reports made to MLS NEXT involving the Center’s jurisdiction will be promptly forwarded to the Center.
MLS NEXT’s Disciplinary Code, including its jurisdictional scope, is incorporated into this Policy. A Club’s failure to report a potential violation of this Policy is grounds for remedial action up to and including termination of the Club’s Membership in MLS NEXT.
The obligation to report is not always satisfied by making an initial report. Covered Persons are required to report supplemental information that they become aware of that may be relevant to a pending investigation. Importantly, the passage of time, including civil or criminal statutes of limitations, do not affect or negate the obligation of a Covered Person to report possible Sexual Misconduct to either the Center or the MLS Integrity Hotline. Misconduct should always be reported, regardless of when it occurred or when it was discovered.
C. How to report to the center
In addition to the MLS Integrity Hotline, reports may be made directly to the Center, including on an anonymous basis, by visiting https://uscenterforsafesport.org/report-a-concern/, or by calling (720) 531-0340 during business hours (Monday-Friday, 8:00 AM MT – 4:00 PM MT) or toll-free at 1-833-5US-SAFE (24-hours per day, 7-days per week).
You may always report to the MLS Integrity Hotline or to the Center anonymously. If you do make a report of suspected Child Abuse to law enforcement or to the Center, please be aware that an anonymous report may not provide you with evidence that you discharged your mandatory Reporting Obligation.
D. How to report to the MLS integrity hotline
In addition to Covered Persons being required to report certain violations, any MLS NEXT Participant may always raise a concern to Coaches, Match Officials, Team administrators, MLS NEXT Program Staff, or a Club’s Safety Lead. They may also report a concern to the MLS Integrity Hotline, which can be accessed in three ways:
(i) mlsreportinghotline.com on a web browser;
(ii) mlsmobile.ethicspoint.com on a mobile browser; and
(iii) by calling (844) 782-0353
(For more on matters relating to health and safety, as well as reporting options, please see: https://www.mlssoccer.com/mlsnext/resources.)
Notably, any violations of this Policy involving suspected Child Abuse must be submitted to the MLS Integrity Hotline. Reports submitted to the MLS Integrity Hotline will be handled as promptly and discreetly as possible, with facts made available only to those needed to investigate and resolve the matter. PDev is committed to safeguarding the confidentiality of individuals who submit reports. If PDev receives a report of suspected Child Abuse triggering a Reporting Obligation under this Policy and applicable federal law, PDev will make the report directly and/or work with the reporter to make the report to law enforcement.
Nothing in this Policy should discourage any reporter from using the U.S. Soccer Integrity Hotline, which is available at (312) 528-7004, as well as via its website at https://ussoccer.i-sight.com/portal. For more information, see www.ussoccer.com/report-a-concern. Further, you can always contact the Police, Social Services, a doctor, parent, etc.
E. Misconduct related to reporting
1. Failure to Report
A Covered Person who fails to report actual or reasonably suspected Sexual Misconduct or Child Abuse to PDev, the Center and, when required, to law enforcement, has violated this Policy and may be subject to disciplinary action.
a) The obligation to report is broader than reporting a pending charge or criminal arrest of an MLS NEXT Participant; it requires reporting to PDev and to the Center any conduct which, if true, would constitute Sexual Misconduct and/or Child Abuse. The obligation to report to the Center is an ongoing one and is not satisfied simply by making an initial report. The obligation includes reporting, on a timely basis, all information of which a Covered
Person becomes aware, including, but not limited to, the names of witnesses, third-party reporters, and victims.
b) The obligation to report includes personally identifying information of a potential victim to the extent known at the time of the report, as well as a duty to reasonably supplement the report as to identifying information learned at a later time.
c) Covered Persons should not investigate or attempt to evaluate the credibility or validity of allegations involving Sexual Misconduct and/or Child Abuse. A Covered Person making a good faith report is not required to prove the report is true before reporting.
2. Intentionally Filing a False Report
Filing a knowingly false allegation that an individual engaged in Prohibited Conduct is a violation of this Policy and may also violate state criminal law. Any person making such a knowingly false allegation shall be subject to disciplinary action under the MLS NEXT Disciplinary Code.
a) An allegation is false if the events reported did not occur, and the person making the report knows or has reason to know that the events did not occur.
b) A false allegation is different from an unsubstantiated allegation; an unsubstantiated allegation means there is insufficient supporting evidence to determine whether an allegation is true or false. Absent demonstrable misconduct, an unsubstantiated allegation alone is not grounds to find a violation of this Policy.
Retaliation or attempt to do the same by an MLS NEXT Participant, someone acting on behalf of an MLS NEXT Participant, or a Club, is prohibited.
Retaliation is any adverse action or threat to take any adverse action against any person related to allegations of Prohibited Conduct.
Adverse actions include, but are not limited to: threatening, intimidating, harassing, coercing, or any other action or conduct with the potential effect of dissuading any reasonable person from reporting Prohibited Conduct or engaging in activity related to any reporting or investigative process. Retaliation may take place at any time, including before, during, or after an individual’s reporting or engagement in the investigation. Retaliation may be present even where there is a finding that no violation occurred.
Retaliation does not include good-faith actions lawfully pursued in response to a report of a violation of this Policy.
F. Procedures for complaints, investigations, corrective action, and appeals
All Covered Persons are responsible to help ensure the prevention of any abuse and misconduct. PDev cannot act in an effort to eliminate abuse or misconduct unless it is aware of it. Covered Persons are charged with reporting any concerns regarding compliance with this Policy, including in the manner provided in the Section titled “Obligations of Covered Persons to Report Sexual Abuse.” As stated above, in some instances, Covered Persons are also required to report to law enforcement and/or the Center.
The investigation, adjudication, or sanction imposed by the relevant Disciplinary Body and appeal of matters involving allegations or reports of abuse or other Prohibited Conduct will be performed in accordance with MLS NEXT’s Disciplinary Code and as outlined below in the Reporting Intake Process Section. All Covered Persons have an obligation to fully cooperate in any investigation, including providing any and all information concerning the complaint. Failure to do so is a violation of this Policy.
It is every MLS NEXT Participant’s duty to report actual or suspected violations of the MLS NEXT Rules and Policies. For any and all MLS NEXT Rules and Policies violations or suspected violations, an MLS NEXT Participant must file an Incident Report (“IR”) through the MLS Integrity Hotline or contact their Club’s Safety Lead regarding Safety and Wellbeing matters (and other related policies) who will then file an IR through the MLS Integrity Hotline. As a reminder, and as addressed above in Section III, all reports of suspected Child Abuse must be reported to law enforcement, and reports to MLS NEXT do not suffice to satisfy one’s obligations under governing law.
The report will be taken in the way that is most comfortable for the person initiating the report, including an anonymous, in-person, verbal, or written report. Regardless of the method of reporting, it is helpful to get the following information: (1) the name of the claimant(s); (2) the type of misconduct alleged; (3) the name(s) of the alleged victim(s); and (4) the name(s) of the individual(s) alleged to have committed the misconduct.
PDev prohibits any form of retaliation against anyone for raising a good faith concern under this Policy or participating in an investigation into any such concern.
Each matter reported to PDev through the MLS Integrity Hotline or otherwise shall generate an IR. As outlined below, PDev uses a five-tier system to assess each IR to: (i) identify those reports that need immediate attention; (ii) allocate investigative resources; and (iii) determine appropriate resolutions.
The tier system is intended to assess the matter for initial response, and reports will be classified based on the information originally submitted to PDev or the Center at the time of referral. Reports, however, may be reclassified to another tier if, upon completion of an investigation and review of findings, the originally assigned tier is no longer appropriate.
PDev will follow all state and federal law when presented with any report of Child Abuse or criminal activity, including immediate referral to appropriate law enforcement agencies and the Center. Such reports will immediately be classified as “Tier 5.” Reports yielding Tiers 4, 3, and 2 will be assigned for further assessment by MLS NEXT Program Staff for investigation.
Tier 1 Reports
Reports of violations of MLS NEXT Rules and Policies that are not considered SafeSport matters or otherwise violations of this Safety and Wellbeing Policy (internally designated as “Tier 1 Reports”) are referred to MLS NEXT Program Staff for resolution, consistent with the policies and procedures outlined in the MLS NEXT Disciplinary Code. No further review is required. These reports may include, but are not limited to, reports concerning fees or financial matters, players allegedly playing on high school teams or other clubs/teams, potential player movement protocol violations, disagreements between Adults, certain reports not involving Players, and reports pertaining to the results or fairness of MLS NEXT Events and Competitions.
Tier 2 Reports
“Tier 2 Reports” may include prevention policy reports that do not contain elements of predatory behavior or other serious safety concerns. For example, such reports may include, but are not limited to, one-on-one social media contact where the content does not suggest inappropriate intent, as outlined in Section VII.E. These IRs may also include violations by Adult MLS NEXT Participants of Section VI.E, which addresses use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
Tier 2 Reports do not necessarily require a full investigation. They can often be resolved informally based on the report information and discussions with involved parties. This type of violation may be addressed by MLS NEXT Program Staff through corrective measures, including the issuance of a warning letter, or mandated additional education.
Tier 3 Reports
“Tier 3 Reports” may include reports of Prohibited Conduct as defined in Section VI of this Policy, including prevention policy concerns, misconduct, and abuse of process. For example, such reports may include, but are not limited to, certain violations of prevention policies that are without predatory intent but include serious safety concerns (such as denying hydration as punishment or disregarding medical restrictions). This may also include any offensive behavior by an MLS NEXT Participant that is Discriminatory or Harassing, or that constitutes Emotional or Physical Misconduct—including but not limited to Bullying Behavior or Hazing. These IRs may also include violations by Minor MLS NEXT Participants of Section VI.E, which addresses use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
Tier 3 Reports are assigned to a Disciplinary Body for investigation and may be assigned to a Discipline Review Panel for resolution consistent with the policies and procedures outlined in the MLS NEXT Disciplinary Code. Resolutions for Tier 3 Reports may include, without limitation, mandated additional education, review or revision of Club policies, completion of an action plan to resolve issues, and/or a probationary period, and do not necessarily prohibit the subject from participating in Covered Programs.
Tier 4 Reports
“Tier 4 Reports” may include any conduct identified by PDev as a severe violation of MLS NEXT Rules and Policies based on frequency, intensity, number of independent reports, or a possibility for escalation in any matter not subject to the Center’s exclusive jurisdiction. For example, such reports may include, but are not limited to, egregious or severe acts of Prohibited Conduct, including repeated use of demeaning or harmful coaching techniques, policy violations indicating grooming behavior such as social media invitations and activities away from Covered Programs, violations of the Team Travel/Overnight Stays policy outlined in Section VII.H, retaliation against a SafeSport reporter, and abuse of process such as intimidating witnesses, intentionally misleading an investigator, or otherwise interfering with an investigation, or repeated or particularly egregious offensive behavior by an MLS NEXT Participant that is Discriminatory or Harassing, or constitutes Emotional or Physical Misconduct, which includes but is not limited to Bullying Behavior or Hazing. These IRs may also involve violations of Emergency Action Plans (“EAPs”) or Concussion Protocols.
Tier 4 Reports are assigned to a Disciplinary Body for investigation and are more likely to be assigned to a Discipline Review Panel for resolution consistent with the policies and procedures outlined in the MLS NEXT Disciplinary Code. Tier 4 matters will be promptly reviewed for potential interim protective measures, which may include, but are not limited to, suspension (or Bans) from all MLS NEXT Events and Club activities, including during the pendency of the investigation, probation from contact with Players, additional education, a request to develop, audit, and/or review relevant Club policies, and any other interim measures PDev determines to be appropriate in its sole discretion. Remedies may include Sanctions that affect a respondent’s eligibility to participate in MLS NEXT, including, without limitation, permanent ineligibility from participation in Covered Programs (a “Lifetime Ban”).
Tier 5 Reports
“Tier 5 Reports” include any matter subject to the Center’s jurisdiction. Such matters include those within the Center’s exclusive jurisdiction, as well as any matter where the Center elects to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction. Matters within the Center’s exclusive jurisdiction include, but are not limited to, sexual misconduct, criminal allegations involving Child Abuse or sexual misconduct, or “Other Inappropriate Conduct” as defined in the SafeSport Code. Moreover, the Center retains discretionary jurisdiction to investigate and resolve any allegations that a Covered Person violated the SafeSport Code, including matters that do not fall within the Center’s exclusive jurisdiction. PDev will promptly file any Tier 5 Report with law enforcement and/or the Center, as appropriate.
MLS NEXT Program Staff may assign Tier 5 status to any case involving sufficiently elevated risk to Players or the organization, even if such a matter does not fall under the Center’s exclusive jurisdiction. To that end, MLS NEXT Program Staff will refer such a matter to the Center to enable the Center to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction. The Center is responsible for investigating and resolving all cases within its exclusive jurisdiction, as well as any case in which the Center elects to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction.
Matters in which the Center declines to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction will be reclassified as Tier 4 and resolved consistent with the procedures outlined above.
Although PDev may elect not to investigate or resolve Tier 5 matters concurrently with the Center’s exercise of jurisdiction, such matters will be promptly reviewed for potential interim protective measures, which may include, but are not limited to, suspension (or Bans) from all MLS NEXT Events and Club activities, including during the pendency of the investigation, probation from contact with Players, additional education, a request to develop, audit, and/or review relevant Club policies, and any other interim measures PDev determines to be appropriate in its sole discretion. In addition, PDev reserves all rights to investigate Tier 5 matters following resolution of the Center’s investigation, including after administrative closures, informal resolutions, or formal resolutions.
PDev is committed to maintaining a work and competition environment that is free from all forms of abuse, misconduct, and other untoward acts. IT IS A VIOLATION OF THIS POLICY FOR ANY COVERED PERSON, MATCH OFFICIAL OR PLAYER TO ENGAGE IN ANY OF THE FOLLOWING FORMS OF MISCONDUCT PROHIBITED BY THIS POLICY REGARDLESS OF WHETHER SUCH CONDUCT OCCURS IN RELATION TO AN MLS NEXT EVENT (“PROHIBITED CONDUCT”).
A. Child Abuse
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in any form of Child Abuse. Child Abuse includes, but is not limited to, physical, mental, or sexual abuse, as well as neglect, of a Minor. Each of these forms of Child Abuse is addressed in turn:
1. Physical Child Abuse
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in any purposeful attempt to inflict physical injury, meaning an impairment of physical condition or substantial pain (“Physical Injury”), upon a Minor by other than accidental means (“Physical Child Abuse”). Physical Injury may include, but is not limited to, lacerations, fractured bones, burns, internal injuries, severe bruising, or serious bodily harm.
2. Mental Child Abuse
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in any conduct that reasonably causes harm to a Minor’s psychological or intellectual functioning (“Mental Injury”). Mental Injury may include, but is not limited to, exhibiting severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal or outward aggressive behavior, or a combination of those behaviors, which may be demonstrated by a change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition (“Mental Child Abuse”).
3. Sexual Child Abuse
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in any activity involving a sexual act (“Sexual Interaction”) with a Minor. Sexual Interaction includes, but is not limited to: rape; sexual battery; physical sexual contact; molestation; sexually explicit or offensive verbal communication; sexually oriented conversations; verbal sexual harassment; voyeurism; sexual intercourse or sexual touching; sexual exploitation (including creating or disseminating pornographic images); exposing of genitalia; viewing of sexual activity; viewing or disseminating content or imagery of a sexual nature; or permitting, allowing, or encouraging a Minor to engage in prostitution, or other forms of sexual exploitation of children (collectively, “Sexual Child Abuse”).
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in any activity involving the failure, refusal, or inability on the part of a caregiver, for reasons other than poverty, to provide necessary care, food, water, clothing, medical or dental care, or shelter so as to seriously endanger the physical health of a Minor (“Neglect”).
B. Sexual Misconduct
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in Sexual Misconduct. Sexual Misconduct offenses include, but are not limited to:
- Sexual Harassment;
- Non-consensual Sexual Contact (or attempts to commit the same);
- Non-consensual Sexual Intercourse (or attempts to commit the same);
- Sexual Exploitation;
- Exposing a Minor to sexual content/imagery;
- Sexual bullying behavior8;
- Sexual hazing9; and
- Other inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature.
8. NOTE: Bullying Behavior – repeated and/or severe physical, verbal, social, sexual, or criminal behaviors that are (i) aggressive; (ii) directed at another; and (iii) intended or likely to hurt, control, or diminish the other person emotionally, physically, or sexually.
9. NOTE: Hazing – any conduct that subjects another person, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or psychologically, to anything that may endanger, abuse, humiliate, degrade, or intimidate the person as a condition of joining or being socially accepted by a group, Club, Team, or other organization.
Each of these forms of Sexual Misconduct is described below:
1. Sexual Harassment
“Sexual Harassment” is defined as any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual Harassment also includes harassment related to gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, which may include acts of aggression, intimidation, or hostility, whether verbal or non-verbal, graphic, physical, or otherwise, even if the acts do not involve conduct of a sexual nature, when either of the conditions outlined below are present:
- Submission to such conduct is made, either explicitly or implicitly, a term or condition of any person’s employment, standing in sport, or participation in events, sports programs, teams, and/or activities; or when submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for sporting decisions affecting the individual (often referred to as “quid pro quo” harassment); or
- Such conduct creates a Hostile Environment. A Hostile Environment exists when the conduct is sufficiently severe, persistent, and/or pervasive such that it interferes with, limits, or deprives any individual of the opportunity to participate in any Covered Program or activity. Conduct must be deemed severe, persistent, or pervasive from both a subjective and objective perspective. Whether a Hostile Environment exists depends on the totality of known circumstances, including, but not limited to:
- Frequency, nature, and severity of the conduct;
- Whether the conduct was physically threatening;
- Effect of the conduct on the victim’s mental or emotional state;
- Whether the conduct was directed at more than one person;
- Whether the conduct arose in the context of other discriminatory conduct;
- Whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with any person’s participation in sports, education or work programs or activities; and
- Whether the conduct implicates concerns related to protected speech.
A Hostile Environment can be created by persistent or pervasive conduct or by a single or isolated incident that is sufficiently severe. The more severe the conduct, the less need there is to show a repetitive series of incidents to prove a Hostile Environment, particularly if the conduct is physical. A single incident of sexual contact, for example, may be sufficiently severe to constitute a Hostile Environment. In contrast, the perceived offensiveness of a single verbal or written expression, standing alone, is typically not sufficient to constitute a Hostile Environment.
2. Non-Consensual Sexual Contact
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in any intentional touching of a sexual nature, however slight, with any object or body part (as described below), by a person upon another person (“Sexual Contact”) without his/her/their affirmative consent.10 Sexual Contact includes, but is not limited to: (i) kissing; (ii) intentional touching of the breasts, buttocks, groin, or genitals, whether clothed or unclothed, or intentionally touching of another with any of these body parts; or (iii) making another touch themselves, or someone else with or on any of these body parts. Under no circumstances can a Minor MLS NEXT Participant give consent to any Sexual Contact with an Adult.
10. NOTE: Consent is (a) informed (knowing), (b) voluntary (freely given), and (c) active (not passive). Consent must be demonstrated by clear words or actions, indicating that a person who is legally and functionally competent has indicated permission to engage in mutually agreed upon sexual activity. Consent to any one form of sexual activity does not automatically imply Consent for any other forms of sexual activity. Previous relationships or prior Consent does not imply Consent to future sexual activity. Once given, Consent can be withdrawn through clear words or actions. Consent cannot be obtained: (a) by force, (b) by taking advantage of the Incapacitation of another, when the person initiating sexual activity knew or reasonably should have known that the other was Incapacitated, (c) from someone who lacks legal capacity, (d) when a Power Imbalance exists.
3. Non-Consensual Sexual Intercourse
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in any penetration, however slight, with any object or body part (as described below), upon another person (“Sexual Intercourse”) without his/her/their affirmative consent. Sexual Intercourse includes, but is not limited to: (i) vaginal penetration by a penis, object, tongue, or finger; (ii) anal penetration by a penis, object, tongue, or finger; and (iii) any contact, no matter how slight, between the mouth of one person and the genitalia of another person. Under no circumstances can a Minor MLS NEXT Participant give consent to Sexual Intercourse with an Adult.
4. Sexual Exploitation
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes (“Sexual Exploitation”). Sexual Exploitation occurs when an individual purposely or knowingly:
- Allows third parties to observe private sexual activity from a hidden location (e.g., closet) or through electronic means (e.g., live-streaming of images) without the consent of all parties involved in the sexual activity;
- Records or photographs private sexual activity and/or a person’s intimate parts (including genitalia, groin, breasts, or buttocks) without the consent of all parties in the recording or photo;
- Engages in voyeurism (e.g., watching private sexual activity or viewing another person’s intimate parts when that person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy), without the consent of all parties being viewed;
- Disseminates, shows, or posts images of private sexual activity and/or a person’s intimate parts (including genitalia, groin, breasts, or buttocks) without prior consent of the person depicted in the images;
- Intentionally exposes another person to a sexually transmitted infection or virus without that person’s knowledge; and/or
- Engages in prostituting or trafficking another person.
Under no circumstances can a Minor MLS NEXT Participant give consent to any of the above-listed acts with an Adult.
5. Exposing a Minor to Sexual Content/Imagery
It is a violation of this Policy for an adult to intentionally expose a Minor to content or imagery of a sexual nature, including but not limited to, pornography, sexual comment(s), sexual gestures, or sexual situation(s).
This provision does not exclude the possibility that similar behavior between adults could constitute other Sexual Misconduct.
6. Sexual Bullying Behavior
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in repeated or severe behavior(s) of a sexual nature that are (a) aggressive, (b) directed at a Minor, and (c) intended or likely to hurt, control, or diminish the Minor emotionally, physically, or sexually. Sexual Bullying-like Behaviors directed at adults are addressed under other forms of misconduct, such as Sexual Hazing or Sexual Harassment.
Sexual Bullying Behavior also includes bullying behavior related to gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, even if the acts do not involve conduct of a sexual nature.
Examples of Sexual Bullying Behavior may include, without limitation, ridiculing or taunting that is sexual in nature or based on gender or sexual orientation (real or perceived), gender traits or behavior, or teasing someone about their looks or behavior as it relates to sexual attractiveness.
Conduct may not rise to the level of Sexual Bullying Behavior if it is merely rude (inadvertently saying or doing something hurtful), mean (purposefully saying or doing something hurtful, but not as part of a pattern of behavior), or arising from conflict or struggle between persons who perceive they have incompatible views or positions. Bullying does not include professionally accepted coaching methods of skill enhancement, physical conditioning, team building, appropriate discipline, or improved Player performance.
7. Sexual Hazing
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in any conduct of a sexual nature that subjects another person, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or psychologically, to anything that may endanger, abuse, humiliate, degrade, or intimidate the person as a condition of joining of being socially accepted by a group, team, or organization. Sexual Hazing also includes hazing related to gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, even if the acts do not involve conduct of a sexual nature.
Purported consent by the person subjected to Sexual Hazing is not a defense, regardless of the person’s perceived willingness to cooperate or participate.
Conduct may not rise to the level of Sexual Hazing if it is merely rude (inadvertently saying or doing something hurtful), mean (purposefully saying or doing something hurtful), or arising from conflict or struggle between persons who perceive they have incompatible views or positions. Sexual Hazing does not include professionally accepted coaching methods of skill enhancement, physical conditioning, team building, appropriate discipline, or improved Player performance.
8. Other Inappropriate Conduct of a Sexual Nature
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in Other Inappropriate Conduct of a sexual nature, as further defined in the corresponding sections below.
MLS NEXT is an Anti-Racist, inclusive, and non-discriminatory league. MLS NEXT will not tolerate racism or any discrimination based on age, gender identity (including gender expression), race, national origin, sexual orientation, or any other social identity category and/or defining characteristic.
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in any conduct—regardless of whether such conduct occurs in relation to an MLS NEXT Event—that amounts to unfair, adverse, or unequal treatment based on an individual’s Protected Status (status based on any of the following: race, color, religion, marital status, ancestry, citizenship, veteran’s status, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, age, disability, genetic information, protected activity, or any other characteristic protected by federal, state or local law), i.e., to engage in discriminatory behavior (“Discrimination”).
In furtherance of this goal, PDev is committed to maintaining an environment at all MLS NEXT Events that is free from all forms of Discrimination by any MLS NEXT Participant. Accordingly, PDev does not permit any form of Discrimination by and/or between MLS NEXT Participants at MLS NEXT Events, and such behavior may be sanctioned.
MLS NEXT recognizes that racism consists of principles and practices that cause and justify an inequitable distribution of rights, opportunities, and experiences across racial groups. Because of this reality, MLS NEXT is committed to actively address these issues through engagement, reflection, and listening, and is further committed to making attempts to unlearn behaviors and assumptions. MLS NEXT does not and will not tolerate any racist or inappropriately exclusive behavior by any MLS NEXT Participant, including any Club. It is a violation of this Policy to engage in any form of racism or fail to report instances of racism, and violators may face Sanctions, including, but not limited to, temporary or permanent removal from the program.
2. Inciting Hatred and Violence
It is a violation of this Policy to publicly incite others to hatred or violence, and violators may be sanctioned. MLS NEXT has a zero-tolerance policy towards the use of statements that: (1) include a symbol that represents the target and/or includes a visual of an armament or method to represent violence; (2) calls for threats that could lead to serious injury toward private individuals, unnamed individuals, or minor individuals; (3) include photos, videos, or images that show or simulate the end result of serious injury or death; (4) exhibit an intent to commit violence or calls for action of violence; or (5) any content created for the express purpose of outing an individual as a member of a recognizable social identify category and/or defining characteristic, or intentionally misgendering.
3. Offensive Behavior
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in objectively insulting behavior, especially by using offensive gestures or language on or off the field, and violators may be sanctioned. MLS NEXT has a zero-tolerance policy regarding the use of derogatory slurs used in ANY context including equivalents in any other language. MLS NEXT reserves the right to issue discipline at its sole and absolute discretion for use of these words in any context. Those who choose to use derogatory slurs––including, but not limited to the Banned Terms List––can face Sanctions, including, but not limited to, temporary or permanent removal from MLS NEXT.
MLS NEXT has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination or harassment against anyone based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, physical or mental disabilities.
Banned Terms (non-exhaustive)
- Btty Boy Beanr Chnk Crcker Cnt Fg Fggot Hmo Marcon Monkey
- Ngro Ngga Ngger Pssy Pto Rag Hed Slnt Spc That's so gy Wetbck Jewby That's rtarded Black Boy
- White Boy
D. Emotional and Physical Misconduct
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in Emotional Misconduct and/or Physical Misconduct. Emotional Misconduct and/or Physical Misconduct can take the forms of Bullying, Hazing, or Harassment. Examples include, but are not limited to: gestures, ostracizing or freezing out, offensive publications, offensive letters or memos, offensive graffiti, threatening or isolating behavior, or taunting; malicious gossip comments/abuse/jokes, ridicule, derogatory nicknames, verbal threats, use of inappropriate terms to describe someone’s sexuality, gender, or inappropriate questions or comments about the individual’s private life; jostling, assault, or vandalism of property; and mimicking the effect of a disability, misgendering, disregarding wishes or feelings, ignoring, or staring.
Each of these forms of misconduct is addressed below:
1. Emotional Misconduct
“Emotional Misconduct” includes, but is not limited to: (i) Verbal Acts; (ii) Physical Acts; (iii) Criminal Conduct;11 (iv) Acts that Deny Attention or Support; and (v) Stalking. Whether an act qualifies as Emotional Misconduct is determined objectively, and not whether harm is intended or results from the behaviors.
11. NOTE: Criminal Conduct – any conduct prohibited under federal or state criminal law.
a) Verbal Acts
“Verbal Acts” are any acts that involve repeated and/or excessive verbal assaults or attacks against someone personally in a manner that serves no productive training or motivational purpose.
b) Physical Acts
“Physical Acts” are any acts that involve repeated and/or severe physically aggressive behaviors, including, but not limited to, throwing sport equipment, water bottles, or chairs at or in the presence of others, punching walls, windows, or other objects.
c) Criminal Conduct
Any act or conduct described as emotional abuse or misconduct under federal or state law (e.g., Child Abuse, child neglect) would be considered a type of impermissible Emotional Misconduct under this Policy.
d) Acts that Deny
Attention or Support “Acts that Deny Attention or Support” are any acts that involve ignoring or isolating a person for extended periods of time, including routinely or arbitrarily excluding a Player from participation.
Stalking occurs when a person purposefully engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person, and knows or should know, that the course of conduct12 would cause a reasonable person to (i) fear for their safety, (ii) fear for the safety of a third person, or (iii) experience substantial emotional distress, meaning significant mental suffering or anguish (“Substantial Emotional Distress”).
12. NOTE: “Course of conduct” means at least two or more acts in which a person directly, indirectly, or through third parties, by any action, method, device, or means, follows, monitors, observes, surveils, threatens, or communicates to or about another person, or interferes with another person’s property.
Stalking also includes “cyber-stalking,” wherein a person stalks another using electronic media, such as the internet, social media networks, blogs, cell phones, texts, or other similar devices or forms of contact.
Emotional Misconduct does not include professionally accepted coaching methods of skill enhancement, physical conditioning, Team building, appropriate discipline, or improved Player performance. Emotional Misconduct also does not include conduct reasonably accepted as part of sport or conduct reasonably accepted as part of the MLS NEXT Participant’s participation.
2. Physical Misconduct
“Physical Misconduct” is any intentional contact or non-contact behavior that causes, or reasonably threatens to cause, physical harm to another person. Physical Misconduct may include, without limitation, (i) Physical Contact Acts, (ii) Non-Contact Acts, or (iii) Criminal Conduct.
a) Physical Contact Violations
“Physical Contact Acts” include punching, beating, biting, striking, strangling, slapping, or tackling; intentionally hitting another with an object, such as sporting equipment; encouraging or knowingly permitting a Player to return to play prematurely following a serious injury and without the clearance of a medical professional; or any involvement in a fight or brawl. Anyone who has tried merely to prevent a fight, shield others, or separate those involved in a brawl shall not be in violation of this Policy and will not be subject to punishment.
b) Non-Contact Violations
“Non-Contact Acts” include isolating a person in a confined space, such as locking a Player in a small space; forcing them to assume a painful stance or position for no athletic purpose (e.g., requiring a Player to kneel on a harmful surface); withholding, recommending against, or denying adequate hydration, nutrition, medical attention, or sleep; providing alcohol to a person under the legal drinking age; providing illegal drugs or non-prescribed medications to another.
c) Criminal Conduct
Criminal Physical Misconduct includes any act or conduct described as physical abuse or misconduct under federal, state, or local law (e.g., Child Abuse, child neglect, assault).
Physical Misconduct does not include professionally accepted coaching methods of skill enhancement, physical conditioning, Team building, appropriate discipline, or improved Player performance. For example, hitting, punching, and kicking are well-regulated forms of contact in combat sports, but have no place in soccer. Physical Misconduct also does not include conduct reasonably accepted as part of sport or conduct reasonably accepted as part of the MLS NEXT Participant’s participation.
3. Bullying Behavior
“Bullying Behavior” of any kind is expressly prohibited under this Policy. Bullying Behavior consists of repeated or severe behavior(s) that are (a) aggressive, (b) directed at a Minor, and (c) intended or likely to hurt, control, or diminish the Minor emotionally, physically or sexually. Examples of Bullying Behavior include, without limitation, repeated or severe: (i) Physical Bullying; (ii) Verbal Bullying; (iii) Sexual Bullying; (iv) Social Media Misconduct; and (v) Criminal Conduct, as detailed further below:
a) Physical Bullying
“Physical Bullying” is contact and non-contact behavior that can cause physical or emotional injury to an individual. Physical Bullying includes the hitting, pushing, punching, beating, biting, striking, kicking, strangling, slapping, spitting at, or throwing objects (such as sporting equipment) at another person, tying, taping, or otherwise physically restraining another person, paddling, or other forms of physical assault.
b) Verbal Bullying
“Verbal Bullying” is the act of using words to forcefully criticize, threaten, insult, or denounce another person. Verbal Bullying constitutes Verbal Misconduct, which is any objectively inappropriate use of language aimed at another person that a reasonable person would find degrading or threatening. Such conduct generally includes ridiculing, taunting, name-calling, or intimidating and/or threatening to cause someone harm.
c) Social Media Misconduct
“Social Media Misconduct” is the use of rumors or false statements about someone to diminish that person’s reputation using electronic communications. It includes, but is not limited to, the use of social media or other technology to harass, frighten, intimidate, humiliate, and/or socially exclude someone, and asking others to do the same. Social Media Misconduct includes what is referred to as “Cyberbullying,” or bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying includes, but is not limited to, sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else or causing embarrassment or humiliation.
d) Criminal Conduct
Bullying Behavior includes any conduct described as bullying under federal, state, or local law.
Conduct may not rise to the level of Bullying Behavior if it is merely rude (inadvertently saying or doing something hurtful), mean (purposefully saying or doing something hurtful, but not as part of a pattern of behavior), or arising from conflict or struggle between persons who perceive they have incompatible views or positions. Bullying does not include professionally accepted coaching methods of skill enhancement, physical conditioning, Team building, appropriate discipline, or improved Player performance.
“Hazing,” which includes, but is not limited to, any conduct that is intimidating, humiliating, offensive, or physically harmful that serves as a condition for joining a group or being socially accepted by a group’s members, is expressly prohibited under this Policy. Purported consent by the person subjected to Hazing is not a defense, regardless of the person’s perceived willingness to cooperate or participate. Examples of Hazing may include (i) Physical Hazing; (ii) Emotional Misconduct (defined above); (iii) Verbal Misconduct (defined above); (iv) Sexualized Acts; or (v) Criminal Conduct, as detailed further below:
a) Physical Hazing
Physical misconduct that takes the form of Hazing may occur via contact or non-contact acts, as outlined below:
- Contact Acts: Tying, taping, or otherwise physically restraining another person; beating, paddling, or other forms of physical assault.
- Non-Contact Acts: Requiring or forcing the consumption of alcohol, illegal drugs, or other substances (or illegal/improper use of any drugs), including participation in binge drinking and drinking games; personal servitude; requiring social actions (e.g., wearing inappropriate or provocative clothing) or public displays (e.g., public nudity) that are illegal or meant to draw ridicule; excessive training requirements demanded of only particular individuals on a Team that serve no reasonable or productive training purpose; sleep deprivation; otherwise unnecessary schedule disruptions; withholding of water, food; and/or restrictions on personal hygiene.
b) Criminal Conduct
Any act or conduct that constitutes Hazing under applicable federal, state, or local law.
Conduct may not rise to the level of Hazing if it is merely rude (inadvertently saying or doing something hurtful), mean (purposefully saying or doing something hurtful, but not as part of a pattern of behavior), or arising from conflict or struggle between persons who perceive they have incompatible views or positions. Hazing does not include professionally accepted coaching methods of skill enhancement, physical conditioning, Team building, appropriate discipline, or improved Player performance.
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in any conduct that amounts to “Harassment” of another individual, which is defined as repeated and/or severe unwelcome conduct that: (i) causes or is intended to cause fear, humiliation or annoyance; (ii) offends or degrades; (iii) creates a Hostile Environment; (iv) reflects Discriminatory bias in an attempt to establish dominance, superiority or power over an individual or group based on their Protected Status; or (v) any act or conduct described as Harassment under federal or state law.
For avoidance of doubt, while Harassing conduct is unlawful only if it affects tangible job benefits and/or interferes unreasonably with work or sport performance and creates an abusive or Hostile Environment, this Policy forbids harassing conduct even when it does not rise to the level of a violation of law. Whether conduct qualifies as Harassment depends on the totality of the circumstances, including the nature, frequency, intensity, location, context, and duration of the behavior.
Harassment can come in the form of (i) Verbal; (ii) Physical; or (iii) Visual, that is based upon a person’s Protected Status. Some examples include making negative or disparaging comments about an MLS NEXT Participant’s gender, mental or physical disability, race, skin color, or ethnic traits; or withholding or reducing practice or match time to a Player based on his/her/their sexual orientation, gender expression, or religion.
Conduct may not rise to the level of Harassment if it is merely rude (inadvertently saying or doing something hurtful), mean (purposefully saying or doing something hurtful, but not as part of a pattern of behavior), or arising from conflict or struggle between persons who perceive they have incompatible views or positions. Harassment does not include professionally accepted coaching methods of skill enhancement, physical conditioning, team building, appropriate discipline, or improved Player performance.
Two forms of Harassment require special mention:
a) Sexual Harassment
Sexual Harassment involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, written, or physical conduct of a sexual nature, which constitutes Sexual Harassment when:
- Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of the individual’s employment or condition of participation in MLS NEXT;
- Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for an employment/participation decision affecting that individual; or
- Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or sport performance and creating an intimidating, Hostile, or offensive environment.
Sexual Harassment may involve individuals of the same or different gender. It may also occur between individuals of any employment status.
b) Race, Religion, or National Origin Harassment
Racial, Religious, or National Origin Harassment includes any verbal, written, or physical act in which race, religion, or national origin is used or implied in a manner that would make a reasonable person uncomfortable in the work/competition environment, or which would interfere with the person’s ability to perform. This type of Harassment includes, but is not limited to: jokes, which include reference to race, religion, or national origin; the display or use of objects or pictures that adversely reflect on a person’s race, religion, or national origin; or use of pejorative or demeaning language regarding a person’s race, religion, or national origin.
E. Illegal use of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and vaping
The illegal use of drugs (as determined by federal law), alcohol, tobacco, or vaping by Players, Covered Persons, or Match Officials in MLS NEXT is strictly prohibited during the MLS NEXT Season and at MLS NEXT Events. PDev will not tolerate the use/consumption of performanceenhancing drugs. PDev forbids the use of any Prohibited Substances and Methods outlined in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Athlete Handbook (available at https://www.usada.org/resources/publications-and-policies/)) in effect at the time of the alleged use. Covered Persons shall support Players’ efforts to be drug-free, and their participation in illegal activities is strictly forbidden. A violation of this provision may result in Sanctions.
F. Other inappropriate conduct
1. Intimate Relationship
An Adult Covered Person violates this Policy by engaging in any intimate or romantic relationship with any Minor MLS NEXT Participant. Further, a Covered Person violates this Policy by engaging in an intimate or romantic relationship where a Power Imbalance exists. A Power Imbalance may exist where, based on the totality of the circumstances, one person has supervisory, evaluative, or other authority over another. Whether there is a Power Imbalance depends on several factors, including, but not limited to: (i) the nature and extent of the supervisory role; (ii) the evaluative or other authority over the person; (iii) the actual relationship between the parties; (iv) the parties’ respective roles; (v) the nature and duration of the relationship; (vi) the age of the parties involved; (vii) whether there is an aggressor; and (viii) whether there is a significant disparity in age, size, strength, or mental capacity.
Once a Coach-Player non-intimate or sport relationship is established, a Power Imbalance is presumed to exist throughout the Coach-Player relationship (regardless of age) and is presumed to continue for Minor Players after the Coach-Player relationship terminates and until the Player reaches 20 years of age.
A Power Imbalance may exist, but is not presumed, where an intimate relationship existed before the sport relationship (e.g., a relationship between two spouses or life partners that preceded the sport relationship or a relationship between a coach and the parent of one of the players at the Club).
An intimate or romantic relationship13 is a close personal relationship—other than a familial relationship—that exists independently and outside of the sport relationship.
13. NOTE: Whether a relationship is intimate is based on the totality of the circumstances, including, but not limited to, (i) regular contact and/or interactions (electronically or in person) outside of or unrelated to the sport relationship, (ii) the parties’ emotional connectedness, (iii) the exchange of gifts, (iv) ongoing physical and/or intimate contact and/or sexual activity, (v) identity as a couple, or (vi) the sharing of sensitive personal information, and/or intimate knowledge about each other’s lives outside the sport relationship.
2. Intentional Exposure of Private Area
A Covered Person violates this Policy by intentionally exposing genitals or other private body parts, or inducing another to do so, to an Adult where there is a Power Imbalance or to a Minor.
A Minor Player or Minor Match Official violates this Policy through intentional exposure of genitals or other private body parts where other people are present and the exposure is not generally accepted in the environment (e.g., changing clothes in a locker room).
For the avoidance of doubt, the filming or photographing of genitals or other private body parts by a Minor, a Minor Match Official, a Covered Person, or any other person, without consent of all Parties (which may not be granted in the case of Minors) constitutes sexual exploitation in violation of this MLS NEXT Safety & Wellbeing Policy.
3. Inappropriate Physical Contact
It is a violation of this Policy to engage in inappropriate physical contact with another person where there is a Power Imbalance. Such inappropriate contact includes, but is not limited to, intentionally (a) touching, slapping, or otherwise contacting the buttocks or genitals of another MLS NEXT Participant, (b) excessively touching or hugging another MLS NEXT Participant, or (c) kissing another MLS NEXT Participant.
G. Aiding and abetting
Aiding and Abetting occurs when one knowingly:
- Aids, assists, facilitates, promotes, or encourages the commission of Prohibited Conduct.
- Allows any person who has been identified as suspended or otherwise ineligible by the Center or PDev to be in any way associated (officially or unofficially) with, or employed by, PDev or a Club.
- Allows any person who has been identified as suspended or otherwise ineligible by the Center or PDev to Coach or instruct Minor Players.
- Allows any person who has been identified as ineligible by the Center or PDev to have an ownership interest in a Club, or a Facility used by the Club.
- Provides any coaching-related advice or service to a Player who has been identified as suspended or otherwise ineligible by the Center or PDev.
- Allows any person to violate the terms of any temporary measures or any Sanctions imposed by PDev.
- In addition, it is a violation of this Policy if someone acts on behalf of that person to engage in Aiding or Abetting, or if the parent/legal guardian, family member, or advisor of a Covered Person, including a Minor Player, engages in Aiding or Abetting.
H. Prohibited conduct by minors
MLS NEXT does not tolerate, and its Clubs shall not tolerate, abusive, Harassing, or Discriminatory conduct by or between its Players or other Minor MLS NEXT Participants, regardless of their ages. PDev, when present, or Club Representatives shall have the authority to and are encouraged to take immediate action to stop Prohibited Conduct or otherwise abusive behavior in the moment of its occurrence or prevent its reasonably anticipated occurrence with the goal of protecting the victim.
A Club shall notify PDev at the beginning of its investigation if the Club is investigating allegations that a Player or other Minor MLS NEXT Participant participated in Prohibited Conduct. The Club must also contact PDev after the conclusion of its investigation to discuss the Club’s recommended sanctions. The Club shall not finalize any sanction before discussing the recommended sanction with PDev or its designees. PDev reserves the right to adopt, amend, or modify the Club’s recommended sanctions. PDev will consider the facts of each alleged violation on a case-by-case basis to ensure that any imposed sanction by PDev or the Club shall be proportional to the infraction and in accordance with the MLS NEXT Disciplinary Code. For example, prohibitions on intimate relationships and electronic communications shall not apply as between Minors unless a significant age or power disparity creates cause for concern, or they otherwise involve Prohibited Conduct.
The majority of Sexual Child Abuse is perpetrated in isolated, one-on-one situations. By reducing such interactions between Minors and Adults, the risk of Sexual Child Abuse is reduced. Although appropriate physical contact and one-on-one interaction between Minor Players and Coaches/Certified Athletic Trainers (ATCs), etc. may be conducive to improving physical skills, MLS NEXT believes prudent limitations on one-on-one interactions can reduce the potential for abuse and misconduct without negatively impacting player development or unnecessarily limiting one-on-one time with trusted Adults.
A. Establishing boundaries: avoiding gifts
Individuals who “groom” children will often provide special gifts or privileges, as one strategy to gain the child’s trust and fill a need in his/her/their life, in advance of sexually abusing the child. Accordingly, PDev discourages all Adult MLS NEXT Participants from giving gifts or granting special privileges to Players and prohibits providing any such gift or privilege when not available to the entire Team.
B. Appropriate physical contact
PDev adheres to the following principles and guidelines regarding physical contact with Players:
1. Common Criteria for Appropriate Physical
Contact Physical contact with Players—for safety, consolation, and celebration—or any other reason is prohibited unless done in a safe and appropriate manner as follows:
- The physical contact takes place in a location that is open and accessible to all MLS NEXT Participants, volunteers, and parents and has multiple Adults present (“Public”).
- There is no potential for, or actual, sexual contact during the physical contact.
- The physical contact is for the benefit of the Player, not to meet an emotional or other need of an Adult.
The safety of our Players is paramount, and in many instances, we make the athletic space safer through appropriate physical contact. Examples of appropriate safe physical contact include:
- Spotting a Player so that they will not be injured by a falling piece of equipment.
- Positioning a Player’s body so that they more quickly acquire an athletic skill, get a better sense of where their body is in space, or improve their balance and coordination.
- Making Players aware that they might be in harm’s way because of other Players practicing around them or because of equipment in use.
Sports are physical by definition and we recognize Players and their Team often express their joy of participation, competition, achievement, and victory through physical acts. We encourage these public expressions of celebration in a safe and appropriate manner:
- Greeting gestures such as high-fives, fist bumps, and brief “side hugs.”14
- Congratulatory gestures such as celebratory hugs, “jump-arounds,” and pats on the back for any form of athletic or personal accomplishment.
14. NOTE: This does not include “butt-pats” or “chest bumps.” This outdated means of celebration makes many Players uncomfortable and is best replaced with a high-five or a fist bump.
It may be appropriate to console an emotionally distressed Player (e.g., a Player who has been injured or has just lost a competition). Appropriate consolation includes Publicly:
- Embracing a crying Player, but only in a public place or circumstance.
- Putting an arm around a Player while verbally engaging them in an effort to calm them down (“side hugs”).
- Lifting a fallen Player off the playing surface and “dusting them off” to encourage them to continue competition.
d) Supervision Generally
No Minor should be left alone at a training session or at any other time until they are picked up by their parent, older sibling, or other designated Adult. A parent or legal guardian must provide advance written notice of such designation either through a pick-up list or one time designation. It is recommended that the last Adult in addition to the Coach, ATC or other QMP wait at the site until the last Minor is picked up.
C. One-on-one interactions/individual meetings
An individual meeting may be necessary to address a Player’s concerns, training program, or competition schedule. Under these circumstances, Covered Persons are to observe the following guidelines when dealing with a Minor Player:
1. Interactions Should Be Observable and Interruptible
- One-on-one interactions between Minors and an Adult (who is not the Minor’s parent/legal guardian) are permitted if they occur at an observable and interruptible distance by another Adult.
- Isolated, one-on-one interactions between Minors and an Adult (who is not the Minor’s parent/legal guardian) are prohibited, except with respect to medical emergencies. For all situations in which this arises, the Adult must provide a post interaction verification to the Club’s Safety Lead explaining the situation (providing details of the medical emergency) and certifying the necessity of the interaction based on the medical emergency.
2. Interactions are Monitored
- When one-on-one interactions between Covered Persons and Minors occur at an MLS NEXT or Club venue for Team training and matches, including all parking structures and grounds on or immediately surrounding the Facility, other Covered Persons must monitor these interactions. Monitoring includes: (i) knowing that the one-on-one interaction is occurring, (ii) knowing the approximate planned duration of the interaction, and (iii) dropping in on the interaction unannounced.
- Meetings between Covered Persons and Minors at MLS NEXT or Club Facilities may only occur if another Adult is present. Such meetings must occur where interactions can be easily observed and at an interruptible distance from another Adult.
- If a one-on-one meeting takes place in an office, the door to the office must remain unlocked and open. If available, it will occur in an office that has windows, with the windows, blinds, and/or curtains remaining open during the meeting.
- If a mental health care professional meets with Minors at MLS NEXT or Club Facilities, a closed-door meeting may be permitted to protect patient privacy—provided that (i) the door remains unlocked, (ii) another Adult is present at the Facility, (iii) the other Adult is advised that a closed-door meeting is occurring, and (iv) written consent of the parent/legal guardian of the Minor is obtained by the mental health care professional consistent with applicable laws and ethical standards, with a copy provided to the Club.
- At no time during these one-on-one meetings should a Minor be denied access to their cell phone or other personal device.
4. Individual Training Sessions
- An individual training session with a Player (meaning not a Team training, but training involving one Player and one Coach) may be necessary in order to further player development. Under these circumstances, the individual training session should be open and observable by others. Additionally, parent/legal guardian permission is required in advance of the individual training session(s), and parents/legal guardians are welcome to attend the individual training and must be allowed to observe individual training sessions. Permission for individual training sessions must be obtained at least every six months, and consent may be withdrawn at any time.
5. Out-of-Program Contacts
- Covered Persons are prohibited from interacting one-on-one with Minor Players, to whom they are not related, in private settings outside of the program (including, but not limited to, one’s home and individual transportation), unless parent/legal guardian consent is provided for each out of program contact. Such arrangements are nonetheless strongly discouraged.
D. Message and other athletic training interactions
Any massage or other athletic training therapy or modality must be provided by a non-Coach ATC or other certified professional. Such activities should never be done with only the Minor and Adult in the room, instead, a second Adult must always be present in the treatment room. Where possible, without compromising a Player’s privacy, such activities should be performed in open/Public areas (e.g., but not limited to, in a training room but not behind a screen) and in any event should be in an interruptible location. Athletic training modalities, massages, and rubdowns all require prior consent from a parent/legal guardian on a yearly basis, and which consent may be withdrawn at any time. Parents/legal guardians must be allowed to attend treatment; the exception being if the treatment area is restricted for athlete safety
Even if a Coach is a licensed professional provider, the Coach shall not perform a massage or athletic training therapy or modality on a Player under any circumstances.
Icing and taping, though not limited to certified professionals, should, where possible, without compromising a Player’s privacy, be performed in open/Public areas (e.g., on the bench; in locker room with others present).
Icing and taping near the intimate areas of the body (i.e., “bathing suit areas”) is not permitted by anyone other than a licensed medical professional and in any event cannot be done with only the Minor Player and professional alone in a room. Any and all contact with or near intimate areas of the body must be documented and the medical appropriateness verified by another medical professional (if not before it is performed then shortly thereafter). Breast, buttocks, groin, and genital areas of the Minor must always be covered.
F. Electronic communications/social media
Electronic communications are an ever-changing aspect of the way we communicate today. The specific rules below may reference certain forms of electronic communication, and the specific application of principles may change with regard to a given app, platform, or method of communication, but regardless of the means, the following principles apply across all manner of electronic communication and should be used to guide Adult behavior when communicating with Minor Players:
1. Content Must Be Professional in Nature
All electronic communications between a Coach/Team personnel and a Minor Player must be professional in nature (i.e., soccer-related) and for the purpose of communicating information about Team activities or Team-oriented communication (i.e., motivation, instruction).
- Communication or conversation regarding illegal or age-inappropriate topics (drugs, alcohol use, sexually explicit language or imagery, or discussion of Adult personal life, social activities, relationship, or family issues) is not permitted.
- All communications must comply with the Prohibited Conduct section of this Policy.
2. Communications Must Be Open and Transparent
The content of any electronic communication must generally be group-based and should always be readily available to share with the Player’s family, the Club, and MLS NEXT.
- Administrators, Coaches, staff, and/or volunteers may not use SnapChat (or any similar app or app functionality that automatically deletes the content of a communication) to communicate with Minor Players.
- If a Covered Person needs to communicate directly with a Minor via electronic communications, another Covered Person or the Minor’s parent/legal guardian must be copied.
- If a Minor communicates to the Covered Person privately first, the Covered Person should respond to the Minor, copying another Covered Person or the Minor’s parent / legal guardian.
- A Covered Person communicating electronically to the entire Team will copy another Covered Person.
- Consider using group-focused platforms under Club administrative control (e.g., but not limited to, Teamworks, Slack, etc.).
3. Keep Imagery Public
In posting imagery, Adults are expected to be sensitive to the status of Minors. This means any imagery posted to a Team website or social media should be soccer-related, not private (e.g., taken in public view), and age appropriate.
- Under no circumstances should imagery depict any conduct that would violate any aspect of this Policy.
- Requests of parents/legal guardians of Minors to remove imagery in which their child is recognizable and individually featured will be honored to the extent practicable.15
15. NOTE: Where photos are Team photos, although generally no child is individually featured, the request will nonetheless be considered in good faith.
The following sections apply the above principles to specific areas of electronic communication and should not be viewed as narrowing the above.
4. Prohibited Electronic Communications—Direct Messaging
- Covered Persons are not permitted to communicate privately via electronic communications (meaning directly message one individual versus a group message) with Minors.
- Covered Persons are not permitted to “private message,” “instant message,” “direct message,” or send photos to a Minor privately, regardless of what platform is used.
- Covered Persons are not permitted to maintain social media connections with Minors; such Adults are not permitted to accept new personal page requests on social media platforms from Minors; and existing social media connections with Minors shall be discontinued (and, where necessary, the reason for discontinuing should be explained to the Minor). Instead, Players and parents can “friend” the official organization’s Team page and Coaches can communicate with Players through the site or through similar group-focused methods of communication.
- Players and Coaches employed by Clubs may use email to communicate provided that the Coach is using only his/her/their official Club email account and further provided that all email content between Coach and Player otherwise complies with this Policy. When communicating with a Minor through email, another Covered Person or the Minor’s parent/legal guardian must be copied.
5. Requests to Discontinue
Parents/legal guardians may request in writing that their Minor child not be contacted through electronic communication by the organization or by Covered Persons. PDev will abide by any such request, absent emergency circumstances.
6. Social Media (including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, texting, WhatsApp, GroupMe, TikTok, and similar apps)
- Keep personal pages personal. Administrators, Coaches, staff, and/or volunteers may not invite or allow Minors to join a personal social media page unless they are directly related to that Player and have the permission of the Player’s parent/legal guardian. Players should be reminded that initiating a “friend” request to administrators/Coaches/staff/volunteers is not permitted.
- Administrators, Coaches, staff and/or volunteers are encouraged to set their social media pages to private.
- Similarly, those who work with Minors are reminded that they set an example for the Minors. If a page is not private, PDev expects administrators, Coaches, staff, and/or volunteers who work with Minors to refrain from posting inappropriate, off-color content, or content that would violate the Prohibited Conduct section of this Policy or otherwise commenting on posts that would.
- Choose Apps that support group-based communication. Apps such as Teamworks and Slack often provide a helpful way to communicate, but again, individual messages must be avoided.
- Respect reasonable “soccer” hours, Real-time electronic communications (e.g., texting via SMS, apps, etc.) between Coaches and Players on a group basis is generally allowed between 8 am–9 pm, unless there is a specific safety- or soccer-related need to communicate.
F. Locker rooms/changing areas
Players (especially Minors) are particularly vulnerable in locker rooms and changing areas due to various stages of dress/undress and because Players are less supervised than at many other times. The risk of Player-to-Player problems, such as Sexual Child Abuse and Bullying, Harassment, and Hazing, is present when Coaches or staff members are not monitoring Players, which again is especially true in locker rooms. Adherence to a locker room and changing areas policy enhances privacy and reduces the likelihood of misconduct. The following requirements are designed to maintain personal privacy as well as to reduce the risk of misconduct in locker rooms and changing areas.
1. Use of Cell Phones and Other Mobile Recording Devices Prohibited
Cell phones and other mobile devices with recording capabilities, including voice recording, still cameras and video cameras, increase the risk for different forms of misconduct in locker rooms and changing areas. As a result, USE OF A DEVICE’S RECORDING CAPABILITIES IN THE LOCKER ROOMS, REST ROOMS, CHANGING AREAS OR SIMILAR SPACES IS PROHIBITED. Exceptions may be made for media and championship celebrations, provided that Minors are fully clothed, parent/legal guardian consent is provided, and such exceptions are approved by PDev and two or more Adults are present during all recording.
Under no circumstances shall an Adult at an MLS NEXT or Club Facility be undressed (disrobed or partial or full nudity where private body parts are exposed) in front of Minors. If locker rooms are utilized then Semi-Private or Private changing area options must be provided to all Minor Players.16 Teams with mixed-gender rosters must implement and enforce policies as provided in Section VII.
16. NOTE: A Semi-Private area is an area that is not separate from where other individuals are changing but offers the Minor Player some privacy. For example, a bathroom stall with a door or an area created by a partition or drapery. A Private area is an area separated completely from anyone else changing. This area would be fully enclosed with a door and no other individual would be able to enter without the Minor Player’s permission. This could be a single restroom or family restroom where the Minor Player can lock the door and change alone.
3. Isolated One-On-One Interactions/Monitoring
- At no time are unrelated Adults permitted to be alone with a Minor in a locker room, rest room, or changing area when at an MLS NEXT or Club Facility.
- If a Club is using a Facility that has only a single set of such locker rooms, rest rooms, or changing areas, times will be designated for use by each respective group (e.g., Adults, Minors, etc.).
- Locker rooms, rest rooms, and changing areas at Club Facilities should be regularly and randomly monitored to ensure compliance with this Policy. For Club Facilities, the checks should be conducted or overseen by the Safety Lead (as defined below in Section XI.A).
- Adults will make every effort to recognize when a Minor goes to the locker room or changing area during practice and competition and, if the Minor does not return in a timely fashion, will check on the Minor’s whereabouts.
- PDev discourages parents from entering locker rooms and changing areas unless it is truly necessary. In those instances, it should only be a same-sex parent. If this is necessary, parents should receive permission from a Coach or administrator in advance.
- The sole exception to the prohibition on one-on-one interactions is in the case of a medical emergency, as set forth above in Section VII.C.
4. Non-Exclusive Facility
If your Club uses a Facility not under its jurisdiction (e.g., for training or competition or similar events) and the Facility is used by multiple constituents, Covered Persons are nonetheless required to adhere to the rules set forth here.
G. Local travel
Local travel consists of travel to training, practice, and competition that does not include coordinated overnight stay(s).
- PDev and the Clubs generally do not arrange for local travel for individual Players from home to training/practice/competition and should generally avoid taking responsibility for coordinating local travel.
- It is the responsibility of the parents/legal guardians to ensure that the person transporting the Minor Player maintains the proper safety and legal requirements, including, but not limited to: a valid driver’s license, automobile liability insurance, a vehicle in safe working order, and compliance with applicable state laws.
- Covered Persons who are not also acting as a parent/legal guardian shall not ride in a vehicle alone with an unrelated Minor, absent a medical emergency. Covered Persons not also acting as a parent/legal guardian may only drive with Minors in groups of two or more or with another Adult at all times, unless otherwise agreed to in writing by the Minor’s parent/legal guardian in advance of each local travel.
- In any case where a staff member and/or volunteer is involved in a Minor’s local travel, a parental release is required in advance. Parents/legal guardians are advised to consult the Center’s Parental Toolkit (https://www.usef.org/forms-pubs/9gSPTAMFn2g/parentcomplete-toolkit) concerning Child Abuse prevention before providing consent for their Minor to travel alone with an unrelated Adult.
2. Shared or Carpool Travel Arrangement
We encourage parents/legal guardians to pick up their Minor first and drop off their Minor last in any shared or carpool travel arrangement.
H. Team travel/overnight stays
Team travel is travel that requires overnight stays away from home and occurs when any Club or Team sponsors, coordinates, or arranges for travel so that Teams can compete locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally. Because of the greater distances, Coaches, staff, volunteers, and chaperones will often travel with the Players. Detailed travel plans should be provided to parents/legal guardians before any overnight travel. Clubs must obtain written parental consent.
1. Covered Persons Requirements
Covered Persons who travel with a Team (whether Coach, ATC, Match Official, staff member, or volunteer/parent) must successfully pass a criminal background check and other screening requirements in compliance with PDev’s screening policies and complete the Core SafeSport Training.
2. Travel to Competition
When possible, all travel duties should be assigned to a common carrier, but when that is not possible, specific Club-developed protocols should be followed. Each Club should set out requirements (like the below) for travel to competitions.
When only one Covered Person and one Minor travel to a competition (including, but not limited to, a Minor Match Official), the Minor must provide evidence of his/her/their parent’s/legal guardian’s written permission in advance of each competition before traveling alone with the Covered Person to a competition.
3. Travel Arrangements
For Team travel, hotels and air travel will typically be booked in advance by the Club. Players typically will share rooms, with 2–4 Players assigned per room depending on accommodations. The Club shall notify all parents/legal guardians in writing ahead of the MLS NEXT Season if, during travel, players will be assigned to share beds with other players.
The Club will also notify hotel management should any special arrangements be warranted. For example, depending on the ages in travel parties, the Club may ask hotels to block pay per view channels or clear mini bars. Depending on the size of the group, the Club may also request an additional large room or suite so that its members and Players may socialize as a group. Team meetings shall not occur in individual hotel rooms, and the Club will reserve a separate space for Adults and Players to socialize and/or to support appropriate athletic training appointments.
Clubs should consider providing their Teams with approved or designated travel and lodging providers to ensure these third parties meet the minimum standards and expectations consistent with MLS NEXT Rules and Policies.
4. Hotel Rooms17
17. Note that homestays by visiting Club players are not permitted at this time.
Adults shall not share a hotel room or other sleeping arrangement with a Minor (unless the Covered Persons/individual is the parent/legal guardian, sibling, or is otherwise related to the Minor Player and the parent/legal guardian has provided written consent prior to the lodging arrangement). Clubs shall make every reasonable effort to avoid assigning Players to the same room who: (i) are not related and are more than two years apart in age (unless authorized in writing by the younger Player’s parent/legal guardian); or (ii) have a known history of misconduct either with or against one another. In addition, no Adult should enter the hotel room or other sleeping arrangement of a Minor unless necessary for the safety of the Minor (e.g., in the event of emergency). Team meetings should never be conducted in a hotel room used for sleeping.
Parents/legal guardians who wish to stay in the Team hotel are permitted and encouraged to do so.
Individual meetings will be conducted consistent with the Policy for one-on-one interactions—i.e., any such meeting shall be observable and interruptible.
As stated above, Team meetings may not be conducted in a hotel room used for sleeping. In the event that it is not possible, due to resources or availability, to reserve separate space to conduct meetings or allow for social interactions, then meetings may be conducted in rooms used for sleeping with adherence to strict protocols regarding time of day, number of individuals, and documentation of attendees, so long as the door to the room remains ajar, and/or with additional Adults present, with at least one of those Adults being the same gender as the Player(s), when no other options are available. At no time and under no circumstances may these meetings/interactions be between one Adult and one unrelated Minor.
During Team travel, when doing room checks, attending Team meetings and/or other activities, the use of two-deep leadership,18 and observable and interruptible environments should be maintained.
18. NOTE: Two-deep leadership is a concept coined by Boy Scouts of America to require the presence of two registered Adults
or one registered Adult and a parent of a Player, one of whom must be 21 years of age or older.
6. Mixed-Gender and Mixed-Age Travel
Players may only share a room with other Players of the same age group (e.g., Minors with Minors, Adults with Adults) and gender-identity (if requested). Every effort will be made to room together any younger Players that are “playing up”—i.e., Players participating in divisions that are typically designed for Players in greater age ranges (unless authorized in writing by the younger Player’s parent/legal guardian). Players will also be further grouped by age (and gender, if applicable) for the purposes of assigning an appropriate chaperone. Clubs must make every effort to provide these groups at least one chaperone of the same gender.
Regardless of gender or age, a Coach shall not share a hotel room or other sleeping arrangement with a Player (unless the Coach is the parent/legal guardian or sibling of that particular Player).
Similarly, in the event of Match Official travel, an Adult Match Official shall not share a hotel room or other sleeping arrangement with a Minor Match Official (unless the Adult is thep arent/legal guardian or sibling of that particular Minor Match Official). And at no time should a Match Official and Player or Coach be sharing a room.
7. Coach and Staff Responsibilities
During Team travel, Coaches and staff members will help Players, fellow Coaches, and fellow staff members adhere to this Policy. When not practicing, training, competing, or preparing for competition, Coaches and staff will monitor the safety and activities of Players, fellow Coaches, and fellow staff during Team travel.
Coaches and staff will:
- Prepare Players for Team travel and make Players aware of all expectations. Supplemental information will be given to parents/legal guardians of Players who are considered inexperienced travelers, new or relatively new to Team travel, or who are under the age of 14, to familiarize themselves with all travel itineraries and schedules before the initiation of Team travel;
- Conform, and monitor for others’ adherence, to all MLS NEXT Rules and Policies during Team travel;
- Encourage Minors to participate in regular, at least daily, scheduled communications with their parents/legal guardians;
- Ensure Players are not alone in a hotel room with any Adult apart from a family member; this includes Coaches, staff, chaperones, or other Adults that are not MLS NEXT Participants;
- Not use drugs or alcohol in the presence of Minors or be under the influence of alcohol or drugs while performing their Coaching/staff duties (this applies 24/7 throughout a camp or travel trip); and
- Immediately report any concerns about physical or sexual abuse, misconduct, or policy violations to PDev, the Center, and the appropriate authorities.
Physical well-being considerations involve prevention (including a duty to assess the physical
readiness of Players), injury care, and post-injury management.
A. Recognize to recover
Recognize to Recover™ (www.recognizetorecover.org) is U.S. Soccer’s education and awareness program aimed at promoting safe play and reducing injuries in soccer players of all ages. This program was developed to provide coaches, players, parents, and referees with information, guidance and additional educational materials to improve the prevention and management of injuries. This comprehensive program addresses, without limitation:
All Clubs are required to follow Recognize to Recover™ guidelines, available at:
Any conflicting terms therein are superseded by the guidance provided in this Policy.
B. Injury prevention and planning
1. Consultation with Participant’s Doctor
As set forth in the MLS NEXT Participant Agreement and Waiver, each Participant must consult with Participant’s own doctor to ensure that Participant’s participation in MLS NEXT will not pose any unusual risks to Participant’s health and well-being. MLS NEXT requires all individuals on Club Rosters to obtain appropriate medical clearance before participating in MLS NEXT. Although MLS NEXT does not manage individual Clubs and Teams nationwide, Clubs shall require each Player enrolled in their Club to obtain medical clearance from his/her/their personal physician within the last twelve months prior to the start of each Season, and prior to attending practice, strength and conditioning sessions, or competition.
Annual physical check-ups by qualified physicians may identify medical concerns that could impact safety or performance and are helpful in understanding a Player’s current physical state of readiness for play. Physicians generally should be asked to review medical history; check height/weight, vision, pulse, and blood pressure; screen for heart conditions (such as may cause sudden cardiac arrest); evaluate for any respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma); do a physical examination; and, where practicable, an orthopedic screening examination. In addition to the foregoing, a physician may recommend additional testing based on a Player’s specific situation.
2. Treating Medical Professionals
a) Medical Professionals and Paraprofessionals Required at Matches
At each Match (as defined in the Rules and Regulations), the home Club shall provide an ATC or medical professional who is licensed or certified and authorized by state or provincial law to provide urgent care, including training in the evaluation and management of suspected concussion (“Qualified Medical Professional” or “QMP”). The QMP must also have knowledge of the MLS NEXT Concussion Protocol and be trained in any required match-day testing or other requirements therein.
The visiting Club should consult the home Club’s QMP, prior to the start of each match, regarding the identification of Players who may be at special risk given past medical history and recent illness or injury or have other medical conditions that might require emergency medical assistance. The visiting Club also should consult the home Club’s EAP in the event of a medical emergency.
If the home Club fails to ensure the presence of such a medical professional or paraprofessional, and both Clubs and the referee do not agree to a maximum 60-minute delay for the arrival or replacement of the QMP, the Match shall be cancelled and the home Club shall be Fined, and potentially subject to other discipline, in accordance with MLS NEXT Disciplinary Code, and subject to any exceptions therein.28
28. NOTE: An exception may be based on factors beyond the control of the home Club, such as sudden unavailability of the QMP through no fault of the Club (e.g., illness or travel obstacles without reasonable advanced notice).
To properly effectuate pre-injury planning, the proper resources must be accessible to MLS NEXT Participants, including first aid kits and other injury care resources at the competition site.
b) Licensure Policy
MLS NEXT requires that treating medical professionals and paraprofessionals (physicians, ATCs, etc.) serving Clubs comply with applicable regulations for licensure, registration, and certification established by and consistent with state and federal laws and generally recognized professional and accrediting organizations. MLS NEXT also requires primary source verification of temporary permits, licenses, registrations, or certifications prior to beginning work. Individuals serving in those positions requiring licensure, registration, or certifications, as indicated in the job description, are responsible for providing copies of their permit, license, registration, or certifications and must possess the required licensure or certification at the time of hire/appointment in order to perform their duties unless otherwise allowed by regulation (e.g., Athletic Training interns directly supervised by licensed ATCs).
It is the Club’s responsibility to ensure compliance with these requirements and to ensure that their medical professionals and paraprofessionals maintain their licenses in good standing, complete all continuing medical education requirements, as applicable, and ensure timely renewals. Club employees and contractors will not be permitted to work if their licenses have expired prior to the receipt of renewal documentation, and will remain ineligible until their licenses, registrations, or certifications have been verified by the Club. MLS NEXT reserves the right to demand documentation proving that the foregoing Club obligations are being complied with and that their medical professionals and paraprofessionals are complying with this licensure policy. Failure to produce documentation of verification within ten (10) working days after a request may result in termination.
C. Post-injury management
Post-injury management covers the injury assessment, monitoring, ongoing treatment/recovery processes, and medical clearance to return a Player to participation. With the exception of a concussion (or suspected concussion), for which robust guidance is provided in the section below, Clubs shall follow the below guidance before clearing any Player to return to participation:
- If an injured Player is sent to a physician, the physician will determine when the injury has healed enough that the Player may return to participation.
D. MLS NEXT concussion protocol
The recognition and management of concussion in the sport of soccer is an important component of this Policy. Please note that if more stringent minimum standards are issued in federal, state, provincial, or local laws, those more stringent standards are applicable.
The MLS NEXT Concussion Protocol (as outlined herein) sets forth MLS NEXT’s position with regard to the education, recognition, evaluation, diagnosis, and management of concussions. MLS NEXT has adopted the U.S. Soccer Federation’s “Recognize to Recover” program (the “U.S. Soccer Protocol”). The latest version of the U.S. Soccer Protocol is hereby incorporated into this MLS NEXT Concussion Protocol, except to the extent of any conflicting or more specific terms or clarifications herein. In the event of any conflict between this MLS NEXT Concussion Protocol and U.S. Soccer Protocol, the MLS NEXT Concussion Protocol shall supersede.
Key observations regarding concussions include:
- Concussions are brain injuries.
- Concussions produce complex physiological processes that occur when traumatic biomechanical forces are applied to the brain.
- Concussions may be caused either by a direct blow to the head, face, neck, or elsewhere on the body, which causes an “impulsive” force to be transmitted to the head. Direct head-to- head contact, typically occurring when two athletes attempt to head the same ball, is the most common injury mechanism, although contact with any object or person on or around the field can result in injury.
- Loss of consciousness MAY occur but is NOT necessary for diagnosis of concussion.
- Concussion results in a diverse set of clinical signs and symptoms.
- The symptoms of concussion may or may not appear immediately; in some cases, symptoms may evolve over a number of minutes to hours.
- Concussions typically are not visible on traditional neuroimaging (CT scans, MRI). Neuropsychological or “neurocognitive” tests may be used to detect abnormalities in thinking abilities caused by concussion. However, these tests are only one part of the return to play decision process and ideally should be interpreted in consultation with a neuropsychologist.
For a complete definition of sport-related “concussion,” as incorporated in MLS NEXT’s Protocol please see the CISG (McCrory, et al., 2017), available at https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/early/2017/04/26/bjsports-2017-097699.full.pdf
As set forth in Section II(C)(2) of this Safety & Wellbeing Policy, education plays a critical role in concussion identification and management, and therefore educational training is required for MLS NEXT Players, technical staff, and all medical contractors or staff.
1. Recognition: Sign & Symptoms of a Concussion
Identifying athletes with a concussion or suspected of having a concussion is one of the greatest challenges faced by medical providers. Once considered a hallmark of the injury, loss of consciousness occurs in only 5% or fewer of concussive injuries. Clinical signs associated with a concussion may be difficult to identify and symptoms may not be disclosed by an athlete who desires to continue to play or is unaware they have concussion symptoms. Symptoms may be delayed for minutes, hours or up to one to two days after injury. As such, medical providers must be vigilant in their observation of athletes under their care, both on and off the field.
a) Identifying a Concussion
Clinical research identified that the following signs are associated with a likelihood of a diagnosis of concussion following a direct or indirect blow to the head (Davis GA, Makdissi M, Bloomfield P, et al., Br J Sports Med, 2019):
- Lying Motionless/Loss of Consciousness: lying motionless on the playing surface. The Player does not appear to move or react purposefully, respond or reply appropriately to the match situation (including teammates, opponents, referees, or medical staff).
- Unsteady Gait/Motor Incoordination: the Player appears unsteady on his/her/their feet (including losing balance, staggering/stumbling, struggling to get up, falling) or in the upper limbs (including fumbling). May occur in rising from the playing surface or while walking/running.
- Impact Seizure: involuntary clonic movements that comprise periods of asymmetric and irregular rhythmic jerking of axial (i.e., head, neck, face, jaw, or back) or limb muscles.
- Involuntary Limb Stiffness/Tonic Posturing: involuntary sustained contraction of one or more limbs (typically upper limbs), so that the limb is held stiff despite the influence of gravity or the position of the Player. The tonic posturing could involve other muscles such as the axial or lower limb muscles. Tonic posturing may be observed while the athlete is on the playing surface or in the motion of falling, where the Player may also demonstrate no protective action.
- No Protective Action/Floppy Fall: falls to the playing surface in an unprotected manner (i.e., without stretching out hands or arms to lessen or minimize the fall) after direct or indirect contact to the head. The Player demonstrates loss of motor tone and appears limp (which may be observed in the limbs and/or neck) before landing on the playing surface.
- Blank/Vacant Look: the Player exhibits no or blunted facial expression or apparent emotion in response to the environment (may include a lack of focus/attention of vision). Blank, vacant, or confused look is best appreciated in reference to the athlete’s normal or expected facial expression.
If the Player exhibits any of the six signs enumerated above, or a concussion is suspected for other reasons, the Player shall be first evaluated on the field. If after the on-field assessment, the Player has any concussion-related signs and symptoms, or a diagnosis of concussion cannot be ruled out, the Player shall then undergo an off-field evaluation (see below). In such case, Player shall be removed from the match and precluded from playing in training or any other matches (whether or not a Covered Program) until cleared to return to play pursuant to this MLS NEXT policy. If the Player is diagnosed with a concussion by the QMP (as defined in Section VIII(B)(2) of this Policy) or the suspicion of concussion persists after the evaluation, under no circumstances shall that Player return to play in the same day.
Some additional concussion signs and symptoms include:
- Cognitive Signs/Symptoms: unaware of match specifics (opposition colors, score of match, last play); confusion; amnesia (does not recall events prior to the hit or after the hit); changes in consciousness; not oriented to time, place, or date; difficulty concentrating, feeling “in a fog.” A Player may report these symptoms, or the signs may be observed.
- Physical: headache, dizziness, nausea, unsteadiness/loss of balance, feeling “dinged” or stunned or “dazed,” seeing stars or flashing lights, sensitive to light, pressure in head, fatigue or low energy, ringing in the ears, and double vision. Difficulties with sleep may develop later—e.g., trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or sleeping too much.
- Emotional: depressed mood, sadness, anxiety, irritable, easily frustrated, and heightened emotionality.
2. What to Do If You Suspect a Concussion Has Occurred
Concussive injuries often do not manifest overt signs, making it difficult for even the most diligent medical provider to identify all concussed athletes. Players, teammates, Coaches, and Match Officials, therefore, have an obligation to report a suspicion of concussion to medical personnel who will then evaluate the Player pursuant to this protocol. If in a training situation those without medical credentials suspect an athlete may be concussed, they should follow the Concussion Recognition Tool 5 (“CRT5”) recommendations (see below),29 acting conservatively. They should remove the athlete from participation (i.e., practice, conditioning, etc.) and not allow the Player to return until a QMP has performed an evaluation and has cleared the athlete to return, even if the signs or symptoms resolve.30
30. NOTE: For additional information, see http://www.recognizetorecover.org/head‐and‐brain#concussions and http://www.recognizetorecover.org/concussion‐awareness‐week‐1#concussion‐awareness‐week.
In the event of a suspected concussion:
a) Remove from Play Immediately.
Those who are not QMPs who observe an impact or the above-referenced signs and are unsure whether a concussion is suspected should utilize the CRT5, not to diagnose the condition, but rather to determine whether a concussion is suspected. As always, such person should err on the side of caution and take a conservative approach as to whether a concussion is suspected.
b) Evaluation and Diagnosis.
All Players suspected of having a concussion should be evaluated by a QMP. This individual must be specifically trained in the evaluation and management of sports concussion. Having obtained a medical or other healthcare degree does not, by itself, indicate that the professional is adequately trained for the evaluation of concussion. The Player should not return to play until a QMP has provided clearance for return to play. Understanding that concussion symptoms or signs may not always be present within the first few hours of an inciting impact, any Player who is evaluated during a match with an “on-field” assessment that is not initially diagnosed with a concussion shall be evaluated again serially, ideally within 24-36 hours of the initial suspicion of injury by a QMP.
Players who are suspected of having sustained a concussion during a Match must be evaluated immediately by the QMP. The evaluation must include at minimum the components of the “On-Field” assessment of the SCAT5 or Child SCAT5 (if the Player is aged 12 years or younger), including the “ABCs” (Airway, Breathing, Circulation), Maddocks Questions, Glasgow Coma Scale, Cervical Spine Assessment, and MLS On-field Symptom list.
If after this on-field assessment, the QMP determines that a suspicion of a concussion persists, a more complete off-field evaluation is needed, including the full SCAT5 or Child SCAT5. Such an evaluation must be performed off-field and (to the extent reasonably possible) in a distraction-free environment. If, after the QMP evaluation, the assessment of a concussion or suspected concussion is made, the Player who has been removed from play must not be allowed to return to play the same day. The QMP must provide instructions for next steps and follow up, as described below.
If, after the QMP evaluation, there is no continuing suspicion of a concussion, the QMP can clear the player to return to play. The Player should be monitored and serial assessments performed to evaluate for emerging symptoms. Such QMP shall complete a report that details the evaluation and the reasoning for allowing a return to play. This can be completed after the Match.
If there is no QMP present, any Player with a suspected concussion should be removed from play and not be allowed to return that day, even if the Player’s symptoms resolve. If there is any concern for severe or worsening symptoms, the Player should be transported to a medical facility for evaluation. If the symptoms resolve or are mild and improving, the Player should be managed consistent with the CRT5 section on athletes with suspected concussion and must be instructed to follow up with a healthcare professional who is specifically trained in concussion evaluation, management and return to play clearance, and licensed or certified by state or provincial law to do so, prior to return to sport. If a Minor, instructions should be provided to the parent/legal guardian.
MLS NEXT requires that the QMP be trained and facile in utilization of the SCAT5 and Child SCAT5 concussion evaluation tools. For all Players under the age of 13, the Child SCAT5 should be used. Off-field evaluation must consist of the full SCAT5 (or Child SCAT5) tool, regardless of the time it takes to conduct the evaluation. A copy of each tool can be found at: http://www.recognizetorecover.org/head-and-brain and www.mlssoccer.com/mlsnext/resources.
3. Substitutions Related to Head Injury and Evaluation
A Player who is suspected to have suffered a head injury may be substituted while being evaluated. The substitution for the evaluation of the concussion/head injury will not count against the Team’s total number of substitution moments in the Match.
If the Player is deemed by a QMP to not have suffered a concussion, the Player may re-enter the match at any stoppage of play and must replace the original substitute; this head injury evaluation substitution will not count as a substitution moment. Furthermore, the temporary substitute will be able to re-enter the match at a later time.
If the Player is not cleared to return to play by a QMP, the replacement Player will no longer be considered a temporary substitution.
Any discipline issued to the temporary substitute will count for the remainder of the match.
4. Neuropsychological Testing
The use of neuropsychological or “neurocognitive” tests has become widespread in the evaluation and management of concussion. These tests measure “thinking” abilities such as learning, memory, problem solving, information processing speed and reaction time, which are often—but not always —affected by concussion. At a minimum, all Players in the MLS NEXT youth development league shall have baseline testing using ImPACT at the start of the season, and that test must be deemed valid (see Section 6 below). If the test is categorized as Invalid by the ImPACT program, the test must be repeated. If a second test is categorized as invalid, a neuropsychologist should be consulted. The baseline test scores are then compared to the scores of an ImPACT test conducted after a concussion. The tests have shown to be useful in assessing the effects of concussion, even if a baseline test is not available. A neuropsychologist is in the best position to interpret the results of these tests.
In order for a QMP to access the Player’s baseline test, the Player should provide the ImPACT “Passport ID” code given to the Player upon completion of the last baseline test taken. A Player who cannot find such Passport ID should contact MLS NEXT at: Registration@mlsnext.soccer.
5. Medical Management
Following a concussion diagnosis, an athlete should be removed from further sport participation with instructions to engage in relative physical and cognitive rest. Returning to play on the same day as a suspected concussion without appropriate medical clearance is now universally prohibited for all athletes by U.S. Soccer (and by MLS NEXT) and by many state or provincial laws in youth cohorts. Relative rest, typically lasting on the order of 24-48 hours, is defined as limiting the athlete to activities that do not exacerbate concussion-related symptoms or provoke new symptoms. Extended periods of inactivity, either physical or cognitive, more than two (2) days in length are not recommended and may be harmful.
As the Player’s symptoms improve, day-to-day activities may be gradually increased under the guidance of a QMP as long as the introduction of activities (e.g., walking, reading, computer use, schoolwork) does not elicit new concussion-related symptoms or cause significant exacerbation of existing concussion-related symptoms. Progression through the graded RTP process shall be under the direction of a healthcare professional who is specifically trained in concussion evaluation, management and return to play clearance, and licensed or certified by state or provincial law to do so. In some cases, this individual may be the QMP who diagnosed the concussion if that QMP has the requisite training and licensure/certification. At all times, the Player shall be monitored for a re- emergence or exacerbation of concussion-related symptoms, which would lead to a pause in the progression and subsequent resumption of activity as tolerated. The Player’s healthcare professional is responsible for reviewing the Player’s progress, and any challenges that emerge. The Player’s parent or legal guardian (is responsible for communicating that progress with the Member Club technical staff, and the Member Club shall inform the parent or legal guardian of this responsibility and the preferred manner of communication.
Prior to return to contact play, the Player must be evaluated by the above-described healthcare professional who must provide written clearance for return to play, including exercise and training. No technical staff shall allow the Player to engage in full contact activity until a written clearance to do so by the healthcare professional has been received.
a) Graded Exercise Progression
A graded return to play progression must be supervised by a healthcare professional who is specifically trained in concussion evaluation, management and return to play clearance, and licensed or certified by state or provincial law to do so. An example of a return to play progression is provided below:31
- Light aerobic exercise (e.g., stationary bicycle) for 15-20 minutes (do not allow Player to break a sweat);
- Moderate intensity aerobic exercise (30 minutes, moderate intensity, breaking a sweat);
- Sport-specific training (ball handling, passing, light running, NO heading);
- Non-contact training drills, including full exertion interval training (may start light resistance training);
- Full contact training with heading; and
- Return to competition (match play).
31. NOTE: Additional information may be found at the following link:
Typically, a Player progresses from one step to the next every 24 hours as long as concussion-related symptoms do not newly emerge, reemerge, or become exacerbated. If the Player develops symptoms during one of the steps, the activity should be stopped and the Player should be allowed to rest for 24 hours or until such symptoms resolve, whichever is later. The Player should then return to the prior step and resume the progression. The above-described healthcare professional shall be wholly responsible for determining the level of permissible activity as well as whether a Player can engage in such activity, with or only without certain symptoms.
Patience is key as symptoms may re-emerge during this process. Do not attempt to speed up this process unless under the supervision of a well-qualified concussion specialist who has access to a multi-disciplinary team of qualified healthcare professionals.
b) Return to Play
Return to full contact play shall only occur once the Player is free of concussion-related symptoms and such return is permitted in writing by the healthcare professional who is specifically trained in concussion evaluation, management and return to play clearance, and licensed or certified by state or provincial law to do so. Specifically, return to full contact play shall only occur after (1) the Player is free of concussion-related symptoms at rest, (2) the Player remains free of concussion-related symptoms after a graded exercise progression, and (3) the Player is judged by the healthcare professional to be at his/her/their neurocognitive baseline, including consideration of a repeated ImPACT test. At this point, the healthcare professional should provide a written note clearing the Player for full-contact play.
6. Baseline Testing
MLS NEXT requires baseline neuropsychological testing for each Player consistent with the below guidance:
a) ImPACT Baselines
ImPACT is a computerized neurocognitive assessment program. Initially, each team must conduct baseline tests for all athletes, and confirmation of completion of a valid baseline must be received before the start of the first unrestricted contact play of the season. Baseline tests must be repeated every other year and, if the Player previously had only the ImPACT Pediatric test, once a Player turns 12 years of age. The Baseline test results should not be interpreted by test administrators, except for identifying invalid baselines designated as “Baseline ++” by the ImPACT program, in which case the test must be repeated. Otherwise, interpretation of baseline and post-injury ImPACT data is only to be performed by medical professionals who are trained in the interpretation of ImPACT data, when tasked with post-injury return-to-play decision making. Although test interpretation is restricted to medical professionals trained in the interpretation of ImPACT data, the test may be conducted by non-technical club staff, including administrators, athletic trainers, or medical professionals. No Coaches are to administer the ImPACT test. The test administrator must have completed ImPACT training as specified below, which is available at no cost online. ImPACT will e-mail each Club Administrator the required login credentials in a separate communication:
- For children under 12 years of age, Players must be tested using ImPACT Pediatric, and the test must be administered in person, on an iPad, and only in a one-on-one setting, but never at home.32
- For children 12 years of age or older, the test must be administered in person at a team designated site (never at home), on a personal computer or laptop with an external mouse, and in small groups with no more than five (5) Players.33 ImPACT’s Administration Manual is also available for test administrators.34
32. NOTE: The required training for ImPACT Pediatric is available at: https://concussioncaretraining.com/courses/freecourses/
33. NOTE: The Baseline Test can also be accessed at www.impacttestonline.com/customercenter. Instructions for (nonpediatric) Baseline testing administration are included in the MLS NEXT ImPACT Baseline Testing Instructions, which can be found at https://www.mlssoccer.com/mlsnext/resources.
34. NOTE: The required training is available at: https://concussioncaretraining.com/courses/free-courses/impact-onboardingbundle/.
You may note that these training bundles include sessions titled, “Customer Center Walk- Through” and “Impact Basic Report Interpretation.” Those sessions only apply to QMPs.
The required training for ImPACT Pediatric is available at: https://concussioncaretraining.com/courses/freecourses/
b) SCAT5 Baselines
MLS NEXT reserves the right to implement baseline SCAT5 testing, subject to reasonable advance notice. Such program will be incorporated by reference into this document, and all Member Clubs shall be subject to its requirements.
Remember that all required testing should be administered pursuant to the limitations on one‐on‐one interactions, outlined in this Policy.
7. Heading Reminder
Technical staff and Players are reminded that the rules of U.S. Soccer and MLS NEXT prohibit heading the ball by Players 10 years old and younger, regardless of the age group in which they play. Players who are 11, 12, and 13, regardless of the age group in which they play, may head the ball during matches; however, these players must limit heading practice to a maximum of 30 minutes per week with no more than 15–20 headers per player, per week.
E. Facility Safety
A Match will not start without proper equipment, including secured goals, properly lined fields, and corner flags (a flag on a post not less than five feet high and having a non-pointed top shall be placed at each corner). Training sessions are also not permitted to start until the field has been inspected and proper equipment has been ensured.
1. Field and Training Facility Inspection
Home Clubs are responsible for inspecting the field and ensuring the safety of the Facility. However, should the visiting Club become aware of a safety issue at the Facility, they should immediately inform the home Club and the Match Officials. The home Club is responsible for the following:
- Inspect for and remove foreign objects (trash or debris);
- Check for holes, hills, or ruts;
- Make Players aware of inconsistent surface conditions, such as uneven edges or bumps that cannot be remediated prior to play;
- Inspect sprinkler heads to make sure that they are seated and properly covered;
- Ensure there is a restraining line for spectators at least five (5) feet beyond the touch line and outside of the field of play;
- Ensure the goals are anchored;
- Inspect bleachers and seating areas for any foreign objects or unsafe conditions; and
- Inspect the field and surrounding areas for any possible “attractive nuisances.”
Field inspection should happen before and after every use of any playing or training area. If after such inspection potential hazards have been identified that require further maintenance, this should be reported to the Safety Lead.
Further, indoor areas should be inspected on a daily basis for unsafe conditions such as warped boards or peeling turf on the playing surface, ceiling leaks, sharp wall protrusions, loosely anchored or mounted equipment, wood splinters, burned-out lights, etc.
The inspection of lighting for evening practices or matches should include lighting on the field, but also in corridors, staircases, bleachers, and parking areas.
If artificial turf is used, the Club must confirm that the Facility operator is following the turf manufacturers maintenance practices. Further, all artificial playing surfaces shall be affixed to the surface of the playing field. The Match Officials are directed to stop play if, in their opinion, the condition of the playing surface creates a situation which is dangerous to the Players or is deemed critical to the position of the Players or ball, thus creating an unfair advantage to a Player or a Team.
The home Team shall be responsible for setting up its venue to include the appropriate lines, anchored goals, nets, corner flags, benches, and water/hydration set up for both Teams.
2. Goal Safety
Home Clubs are responsible for inspecting the goals and ensuring the safety of the goals. However, should the visiting Club suspect or become aware of a goal safety issue, they should immediately inform the home Club and the Match Officials. Home Clubs must ensure the following:
- Inspect each goal to ensure it is firmly secured to the ground with anchors;
- all connecting hardware (nuts, bolts, etc.) is properly attached;
- the structural integrity of the goal has not been compromised (cracks in welds or posts, etc.);
- the goal is on a level (flat) surface;
- the net attachment system is secure (net is attached to the uprights and crossbars and secured behind each goal) and that there are no sharp edges; and each net is free of holes.
- If goals remain in the up-right position, make sure they are secured with ground anchors;
- if anchored with portable style anchors, goals should be stored by being chained together face-to-face, or placed in a face-down position;
- remove the net when the goal is not in use;
- make sure that all connecting hardware (nuts, bolts, etc.) are in place and secure;
- inspect the structural integrity of the goal and promptly report any issues to authority responsible for maintenance;
- never allow anyone to climb on the goals;
- if goals are moved, exercise extreme caution and allow adequate manpower to move the goals; and
- make sure that warning labels are visible and in good condition.
F. Emergency action plan requirements
As consistent with the guidance provided below, every Club and Team must have a process and system in place to manage medical emergencies and threats to health and safety. The below outlines the steps each Club and Team must take to develop an EAP.
All Clubs’ EAPs must be updated and reviewed annually at the beginning of the Season with Club Representatives, and the policy should be amended as needed (e.g., the addition of a new Player with an underlying medical condition). As part of the annual registration process (or at a later date if specified by PDev), Clubs shall send PDev a copy of their EAP, along with a written certification that the EAP has been updated consistently with the below-listed requirements, reviewed, and rehearsed with all relevant Club Representatives.
PDev reserves the right to request and audit a Club’s EAP at any point, including during the season. Clubs will amend their EAP if, upon examination by PDev, PDev determines it to be insufficient.
1. Drafting, Rehearsing, and Updating the EAP
In general, a Club’s EAP must be specific to its organization, venues, resources, and personnel. For example, a Club’s EAP should include maps of fields and facilities, and access points for emergency vehicles in the event they are needed. Note that a Club’s QMP should assist leadership in EAP development.
Clubs must draft, update, and rehearse their EAPs consistent with the below guidance:
- The EAP should be reviewed by local emergency services and shared with on-site medical personnel, safety officials, and organization administrators.
- The EAP should be drafted in accordance with the best practices of state and local health and safety medical experts and government officials.
- The EAP must be specifically tailored to the venue and location and should include all healthcare providers who may be providing coverage on site, including QMPs and any emergency medical service (“EMS”) providers. To that end, the EAP should include a written description and map of the venue’s access points to facilitate a prompt response by EMS.
- The EAP should be reviewed, updated, and rehearsed annually by all staff members.
- The EAP must include that the home Club QMP, at each match, does the following, without limitation: (i) the identification of Players who may be at special risk given past medical history and recent illness or injury or have other medical conditions that might require emergency medical assistance; (ii) a survey of the environmental conditions and the playing field for potential dangers; (iii) ensuring that emergency equipment and telecommunication devices are present and functioning; and (iv) ensuring that the venue’s access points are clear and accessible by EMS personnel and vehicles.
- The EAP must consider the type of personnel needed to be at practices and matches to ensure the health and safety of Players, which may vary state by state.
- The EAP should include specific heat stroke protocols (see Korey Stringer Institute for relevant guidelines).
2. Developing a Chain of Command
Club Representatives must understand the EAP and be prepared to execute it. In furtherance of responding to emergency situations efficiently, Clubs are required to develop a chain of command for decision making consistent with the below guidance:
- The EAP must define the responsibilities of each member of any members of a sports medicine team (including a QMP), Coaching and training staff, and administration in responding to medical emergencies until EMS arrives.
- The EAP must identify any specialized emergency training of each member of the Coaching and training staff. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to, certifications for cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques (“CPR”), Automated External Defibrillator (“AED”) use, treatment of anaphylaxis, prevention of disease transmission, and first aid. It is highly recommended that all Club Representatives associated with practice, competitions, skills instruction, and strength and conditioning be trained and certified in these skills promptly after employment, and all Clubs must make CPR and AED education available to Coaching and training staff.
- The EAP must designate the individual(s) responsible for providing immediate emergency care and must provide a means of ensuring appropriate medical staff have access to the injured Player without interference. Wherever possible, the highest available level of sports medicine expertise should be present at all events. Given the limited sports medicine staff potentially available at any time, Coaches and administrators must be expected to be called upon to assist injured Players and be trained to do so by appropriate medical staff.
- The EAP must designate appropriately trained individual(s) responsible for using available emergency equipment. To that end, available emergency equipment on-site should be listed with location site, instructions on how to use, and must be routinely checked and tracked to ensure everything is in good working order. At a minimum, the EAP should provide that the following emergency equipment is readily available at matches, practices, and other Club events: (i) a comprehensive first aid kit, the contents of which are selected in coordination with the QMP; (ii) a clearly-marked AED at each such venue or within one (1) to three (3) minutes of each such venue; (iii) rescue inhalers, peak flow meters (or portable spirometers), nebulizers, and other airway management tools; (iv) tools for spine and extremity immobilization; and (v) an EpiPen and antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl) for those Players with severe allergies that are readily accessible at all times. Other emergency equipment may be necessary depending on any Player’s unique individual medical needs (e.g., a diabetic kit).
- The EAP must designate the individual(s) responsible for calling EMS, and provide such individual(s) with information on how to place a call and specific direction to give to direct paramedics to where the match or practice is being held. Such individual(s) are required to pre-program EMS access numbers into their cellular phones.
- If applicable, the EAP must designate the individual(s) responsible for unlocking doors, gates, or any other points of access so as to facilitate EMS response.
- The EAP must designate the individual(s) responsible for monitoring, supervising, and directing non-injured Players during an emergency. Specifically, Players should be educated to go to and remain in the bench area once medical assistance arrives, and to not touch, move, pull on, remove equipment, or otherwise interfere with any injured Player.
- The EAP must designate the individual(s) responsible for monitoring, supervising, and directing spectators so as to restrict interference.
3. Emergency Medical Care
As the goal of an EAP is to provide a comprehensive and practical response to an emergency as it may impact MLS NEXT Participants and Facilities, each Club’s EAP must be drafted consistently with the below guidance:
- The EAP must provide for on-site recognition, evaluation, and immediate treatment of injury and illness from high-risk incidents such as cardiac, heat, and other staff and Player safety matters. At a minimum, the EAP must identify, and provide a means for urgently addressing, the following high-risk potential incidents: (i) heat stroke; (ii) sudden cardiac arrest; (iii) neck or cervical spine injury; (iv) bleeding and sickle cell trait collapses; (v) anaphylaxis; and (vi) traumatic brain injuries.
- The EAP must identify all medical equipment and ensure equipment, such as an AED or emergency medical bag, is accessible (i.e., a clearly-marked AED at the venue or within one (1) to three (3) minutes of the venue). For athletes with food or other life-threatening allergies, two EpiPens must accompany the Player at all times and be administered in a manner directed by the Player’s allergy action plan (with which Club staff members must familiarize themselves).
- The EAP must provide a protocol for decisions as to if, when, and how to transport an injured Player from the field.
- The EAP must list the circumstances in which referrals to an emergency room or further evaluation by a physician must be made, including, but not limited to, a suspected concussion, a cardiac event, a neck or cervical spine injury, and heat stroke.
4. Communication and Distribution
A Club’s EAP must be visible and readily accessible in case of emergency. Copies of the EAP must be made readily available to Club Representatives. Additionally, Clubs may consider developing a pocket card or credentials with key EAP information that may be distributed to parents/legal guardians, including, but not limited to, contact information for key actors in the EAP, including the Coach, Club Director, training staff, and any qualified medical personnel, the location and contact information of the nearest hospital(s), and basic instructions on what to do in the case of an emergency (e.g., spectators should not enter the field in the event a Player needs medical attention). In furtherance of these objectives, a Club’s EAP must be consistent with the below guidance:
- The EAP must include contact information for local EMS, the club/venue director, and venue/location. The EAP should designate a hospital for emergency treatment, and account for response times.
- The EAP must collect phone numbers at which parents/legal guardians and the Player’s family physician can be reached in case of emergencies. Moreover, the EAP should provide a list of medical conditions (such as asthma and severe allergies) for each Player to be able to meet specific Player needs quickly and readily. Clubs must take all reasonable steps to ensure that such confidential information is only disseminated to those with a need to know or utilize such information, including, but not limited to, Club medical staff, Club leadership, EMS, and PDev.
- The EAP must designate the individual(s) tasked with contacting, and timely communicating with, an injured Player’s family in the case they are not present. In an emergency situation, the EAP must specify that 911 is called before anyone else.
- In the event of a catastrophic injury, the EAP must designate the individual(s) tasked with communicating with family, the injured Player’s teammates, and the media while honoring the Player’s confidentiality.
- The EAP should include copies of any medical releases and treatment authorization forms required for Players, and must include an allergy action plan for any Player with life- threatening allergies, which must be maintained consistent with HIPAA and privacy regulations.
- In the event the EAP is activated, Clubs must, within 24 hours, send PDev a written injury/illness report identifying: (i) the name of the injured Player; (ii) the nature of the incident, and any resulting diagnosis; and (iii) outcome and/or current status. PDev reserves the right to interview any Club Representatives following receipt of the injury/illness report.
- The written EAP should be distributed to ALL Club Representatives.
5. Special Considerations for COVID-19
Clubs must develop, establish, and implement the below requirements into their EAP, addressing the steps that will be taken in the event that any MLS NEXT Participant at a Club Facility or event tests positive or reports symptoms of COVID-19.
The Club must ensure that the following measures are in place:
- Use of a Standardized Screening Assessment for individuals attending training or matches.
- An exit plan for individuals who become symptomatic while at the Club facility and that reduces, to the extent possible, contact between such individuals and other attendees.
- Individuals who become symptomatic must immediately put on a face mask (if not already worn), perform hand hygiene, and be physically separated from others.
- Processes to clean and decontaminate an infected individual’s prior locations and provide appropriate care that permits the individual to remain in isolation as much as possible.
- The availability of face masks and other appropriate PPE for any individual caring for or assisting an infected person.
- The ability to monitor that a physician has determined it is appropriate (in consultation with local public health authorities in Canada) for an infected individual to return to work or training/competition with the Club prior to reintegration.
The EAP must include specific procedures for isolating, and potentially transporting, testing, and treating any individual who displays potential symptoms of or tests positive for COVID-19. The EAP also must include contact information for local health officials responsible for the jurisdiction.
Each Club must designate a “Workplace Health Coordinator” who will be responsible for managing COVID-19 issues and their impact on the workplace, including (1) implementation of these Protocols and the EAP, (2) educating personnel on steps they can take to protect themselves, and (3) coordinating with local or state/provincial health authorities in their market. For further clarity, the Workplace Health Coordinator will act as a liaison with all relevant local public health authorities. Each Club must also designate a back-up Workplace Health Coordinator who is capable of handling the functions of the Workplace Health Coordinator in the event that the Workplace Health Coordinator becomes incapacitated or unavailable for any reason. The Workplace Health Coordinator may or may not be the same individual designated as the Safety Lead.
G. Referee responsibility for safety
The referee assigned to the match is responsible for inspecting the field right before and during play, and all equipment used on the field, and is empowered to stop play until any safety concern is corrected. Any field, equipment or ball conditions deemed by the referee to be unsafe must be corrected by the home Club before play can begin or resume.
H. Club liability
Clubs assume all risks, responsibilities, and liabilities for any and all costs, expenses, fines, losses, property damage, claims, injury, or death arising out of or in connection with its use, or participant’s, staff, or volunteers’ use, of any Facility or venue for Club trainings or events, MLS NEXT Competitions, or other MLS NEXT activities, regardless of whether any cost, expense, fine, loss, property damage, claim, injury, or death occurs as a result of any act or failure to act by the Club, PDev, or any of their respective officers, employees, representatives, agents, or anyone acting under their direction or otherwise.
PDev will not insure or be responsible for any Club’s personal liability, commercial general liability, property, cyber, or media exposures; and each Club shall procure the insurance information required in the Membership Agreement.
I. Player Assumption of Risk
As set forth in the MLS NEXT Participant Agreement and Waiver that all Players must sign before participation in MLS NEXT, Players shall assume all risks, responsibilities, and liabilities for loss, damage, injury, or death to themselves while engaged as a Player for a Club or as a Player on a representative team of MLS NEXT, subject to applicable state laws and regulations.
J. Liability Waiver & Indemnification Form
All MLS NEXT Participants will be required to sign the MLS NEXT Participant Agreement and Waiver prior to their participation in MLS NEXT.
A. Guiding Principles
MLS NEXT supports diversity and inclusion in all aspects of soccer. The purpose of this section is to ensure that all qualified Players are provided with an avenue to participate in competitive soccer in an inclusive sporting environment where people of all backgrounds can contribute and play in a safe, healthy, and respectful setting. These principles are based on MLS NEXT’s belief that all qualified Players are able to participate in the program in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity while respecting the privacy of all Players and remaining compliant with applicable federal and state laws.
To that end, to support and promote inclusion in their activities, wherever possible and appropriate, Club Representatives, Coaches, and Match Officials should abide by the following principles:
- Respect all Players’ gender identity and use preferred names and pronouns.
- Anticipate and address any uniform problems or access issues, including making locker rooms and restrooms safely available consistent with the guidance below, in accordance with applicable laws.
- Respect all Players’ right to privacy, and do not disclose any personal information without express consent (including, but not limited to, whether any Player identifies as transgender or non-binary).
- Address discriminatory behavior, based on any perceived or actual gender identity or gender expression of a Player.
Any violations of this Policy may result in Sanctions.
- “Gender identity” refers to one’s internal psychological identification as a male or female, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum (also known as, “non-binary”). MLS NEXT strongly supports the right of all qualified Players to compete in a way that is consistent with their gender identity.
- “Cisgender” describes an individual whose gender identity corresponds with their biological sex.
- “Transgender” describes an individual whose gender identity does not match the person’s biological sex. Gender identity is not in any way related to sexual orientation.
C. Locker rooms
The issue of mixed gender dressing arrangements in locker rooms may arise depending on any Club’s specific circumstances and Roster. Club Representatives and MLS NEXT should recognize that there are gender equity issues to deal with when managing a co-ed or mixed gender locker room setting. Privacy rights of all Players must be given consideration and appropriate arrangements made, consistent with the guidance provided in this Policy.
MLS NEXT Clubs must consider and recognize the following:
- That these issues must be dealt with in a fair and equitable manner, as favoring one group over another will not only lead to lower Player morale, but may produce legal ramifications;
- That the ideal situation of using separate dressing rooms is not necessarily possible for all Clubs;
- That these issues will only increase in visibility as non-male participation in MLS NEXT increases; and
- That this is an issue that Club Representatives—especially Coaches, Club leadership, and other individuals who have Regular Contact with Players—must take seriously.
Clubs must establish procedures for navigating these issues, and are encouraged to do so even in the case where the Club does not have non-male Players rostered. All MLS NEXT Participants who violate these policies, or who violate the privacy rights of others, may be subject to discipline. To that end, Clubs must establish a procedure and process consistent with the below guidance:
- Cisgender male and cisgender female Players should never be allowed to dress and undress in the same locker room at the same time. Where possible, such Players must undress/dress in separate locker rooms. Moreover, wherever possible, Clubs must provide equal accommodations to both cisgender male and cisgender female Players.
- As a general matter, individuals should use the locker room consistent with their gender identity and should have the choice to use: (1) the locker room of their choosing; (2) the locker room without others present; (3) a single stall/all-gender restroom.
- If separate facilities are not available, those who identify as women/girls should be given the opportunity to use the locker room to undress/dress at a separate time from those who identify as men/boys; those who identify as non-binary should have the choice to either use: (1) the locker room with whichever group they feel most comfortable; (2) the locker room without others present; or (3) a single-stall/all-gender restroom.
- PDev recognizes that the locker room historically serves as a key place for pre-match, post- match, and halftime meetings, and may be utilized in practices for similar purposes. In the interest of gender equity and collegiality, Clubs with mixed-gender rosters are required to develop a policy of holding such meetings in a separate, designated location, or, if necessary, in the single locker room only after all Players have dressed consistent with the procedures noted above and are ready and available for such meetings. In such an instance, Clubs must maintain and enforce a minimum attire policy for these meetings.
- In the instance a Team rosters a transgender or non-binary Player, and consistent with MLS NEXT’s commitment to enabling such Players to participate in a way consistent with their gender identity, MLS NEXT strongly recommends that Clubs allow such Players to use locker rooms and facilities that are consistent with their gender identity. Clubs must be sure to develop and enforce a policy whereby any Player needing to undress/dress in private changing areas are able to do so.
D. Hotel rooms
MLS NEXT’s policy for hotel room assignments, outlined in Section VII.H, remains applicable here. Players who identify as transgender or non-binary should generally be assigned to share hotel rooms based on their gender identity, with a recognition that any Player who needs or requests extra privacy should be accommodated wherever possible.
While the procedures outlined above consider key safety and privacy considerations, MLS NEXT requires that any Club that has a Team with a Roster with Players with different gender identities (e.g., male, female, or non-binary) offers additional training to Coaches, QMPs, and any other Club Representatives who have Regular Contact with Minors on that Team. This may include specific training on implicit bias, the importance of providing equal treatment and opportunity to Players of all gender identities, and the recognition and remediation of intra-team discrimination or bullying. Such training not only helps to ensure an inclusive environment for all Players but may serve to enable such Club Representatives to be prepared to discuss such participation with Players, and, particularly, parents of Players.
A. Scope and purpose
As noted by the Center, “[s]ound, practical and reasonable screening practices reduce the chances that an athlete will come in contact with potentially dangerous individuals.” Accordingly, PDev requires background screening on all Covered Persons, Club Representatives, or Club Participants (defined below) who have Regular Contact with Minors. By way of example, this shall include, but not be limited to:
- PDev employees—all full- and part-time employees of PDev/MLS NEXT who are to have Regular Contact with Minors.
- All Club Representatives (Coaches, staff members, Team managers, administrators, QMPs, or other medical personnel) who have Regular Contact with Minors or who travel with the Club.
- All contractors at Club Facilities that have Regular Contact with Minors.
- All PDev or Club-contracted physicians, ATCs, massage therapists, nutritionists, and other certified professionals working directly with Minors.35
- All Adult Match Officials (with such background checks conducted by U.S. Soccer).
- All MLS NEXT scouts who request to have contact with Minor Players.
- All other individuals who MLS NEXT determines, in its discretion, should be subject to a background check.
35. NOTE: If the Club uses non-employee medical professionals, these professionals are subject to the background check requirement and would be considered MLS NEXT Participants. A one-time exception to this requirement is permitted in the limited circumstance of a one-time substitution (e.g., Club’s regular QMP is ill and a parent who is an ER physician agrees to substitute for a single game to prevent cancellation). Clubs obtaining services through athletic training or medical practices are required to negotiate services agreements that allow for reasonable criminal background checks and that require SafeSport training for all contractors serving the Club pursuant to such service agreement.
At a minimum, we encourage all Clubs to require all potential Club Representatives—to be authorized by the Club to have Regular Contact with Minors—to submit or undergo: (i) a written application, consistent with the guidance provided in Section X.B; (ii) professional and/or personal references to be checked by the Clubs, consistent with the guidance provided in Section X.D; and (iii) a criminal background check, consistent with the guidance provided in Section X.E. Clubs must use their best judgment to determine whether any applicant is unfit to be such a Club Representative based on the information obtained through this process. Any questions arising during the pendency of the applicant screening process should be directed to PDev.
B. Written Application
Clubs are strongly encouraged to require all potential Club Representatives—those authorized by the Club to have Regular Contact with Minors within, or outside, the scope of Covered Programs as an employee, contractor, vendor, or volunteer—to submit a written application for participation. The written application for use by such Club Representatives would be developed by the Club.
At a minimum, the written application should:
- Ask for personal information, including the applicant’s name, address, phone number, and driver’s license number.
- Ask about previous work and volunteer experiences, particularly with regard to any involvement in youth programs.
- Ask questions intended to elicit information concerning high-risk behaviors intended to encourage a potential sexual predator to “self-select out.” Such questions may include, but are not limited to, whether the applicant ever consumed alcohol or drugs while working with children or mistreated or abused a child.
- Provide a written release for contacting personal references and performing a criminal background check, consistent with the procedures described below, including an indemnification clause.
Moreover, consistent with the sections below, all Covered Persons have an immediate, mandatory self-disclosure obligation to report if they, at any point, have been disqualified or declared by another sport organization or league to be temporarily or permanently ineligible to participate.
C. Personal Interview
Further, Clubs are strongly encouraged to have all potential Club Representatives—to be authorized by the Club to have Regular Contact with Minors within, or outside, the scope of Covered Programs as an employee, contractor, vendor, or volunteer—submit to a personal interview by appropriately senior Club leadership. The personal interview is intended to not only elicit whether applicants are a “good fit” for the organization, but also screen for certain risk factors relating to Sexual Abuse. The goal here is to ask questions intended to elicit information concerning high-risk behaviors, which are intended to encourage a potential sexual predator to “self-select out.” Clubs shall use their best judgment to determine whether any potential Club Representative is unfit to have Regular Contact with Minors based on the information obtained through the personal interview. To that end, Clubs, are not required to, but should consider posing the following questions to such individuals to screen for risk factors:
- Why do you want this job/position?
- What makes you a good candidate for working with Minors? What would your friends or colleagues say about how you interact with Minors?
- What strategies do you use to respond to challenging behaviors from Minors?
- Is there anyone who might suggest that you not work with Minors? Why or why not?
- What other hobbies or activities do you enjoy?
D. Reference checks
Any potential Club Representative—to be authorized by the Club to have Regular Contact with Minors within, or outside, the scope of Covered Programs as an employee, contractor, vendor, or volunteer—shall be required by the Club to submit names and contact information for three non- familial references who can speak to their character, history, and suitability for having Regular Contact with Minors. While the best such references come from places where the applicant has worked with Minors, personal and character references serve an important role in assessing any applicant’s suitability to have Regular Contact with Minors.
Moreover, Clubs shall require such individuals to sign a waiver or release that enables the organization to check other references who may not have been listed by the applicant. In considering when and whether to contact such a non-listed reference, Clubs should carefully match references with an applicant’s employment and volunteer history to determine if any notable supervisors or colleagues are missing from the references listed by the applicant.
Clubs shall conduct verbal interviews with at least two relevant references and use their best judgment to determine whether any potential Club Representative is unfit to have Regular Contact with Minors based on the information obtained through this process. To that end, Clubs should consider asking the following open-ended questions that serve to probe for any applicant’s suitability to have Regular Contact with Minors:
- How would you describe the personal characteristics of the applicant?
- How does the applicant interact with Minors?
- Why would this person be a good candidate for working with Minors? Is there any reason this person should not work with Minors?
- Have you ever seen the applicant discipline Minors (other than his or her or their own children)?
- Would you hire this person again? Would you want him/her/them in your organization in the future?
In connection with the Club’s annual registration with MLS NEXT, MLS NEXT reserves the right to require the Club to certify in writing that the Club has checked references for any Club Representatives authorized to have Regular Contact with Minors, consistent with the guidance provided above.
E. Criminal background checks
1. Covered Persons Background Checks
PDev will cover all costs associated with the background checks required on Covered Persons that are conducted through the PDev registration system (i.e., Kitman Labs) by PDev’s selected vendor. This includes all Covered Persons who are Club Representatives.
2. Club Background Check Requirements
Any person who is authorized by the Club (either explicitly or implicitly) to have contact with Minors but is not otherwise a Club Representative (who registers with MLS NEXT), shall be required by the Club to undergo a background screening. These people are referred to as “Club Participants,” and include, but are not limited to, contractors and vendors with access to Minors (e.g., security, other medical personnel not employed directly by Club), MLS NEXT Club scouts who wish to have access to Club’s Minor Players, chaperones, volunteers, and individuals advising with respect to various aspects of Team functions who have access to Minor Players.
The background screening of Club Participants shall be performed by a vendor hired by the Club, at the Club’s sole cost and expense, pursuant to substantially similar standards as those screenings described below. While these individuals may not be registering themselves, in connection with the Club’s annual registration with MLS NEXT, MLS NEXT reserves the right to require the Club to certify in writing that any person who is a Club Participant has undergone appropriate background screening.
3. Mandatory Self-Disclosure
All Covered Persons have a mandatory self-disclosure obligation, which means that if at any point during their association with MLS NEXT and/or a Club a Covered Person has been disqualified or declared by another sport organization or league to be temporarily or permanently ineligible, the Covered Person is required to self-disclose this information immediately. Failure to disclose is a basis for discipline/disqualification.
In addition, all Covered Persons must likewise self-disclose to their Club and PDev any arrests or citations for a felony, gross misdemeanor, or alcohol/drug-related driving offense (e.g., DUI, impaired driving).
4. Scope of Background Screening
PDev contracts with a third-party vendor to conduct a robust background check on all Covered Persons in the United States that register directly with MLS NEXT or that are directly employed by PDev/MLS NEXT. Each Canadian Club will contract with a Canadian third-party vendor or work with a police department to perform a similarly substantially robust background check for all Covered Persons who register directly with MLS NEXT or that are directly employed by PDev/MLS NEXT and reside in Canada. Prior to an applicant’s first activity in connection with MLS NEXT and in all subsequent evenly numbered calendar years (e.g., year 2022, 2024) this background check will include checks and/or reviews of:
- All available state sex offender registries;
- The Department of Justice Sex Offender Registry;
- Individual’s Social Security number and address;
- Available federal sanctions and government watch list databases;
- County criminal records by county;
- USSF Disciplinary Database; and
- The Center’s Centralized Disciplinary Database.
In addition, if any person is returning from the prior year, a reduced-scope check is performed during season registration in odd years, looking at one national database, all available state sex offender registries. This review will include a reduced-scope check of the equivalent Canadian registries.
5. Screening Results
PDev’s background-check vendor in the United States will report the findings of its search to PDev based on a “Red Light/Yellow Light/Green Light” system.
- A “Green Light” or “meets the criteria” finding indicates that the background check did not identify criteria that would indicate that the individual is unsuitable for the intended role or activity. A Green Light finding, however, is not a certification of safety or permission to bypass/ignore other screening efforts. Other disqualifying factors may exist and can be revealed through other means.
- A “Yellow Light” finding indicates that an application contains certain errors or omissions that must be resolved. A Yellow Light finding requires that an applicant review his/her/their application and contact PDev’s third-party vendor to fix the error and resubmit necessary application materials. An applicant may also contact Registration@mlsnext.soccer to the extent he/she/they cannot resolve the Yellow Light with PDev’s third-party vendor.
- A “Red Light” or “does not meet the criteria” finding indicates that one or more of the below- listed criteria was flagged during the background screening process, and that the individual is likely not suitable for MLS NEXT Participant status. An applicant with a Red Light designation may appeal the Red Light designation to PDev at Registration@mlsnext.soccer. In the email appeal, the applicant must provide an explanation of the issue in his/her/their background check that led to a Red-Light designation, as well as submit any supporting documentation for the appeal.
Unless otherwise prohibited by state law, any of the following criteria appearing on a background check will result in a “Red Light” finding:
- Any felony (any crime punishable by confinement of greater than one year);
- Any lesser crime involving force or threat of force against a person;
- Any lesser crime in which sexual misconduct is an element, including “victimless” crimes of a sexual nature (including pornography);
- Any lesser crime involving controlled substances or alcohol;
- Any lesser crime involving breaking and entering, loitering, trespassing, false impersonation, or theft;
- Any lesser crime involving neglect or cruelty to animals;
- Any lesser crime involving neglect or abuse of a child;
- Any sex offender registration; or
- Any violation noted in the Center’s Centralized Disciplinary Database.
6. Background Screening Appeal Process—Employment Applicants
In the event an individual with a conditional offer of employment from PDev, MLS NEXT or a Club receives a “Red Light” determination that is the result of a clerical or administrative error, the applicant has an opportunity to challenge the correctness of the determination by contacting PDev’s
U.S. based third-party vendor, JDP, at Oxford One Centre, 301 Grant Street, Suite 4300, Pittsburgh, PA 15219; 855-940-3232 within five days of this notice. JDP will either confirm or correct the contents of the applicant’s record, which will then be assessed by PDev.
Upon review, if the applicant still receives a “Red Light” determination as a result of one or more offenses or other matters noted in his/her/their background report, the applicant will be informed of the decision in writing, including instructions for an appeal process. The applicant may appeal the decision by sending a copy of the background check report, together with a written explanation of the reason why his/her/their application should be reconsidered, to Registration@mlsnext.soccer. The appeal must be received within 10 days of the adverse action notice and will be reviewed by a staff member designated by PDev to review these matters (the “MLS NEXT Compliance Officer”). The applicant’s delay may result in their inability to participate in MLS NEXT Events for a prolonged period of time.
In the event an applicant is denied participation in MLS NEXT (including after an appeal) solely or in part because of the “Red Light” determination, that information will be provided in writing to the applicant along with information concerning the applicant’s right to file a complaint, if applicable, under relevant state law. The determination of the MLS NEXT Compliance Officer is final.
For the Canadian Clubs, each Canadian Club will review the background checks it acquires from a police department or receives from a Canadian third-party vendor and each Club will determine
whether to make a hiring determination. The Club’s hiring determination is subject to PDev approval. If the applicant receives an unfavorable or problematic result from the background check, then the Canadian Club will contact the applicant. The applicant can provide information to the Canadian Club to address the unfavorable or problematic result. If the applicant still receives an unfavorable or problematic result after a second review by the Canadian Club, the applicant will be informed of the decision in writing, including instructions for an appeal process and the Canadian will submit that information to PDev. The applicant may appeal the decision by sending a copy of the background check report, together with a written explanation of the reason why his/her/their application should be reconsidered, to Registration@mlsnext.soccer. The appeal must be received within ten (10) days of the adverse action notice and will be reviewed by PDev’s designated MLS NEXT Compliance Officer.
7. Background Screening Appeal Process—Non-Employment Applicants
Should an MLS NEXT Participant who is not applying for employment with MLS NEXT or who is not a Club Representative Covered Person (for example, a current employee) receives a “Red Light’’ during a routine background check or as a result of an individual disclosure, the individual will be notified and provided with a copy of his/her/their background check report. The individual has the right to challenge the correctness of the “Red Light” determination by contacting PDev’s third-party vendor, JDP at Oxford One Centre, 301 Grant Street, Suite 4300, Pittsburgh, PA 15219; 855-940- 3232, five days of this notice. In the event of a clerical or administrative error, JDP will either confirm or correct the contents of the Covered Person’s record, which will then be passed on to PDev.
Upon review, if the individual is determined to be ineligible to participate in MLS NEXT as a result of one or more offenses or other matters noted in his/her/their background report, the individual will be informed of his/her/their ineligibility to remain associated with MLS NEXT in writing and will immediately be suspended from participation in MLS NEXT. The individual has 10 days from the notice of adverse action to appeal the ineligibility decision by sending a copy of the background check report, together with a written explanation of the reason why he/she should remain eligible to participate, to MLS NEXT’s Compliance Officer at Registration@mlsnext.soccer. In addition to any evidence or argument provided by the individual, PDev’s Compliance Officer may consider any recommendation of PDev’s legal advisors, including any written evidence that the legal advisor(s) wishes the MLS NEXT Compliance Officer to consider and a list of witnesses that the Compliance Officer may interview. The Youth Compliance Officer has the authority to determine if the individual should be permitted to participate in a Covered Program, despite the individual’s receipt of a “Red Light” finding or adverse disclosure. The decision of the PDev Youth Compliance Officer shall be final and binding.
For an MLS NEXT Participant who resides in Canada who is not applying for employment with MLS NEXT or who is not a Club Representative Covered Person (for example, a current employee), each Canadian Club will review the background checks it acquires from a police department or receives from a Canadian third-party vendor. If an applicant receives an unfavorable or problematic result during a background check or as a result of an individual disclosure, the individual will be notified and will have an opportunity to review his/her/their background check report. Based upon the information in the background check and any additional information provided by the applicant, each Canadian Club will make a hiring decision––subject to PDev approval. In the event of a clerical
or administrative error, the Canadian Club must contact the Canadian third-party vendor or police department to either confirm or correct the contents of the record, which will then be passed on to PDev.
If an MLS NEXT Participant who resides in Canada is determined to be ineligible to participate in MLS NEXT as a result of one or more offenses or other matters noted in his/her/their background report, the individual will be informed of his/her/their ineligibility to remain associated with MLS NEXT in writing and will immediately be suspended from participation in MLS NEXT. The individual has 10 days from the notice of adverse action to appeal the ineligibility decision by sending a copy of the background check report, together with a written explanation of the reason why he/she should remain eligible to participate, to MLS NEXT’s Compliance Officer at Registration@mlsnext.soccer. The MLS NEXT Compliance Officer will consider the same information as that listed for a U.S. MLS NEXT Participant.
Each Club should consider implementing a similar appeals protocol for any background checks it runs.
F. Post-screening intake conference
Once a Club authorizes any Club Representatives or other Covered Persons to have Regular Contact with Minors in accordance with the screening measures outlined above—and before such person undertakes their duties—Club leadership (such as the Club Director, Club Administrator, and/or Coaches) should hold a preliminary intake conference with the newly authorized Club Representative. Club leadership should communicate the job expectations, provide the MLS NEXT Rules and Policies, describe the employment evaluation process, the identification of any deficiencies that must be addressed (and a timeline for doing so), and be able to answer any questions the newly authorized Club Representative may have.
A. Safety lead
Clubs must designate an internal officer annually (a “Safety Lead”) who is responsible for safety oversight and who must certify that certain standards are met. Clubs shall provide PDev with the name and contact information for the Safety Lead at the beginning of each MLS NEXT Season (e.g., August/September).
The Safety Lead is responsible for the safety of those who are affiliated with their Club and also those present at their Club’s facility, with additional responsibilities when it comes to events, trips, camps, and other competitions.
The Safety Lead has two main functions—education and the development, and implementation of safety protocols. To that end, the duties and responsibilities of the Safety Lead include, but are not limited to:
- Working with others to create a positive inclusive environment within the sport.
- Playing a lead role in developing and establishing the Club’s approach to safeguarding Players, including Minors, and in maintaining and reviewing the implementation plan for safeguarding Players in line with current best practice. Specifically, but not limited to:
* Developing Club protocols that ensure proper physical conditioning for the age and strength of the Player on the Team. Ensuring that warm-up exercises, flexibility exercises, aerobic exercises, skill training, and a cool-down period at the end of practice are encouraged;
* Ensuring that Players are wearing their protective equipment (and that it meets the appropriate standards—like shin guards meeting the NOCSAE- ND090 specifications, or that cleats are free of exposed metal spikes);
* Inspecting or designating a Club Representative to inspect equipment and make sure dangerous equipment is not used, as well as designate a Club Representative to oversee the sanitization of equipment;
* Setting up protocols for Facility inspection, including all pre- and post- training and Competition Facility inspection;
* Developing procedures for security at their Club’s events or working with a third party to train workers, practice emergency contingency plans, and ensure that security personnel wear identifying garb; and
* Ensuring Player medical clearances are maintained and thorough.
- Ensuring that the Club’s policies and procedures are consistent with the organization’s commitment to safety and reviewing as necessary for required updating.
- Receiving and coming up with a system for reviewing safety reports.
- Serving as a central point of contact for internal and external individuals and agencies about the safety of Club employees and Players.
- Establishing Club anti-harassment/anti-discrimination protocols where concerns can be internally reported.
- Preparing and/or reviewing all IRs and injury/illness reports, and liaison with PDev where appropriate.