Did the US Olympic Committee remain silent about sexual abuse by a physician preying on young gymnasts under their authority? Last week, the USOC ostentatiously demanded the resignations of all board members at USA Gymnastics over the handling of serial sex offender Larry Nassar. Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that the USOC remained silent for a year about those assaults even while having graphic descriptions of the crimes:
The U.S. Olympic Committee didn’t intervene in USA Gymnastics’ handling of sexual-abuse allegations against longtime national-team doctor Larry Nassar in 2015, even after USA Gymnastics’ then-president told two top USOC executives that an internal investigation had uncovered possible criminal behavior by the doctor against Olympic athletes.
The communications—a July 2015 phone call and a September 2015 email described to The Wall Street Journal by people familiar with the matter—shed new light on the Olympic Committee’s knowledge of a scandal that has since engulfed American gymnastics.
In July 2015, fourteen months before the athletes themselves finally made Nassar’s sexual assaults public, then-USOC president Steve Penny told chief executive Scott Blackmun about an allegation by an athlete to an internal investigator of Nassar’s assaults:
An Olympic gymnast had described, in a July 24 conversation with an internal investigator, what appeared to amount to sexual assault by a team doctor. At the investigator’s recommendation, Mr. Penny said he planned to report the matter to law enforcement, according to the person.
Mr. Blackmun told Mr. Penny to “do what he had to do,” the person familiar with the call said. Mr. Blackmun provided no further guidance to USA Gymnastics on the matter in the months to come.
Two months later, Mr. Penny emailed the USOC’s longtime chief security officer, Larry Buendorf, detailing three top gymnasts’ allegations against Dr. Nassar, including a graphic description of a purported treatment Dr. Nassar used, which at least one gymnast said involved inserting his finger into her vagina. The email was described to the Journal by people who have reviewed the correspondence.
The email appears to be the first documented instance in which a USA Gymnastics official mentions Dr. Nassar by name to a USOC official.
By September 2015, USOC leadership had knowledge of at least one victim, a graphic description of the assault, and the name of the perpetrator. What did they do with this information? Nothing at all, apparently. In fact, the USOC has maintained ever since that they had no knowledge of Nassar’s assaults until September 2016 — which this e-mail, if accurate, completely refutes.
Blackmun responded to the WSJ before the story went live, telling reporters that he “encouraged Mr. Penny to turn the matter over to law enforcement.” That still leaves the question as to why Blackmun himself didn’t call law enforcement, or follow up to make sure that Penny had done so. After all, as chief executive, Blackmun surely had to be aware of Nassar’s continued presence at USAG; as the USOC threat last week made clear, USAG existed as an official Olympics group only under the aegis of the USOC. And if he wasn’t aware in the normal course of business, after hearing those allegations Blackmun sure as hell should have followed up on it.
Rather than take action, the three men with knowledge of the abuses remained silent. Why? Both the Senate and House plan hearings into these scandals, and they should subpoena all three men to answer that question. But it shouldn’t end there; who else at USOC knew about what was happening at USA Gymnastics and Nasser? Are there other Nassars yet to be uncovered in Olympics organizations, and do officials in these organizations already know about them, too?
When the USOC issued their ultimatum to USAG last week, I wrote that “this threat from the USOC looks like an attempt to throw USAG to the wolves in order to keep from getting eaten themselves.” Maybe it’s more accurate to say that they wanted to throw everyone else off the scent. Talk about poseurs; this would qualify for a Captain Louis Renault award if it wasn’t so disgusting and self-serving.
Congress should issue the same ultimatum to USOC, demanding the immediate resignation of all board members there too, or face the removal of its congressional charter to represent the US in the Olympics. In fact, perhaps it’s better to burn this to the ground and start over from scratch with an organization that gets a lot more oversight and focuses more on the athletes than the executives.
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