Larry Nassar's abuse of gymnasts, including Simone Biles went back decades. Why it still matters in Tokyo.

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The U.S. women's gymnastics team stumbled in Olympic qualifications, placing second behind Russia in Tokyo and shocking those who have come to expect perfection. Simone Biles and her teammates will get a fresh start in the team finals on Tuesday, but the same cannot be said for the sport's governing body based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

USA Gymnastics has struggled to revamp its image in the nearly five years since IndyStar revealed the governing body had an executive policy of not reporting allegations of sexual abuse to authorities.

"We will continue working to earn back the trust of the community," USA Gymnastics President and CEO Li Li Leung wrote in the organization's 2020 annual report. "We will continue to learn from our past failures, and ensure that those lessons guide us as we move forward."

The organization has announced a series of changes to its athlete safety policies and procedures, including an athlete bill of rights, but survivors and advocates say USA Gymnastics still has much more to do.

Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles told Hoda Kotb in an interview in April that gymnastics wasn't her sole reason for continuing to compete. She said she's driven to be a voice for change.

"If there weren't a remaining survivor in the sport they would've just brushed it to the side," Biles said.

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Simone Biles (USA) competes on the balance beam in the womens gymnastics qualifications during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Network
Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Simone Biles (USA) competes on the balance beam in the womens gymnastics qualifications during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Network

Origin of the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal

In August 2016, an IndyStar investigation found top executives at USA Gymnastics had failed to alert authorities to many allegations of sexual abuse by coaches — relying on a policy that allowed predators to abuse gymnasts long after the national governing body had received warnings.

A month later, the newspaper revealed two women had come forward with allegations against former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. Over the next few months of 2016, more women shared their stories and Nassar was criminally charged.

IndyStar's investigation found Nassar was one example of a much broader problem. As of late 2016, at least 368 gymnasts had alleged some form of sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches, gym owners and other adults working in the sport. IndyStar found some predatory coaches were able to move from gym to gym despite repeated allegations of misconduct.

Impact of investigation into USA Gymnastics

USA Gymnastics President and CEO Steve Penny resigned in March 2017 amid outrage over the governing body's handling of sexual abuse allegations, including those against Nassar.

Penny was later indicted on a felony count of tampering with evidence, Walker County, Texas, court records show. He has denied wrongdoing. Others have also faced criminal charges.

Nassar pleaded guilty to federal and state charges and was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. He is currently serving time in federal prison in Florida.

Who did Larry Nassar abuse?

Hundreds of women have come forward with allegations against him, some of which date back decades. Olympic gold medalists Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian are among those who said they were abused.

Members of USA Gymnastics' Board of Directors resigned in 2018 during Nassar's sentencing. In December 2018, the governing body filed for bankruptcy, citing pending lawsuits relating to Nassar.

Michigan State University has spent more than $500 million settling legal claims over its handling of allegations against Nassar, according to data obtained by the Lansing State Journal.

What's happening now

It's been nearly five years since IndyStar revealed the allegations against Nassar and reported USA Gymnastics' failures to relay allegations of sexual abuse to authorities, but additional information continues to come to light.

Earlier this month, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice released a report detailing results of its investigation into the FBI's handling of the Nassar allegations. The federal agency had received allegations of misconduct against Nassar in 2015 but committed "fundamental errors" in its investigation, it said, and failed to take steps to "mitigate the ongoing threat."

The report found W. Jay Abbott, former chief of the FBI's Indianapolis Division, made false statements to investigators and "violated FBI policy and exercised extremely poor judgment under federal ethics rules." The DOJ declined to prosecute Abbott, according to the report. It also cited missteps and failures by three other FBI offices: Detroit, Los Angeles and Portland, Maine.

Nassar continued working with athletes for more than a year after the agency had received the first allegations.

Larry Nassar, Steve Penny and more: Where are key players in USA Gymnastics scandal now?

"Reading the report is painful – the betrayal runs deep," Rachael Denhollander wrote earlier this month in a column for USA TODAY. "But perhaps just as agonizing is the reality that despite knowing the truth (something most survivors never get), there are still no consequences for the bad actors who allowed more than 100 children to be sexually violated."

Biles said she wants to see more accountability for USA Gymnastics as well.

"I think they're just gonna try to hide it, sweep it under the rug and hopefully people kind of forgive and forget. Because if it's not talked about, then they're like, 'OK, we can move on,' " she told USA TODAY Sports earlier this year. "Stuff doesn’t just blow over."

Biles also put the situation into terms of the sport.

"In gymnastics, if we step out of the line so many times, do you think the judges are gonna be like, 'Well, she stepped out three times, it's over, who cares anymore?;" she asked. "No, we're punished. You guys should be punished.

"It's as simple as that."

Marisa Kwiatkowski is a reporter on the USA TODAY investigations team, focusing primarily on children and social services. Contact her at mkwiatko@usatoday.com, @byMarisaK or by phone, Signal or WhatsApp at (317) 207-2855.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US Gymnastics sex abuse scandal, Larry Nassar loom over Olympics