The United States Olympic Committee’s top executives made lofty efforts to keep secret allegations that Larry Nassar was sexually assaulting gymnasts, going so far as to delete emails and avoid getting involved, according to a new report out Monday.
Nassar, longtime physician for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, was sentenced earlier this year for sexually abusing more than 350 girls and young women under the guise of medical treatment.
The report from Ropes & Gray comes at the end of a long year for the USOC. While the USAG’s failures have long been known, the report detailed that USOC executives Scott Blackmun and Alan Ashley were aware of the allegations but did nothing and later lied about their knowledge.
Blackmun resigned abruptly in February. Ashley was fired Monday morning shortly after the report went public.
Who did the law firm interview?
The law firm Ropes & Gray reviewed more than 1.3 million documents consisting of reports, files, emails, notes and text messages. They interviewed more than 100 people, including gymnasts, employees, and board members of the USOC, USAG and U.S. Center for SafeSport.
Longtime gymnastics coaches Martha and Bela Karolyi didn’t want to be interviewed, according to USA Today. The Karolyi ranch has become a large part of the scandal.
Many of the country’s top gymnasts also declined to participate. Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney were among a group that said they didn’t trust the body to conduct a thorough and independent inquiry.
The firm, according to a PR release, had “complete control” over the investigation, the questions, the documents reviewed and the findings.
What was it looking for?
Ropes & Gray was hired by the USOC in February to investigate when USAG and USOC officials first learned of Nassar’s abuse and what it did with the information.
The 233-page report was released Monday and can be viewed in full at nassarinvestigation.com. The report is divided into five areas including a section on what happened; one on who knew what, when and what was done; and one on the “contributing cultural conditions.”
“Our aim was to get to the bottom of what went wrong,” Ropes & Gray partners Joan McPhee and James P. Dowden said in a press release. “And it remains our sincere hope that our factual findings will inform efforts going forward to protect young athletes, and will help to ensure that a predator like Nassar can never again find so accommodating a home in sport.”
What, broadly, did it find?
The group found that former USOC CEO Scott Blackmun and current USOC chief of sport performance Alan Ashley knew about the allegations against Nassar for a year but didn’t take any action while looking to preserve their institutional interests.
They found that Nassar’s abuse over a 30-year time period was a “manifestation of a broader set of factors and conditions in elite gymnastics and Olympic sport.”
“The fact that so many different institutions and individuals failed to stop him does not excuse any of them, but instead reflects the collective failure to protect young athletes.”
USA Today read a copy of the report before it was published Monday and detailed the findings.
Top executives did nothing about Nassar for a year
The report found that Blackmun and Ashley learned about Nassar from then-USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny on July 25, 2015. It was 14 months until the Indianapolis Star broke news of the allegations on Sept. 12, 2016, after former gymnast Rachael Denhollander contacted the paper.
Neither of the executives, according to the report, “engaged with USAG on the reported concerns, shared the information with others at the USOC or took any other action in response to the information from Mr. Penny to ensure that responsible steps were being taken by USAG and the USOC to protect athletes.”
The report found that they “engaged in affirmative efforts to protect and preserve their institutional interests.” This continued even after Nassar was allowed to retire with his reputation intact, yet still had access to college, club and high school gymnasts.
Blackmun deleted email proving he knew
The USOC repeatedly defended Blackburn, including at this year’s Winter Olympics, and said the CEO “did the right thing at every turn.” He resigned in late February.
The report instead found that he received and deleted an email from Penny dated Sept. 8, 2015, that said Nassar was being accused of sexual misconduct by several gymnasts. Blackmun acknowledged as much to the investigators, per USA Today.
“Specifically, having registered its significance, Mr. Blackmun stated in his interview that he may have purposely deleted the September 8, 2015 email, noting its sensitivity and explaining that he was concerned about the potential for his email account to be hacked,” the report says.”
Ashley was also a recipient of the email, but investigators could not find it in his account. He denied any knowledge of it.
Blackmun also declined to alert anyone at the USOC board of directors that Penny was planning to report the allegations to law enforcement in July 2015. He declined to get involved, “on behalf of the organization,” when USAG said it was going to report.
When USOC board member and future acting USOC CEO Susanne Lyons emailed Blackmun in February about her understanding that Blackmun was unaware of the allegations until the Star report, he “remained silent and left uncorrected her clear misunderstanding.”
USOC responds to report
The USOC put out a statement in response regarding its reasoning for wanting the report and its reforms and initiatives taken this year to try and keep athletes safe.
“We now have a much more comprehensive view of individual and institutional failures,” Lyons wrote in a statement. “Everyone in the Olympic and Paralympic community, including the USOC, must learn from the report and take appropriate actions to strengthen protections for athletes. We recognize that we must do more, and we will do more.”
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