Report: USOC knew of Larry Nassar abuse, remained silent

Dan Wetzel
·Columnist
Scott Blackmun, former chief executive officer of the United States Olympic Committee, knew of Larry Nassar’s abuse for over a year, according to a USOC report. (Getty)
Scott Blackmun, former chief executive officer of the United States Olympic Committee, knew of Larry Nassar’s abuse for over a year, according to a USOC report. (Getty)

The United States Olympic Committee can no longer attempt to distance itself from the Larry Nassar scandal. Its finger prints are all over it, leading directly to the top of the vaunted organization.

The USOC released a devastating and comprehensive independent investigative report Monday. It put the focus and the blame squarely on the very top of the American Olympic movement. This, as the USOC once hoped, can no longer be seen as just a single doctor at a single national governing body that the USOC just tangentially oversees.

At issue is a nearly 14-month period where top USOC officials were aware of allegations of sexual abuse made against Nassar by members of the United States Gymnastics national team yet remained quiet and did not work to protect other gymnasts that Nassar continued to see as patients.

In July of 2015, then USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny informed USOC CEO Scott Blackmun and Chief of Sport Performance Alan Ashley that gymnasts had “lodged sexual abuse allegations against [Nassar],” the national team’s longtime doctor, according to the report. USAG had contacted the FBI. That was apparently enough for both men, as neither did anything with the information until after Nassar’s actions were first revealed publicly by the Indianapolis Star in September 2016.

“Neither Mr. Blackmun nor Mr. Ashley shared the information received from Mr. Penny with others in the organization, and the USOC took no action between July 2015 and the date the Indianapolis Star published its account of Nassar’s child sexual abuse,” the report reads.

Blackmun, who was paid $1.3 million in 2017 according to tax filings, resigned in February, after over 100 women spoke at Nassar’s sentencing hearing in Lansing, Michigan.

Ashley, who received over $700,000 in compensation in 2017, was fired Monday upon release of the report.

While Nassar no longer worked as the national team doctor during that period, his absence from the job was not explained. “USAG acted almost immediately to provide false excuses for Nassar’s non-attendance at USAG events, thereby keeping the gymnastics community in the dark about the complaints of Nassar’s sexual abuse,” the report read. “USAG thereafter allowed Nassar to quietly retire under the pretense of a long and illustrious career.”

Meanwhile, he maintained not just his pristine reputation for having treated some of the most famous gold medal winners in the country, but access to women and girls through his practice at Michigan State University, including college, high school and youth athletes.

“I’m appalled,” attorney Mick Grewal, who represents dozens of Nassar survivors, told Yahoo Sports on Monday. “I’m completely appalled that the adults that ran USAG and USOC did not take the appropriate measures or enact the appropriate policies and procedures to protect our young athletes. Instead they allowed a culture to manifest.”

Grewal said he represents 23 women who were abused between July 2015 and September 2016, each of whom could have been spared had the USOC or USAG spoken up or communicated with MSU, which likewise failed to communicate about allegations it had received with the USAG and the USOC. The circle of silence allowed Nassar to continue to receive the benefit of the doubt.

Nassar, 55, is currently serving a lengthy federal prison sentence for possession of child pornography and faces hundreds of years in state prison in Michigan following his 2017 guilty plea of abusing 10 women. He accepted a plea deal in which he admitted to having assaulted girls across nearly three decades.

A 233-page independent report released Monday detailed an overall lack of response when the USOC leaders first heard about the Larry Nassar allegations from the then-president of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny. (AFP)
A 233-page independent report released Monday detailed an overall lack of response when the USOC leaders first heard about the Larry Nassar allegations from the then-president of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny. (AFP)

The report also detailed that Blackmun and Ashley both deleted a specific email that referenced Nassar, likely in an effort to conceal their knowledge of him. It also focused on Penny, of USA Gymnastics, who requested medical record from the national training camp at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas to be shipped to USAG headquarters in Indianapolis, where they were never discovered. Penny was indicted in October by a grand jury in Walker County, Texas, for his involvement in that incident.

“The U.S. Olympic committee failed the victims, survivors and their families and we apologize again to everyone who has been harmed,” Susanne Lyons, USOC independent board member and incoming board chair, said in a statement.

For the USOC, it is far too little, far too late.

The exhaustive, 252-page report by the law firm Ropes & Grey that the USOC commissioned, brutalized the organization for its inadequate protective measures and misguided reporting standards.

It wasn’t just personal failures by Blackmun and Ashley, it was systematic.

“No institution or individual took any meaningful steps to ensure that appropriate safety measures were in place to protect the young gymnasts,” the report reads. “… The USOC and USAG did not keep pace with best practices being adopted by other youth-serving organizations. Instead, they made decisions regarding appropriate roles and responsibilities for their respective organizations that did not embrace a child-first approach and led to stark failures in implementing effective measures to protect athletes from sexual and other forms of abuse.”

The report was especially harsh on USA Gymnastics, which oversaw a sport where injuries are common, the pressure for perfection (and thus health) override reasonable thinking and athletes fear “rocking the boat” by complaining about anything, particularly the “medical procedures” a team doctor is treating them with. The report suggests the USAG paid little more than lip service to a situation ripe for abuse, including using the isolated Karolyi Ranch owned by coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi as its official training center.

“USAG was aware of the risk of sexual abuse in gymnastics, took high-level steps to help protect gymnasts, and promoted itself as a leader in athlete protection,” the report read. “But despite this branding, USAG repeatedly declined to respond adequately to concrete reports of specific misconduct, and instead erected a series of procedural obstacles to timely investigation and effective response, even in the face of serious, credible allegations of child sexual abuse.”

The report is a painful reminder that Nassar was able to trade on his associations with a brand that inspires faith and hope in America – the Olympics – to earn unmerited trust with victims and their parents. And then the people overseeing America’s Olympic movement, both at the sport and national organizing level, didn’t even consider the harm’s way they put them in.

USA Gymnastics has already declared for bankruptcy from victim lawsuits and other legal issues. The USOC has called for the disbanding of the organization and the creation of a new national governing body.

Now who knows what’s next for the USOC, which is now even more of an open legal target for many of Nassar’s victims.

For those women, particularly, perhaps, those that were abused while the USOC sat silent, this was another day of difficult and mixed emotions, Grewal said. They know now, for certain, that they could have been spared ever visiting and trusting a doctor with Olympic credentials, if only the highest ranking executives at the USOC dared to speak up.

“At least now their voices are being heard and hopefully we can learn from this and protect all other athletes and children in the future,” Grewal said. “This is what we need. That’s what I am telling them. ‘You’re bringing change that is so sorely needed.’ I’m proud of them. I’m proud of them for standing up. The young women are doing the right thing, the things adults couldn’t do and refused to do.”

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