Senator 'appalled' US Figure Skating hasn't learned from Nassar scandal and taken action

Cassandra Negley
US Caydee Denney and John Coughlin perform during the figure skating event at the 2013 Eric Bompard trophy on November 15, 2013 at the Bercy Palais-Omnisport (POPB) in Paris. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD        (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Sexual assault allegations against John Coughlin led to SafeSport's finding of a larger culture in U.S. Figure Skating. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)

The ranking member of a Senate subcommittee investigating the Olympic sexual abuse scandal is calling for “immediate change” in figuring skating’s national governing body, citing lessons that should have been learned from the Larry Nassar scandal.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) told USA Today Sports he wants to see changes made at U.S. Figure Skating (USFS) after a culture of sexual abuse was made public last month. The U.S. Center for SafeSport announced March 4 it had found a “culture in figure skating that allowed grooming and abuse to go unchecked for too long.”

“I am appalled that no one in authority appears to understand the lessons of the horrific failures that enabled Larry Nassar’s abuse of young gymnasts for almost 30 years,” Blumenthal told USA Today Sports.

Blumenthal also took aim at the U.S. Olympic Committee, telling USA Today the organizations “still seem to be sleepwalking through the sex abuse nightmare.”

The investigation began after charges of sexual misconduct were filed against national pairs champion John Coughlin. Coughlin died by suicide in January at the age of 33 shortly after he received a suspension from the sport. SafeSport almost didn’t move forward with the investigation after Coughlin’s death.

USFS issued a statement about support and cooperation with SafeSport after the March 4 announcement, but has been silent about the issue since, per USA Today. The organization will turn 100 years old in 2021.

“SafeSport’s sharp remarks on the culture of abuse in USFS must prompt immediate change, not deafening silence or finger-pointing,” Blumenthal told USA Today Sports. “Rigorous oversight, increased transparency, and full accountability are needed to protect the safety of young athletes, build a culture that encourages survivors to come forward, and restore the reputations of these institutions.”

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Olympic gold-medalist swimmer, CEO of Champion Women and a civil rights attorney, also gave critical quotes to USA Today, noting the Larry Nassar scandal “gave the Olympic movement a gift” of taking something horrible and turning it into something better.

Nassar, 55, was sentenced to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting gymnasts. The USOC reportedly knew about it for 14 months, yet remained silent. In the aftermath, patience and trust has been sparingly thin.

Attorney John Manly represents more than 200 survivors in the Nassar scandal and told USA Today he represents three women who were minors when Coughlin allegedly abused them.

Blumenthal spoke out against U.S. Figure Skating in May 2018, again using the term “appalled.” At the time, SafeSport was investigating Christopher Pottenger, an official and coach, for his relationship with a male skater he did not coach.

Pottenger was 22 at the time of the relationship and the skater was 16, according to USA Today. In a statement, USFS cited the Delaware law that a 16-year-old can legally consent to sex with a partner under the age of 30.

"I’m just appalled that an official in one of these organizations would seem to condone (this)," Blumenthal said then.

“Seeming to absolve it legally appears to condone it, and that’s virtually unbelievable to me.”

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