Last Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection released a report condemning multiple organizations including the U.S Olympic Committee (USOC), the FBI, USA Gymnastics (USAG), and Michigan State University (MSU) for failing to stop Larry Nassar’s abuse, despite receiving multiple reports and allegations. The report concludes that each of these organizations “had opportunities to stop Nassar but failed to do so.”
The 235-page report summarizes and outlines the key findings of an 18-month congressional investigation into the handling of Nassar’s abuse. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), the ranking member of the Senate subcommittee, described the actions of each of these organizations as a “cover-up.”
In addition to the release of the report, the senators introduced the “Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2019,” which seeks to implement requirements to promote a culture of greater transparency and accountability within sports. This bill would give athletes an increased voice in the governance of the USOC and calls for 20 million dollars in annual funding to the US Center for SafeSport, the agency that oversees sexual misconduct and abuse allegations.
The report claims that Nassar was able to sexually abuse more than 300 athletes over two decades after ineffective oversight by USAG, the USOC, and MSU who all received reports about Nassar’s abuse years before action was taken. While working at MSU, Nassar treated athletes for decades; yet, MSU failed to thoroughly investigate the multitude of abuse claims against Nassar. In January of 2018, the state’s attorney general investigated the university’s handling of the sexual misconduct reports and found 13 instances, dating back to 1997, were young women reported Nassar’s abuse to school officials. The university only formally investigated one claim.
The congressional report also found that the FBI’s 2015 investigation into Nassar “did not stop Nassar from seeing patients or protect those in harm’s way”. The investigation “dragged on” for more than a year as it was shuffled between different field offices, and there was a 400-day gap between when the FBI first learned of the abuse allegations and Nassar’s arrest by local law enforcement.
In January of 2018, Nassar was finally sentenced in Ingham County, Michigan to 40-175 years in prison for sexually abusing girls who sought medical treatment from him. That July, he was further indicted by a grand jury in Texas with six additional counts of sexual assault that occurred at the Karolyi Ranch.
In the summer of 2015, after USAG under then-head Steve Penny determined that Nassar had sexually abused gymnasts, Penny allowed Nassar to retire via a Facebook post without any indication of misconduct. USAG further failed to tell MSU or any other member organization why Nassar was retiring. From the summer of 2015 to September 2016, both the USOC and USAG hid the extent of Nassar’s crimes from the public and athletic community “to the detriment of dozens of women and girls who were sexually abused during this period of concealment.” Penny was later arrested in October 2018 and indicted on federal charges of tampering with evidence, after asking an employee to move documents, including athlete medical waivers with Nassar’s name, from the Karolyi Ranch training center in Texas to USAG’s headquarters in Indiana.
“Larry Nassar … was far from a lone wolf,” Blumenthal said. “He was enabled by others and if they lied about it and if they obstructed the investigation, if they destroyed documents then they should be held accountable.”
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 7/5/18, NBC News 7/30/19, Buzzfeed News 7/30/19, CNN 7/31/19