Simone Biles hasn’t forgotten Larry Nassar’s facilitators
Wednesday’s moving hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee focused on the failures of the FBI in its investigation of Larry Nassar, the former team doctor at USA Gymnastics. But Simone Biles and three of her former fellow U.S. team gymnasts have made it clear to the assembled senators that what they really want is for the Nassar facilitators – all of them – to face real responsibility.
The sad fact is that after five years of waiting, the math that Nassar victims need can still be done years away. Nassar is in jail, serving the equivalent of a life sentence on child pornography charges after spending nearly two decades molesting and mistreating the girls and young women in his care. The people and organizations that enabled him, however, are nowhere near facing the consequences – or changing the culture that allowed Nassar to thrive.
The people and organizations that enabled him, however, are nowhere near facing the consequences – or changing the culture that allowed Nassar to thrive.
Judicial President Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., And Ranker Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, announced the hearing in July, shortly after the Justice Department’s Inspector General released the findings of its review of the FBI’s handling of the Nassar case. What Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz discovered were “fundamental errors” of the FBI field office in Indianapolis, where USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body, is headquartered. Faced with these errors, officials under surveillance tried to cover up their mistakes.
The committee’s outrage at the FBI was bipartisan. But in each of their statements to the committee, the four gymnasts seated in front of the platform reminded participants that it was USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee that gave Nassar the cover he needed to continue his predatory behavior. .
“USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee knew I had been abused by their official team doctor long before I was made aware of their knowledge,” Biles said in his opening statement. No one informed her that she was not the only athlete Nassar abused until the end of the Rio Olympics in 2016. As it must have been alone. And although the failures of the FBI have been investigated, she said, “neither the USAG nor the USOPC have ever been subjected to the same level of scrutiny.”
Aly Raisman, who led the Olympic team in Rio in 2016 and is the second most decorated U.S. gymnast (behind Biles), told the committee it was clear in 2015 that Nassar had abused at least six gymnasts. But instead of taking action to cut off Nassar’s access, the FBI took more than a year to respond to requests for Raisman to be interviewed, she said. And when the interview finally took place, Steve Penny – then CEO of USA Gymnastics – organized her outfit at the Olympic Training Center, where she was “under the control and observation of the USAG and USOPC. “.
Penny, Raisman also reminded the committee, went looking for beers with Steve Abbott, the lead investigating officer, who was trying to land a job with the US Olympic Committee. Horowitz called on Abbott’s willingness to portray USA Gymnastics in a positive light in exchange for a hint from Penny in her testimony before the Judicial Committee on Wednesday. Abbott did not get the job, but he was allowed to resign from the FBI without consequence.
Meanwhile, McKayla Maroney told the committee how the agent who interviewed her in 2015, Michael Langeman, who was fired from the FBI on Monday, didn’t write his statement until more than a year later. Horowitz later determined that this statement was “essentially false.”
The series of testimonies shows how few participants in the cover-up suffered serious repercussions. Bela and Martha Karolyi, the tyrannical former coaches of the women’s gymnastics team, are no longer gold medalists and face dozens of civil lawsuits, but they are not facing criminal charges. Penny resigned from USA Gymnastics along with the rest of the 18-member board in 2017, but he was reportedly given severance pay of around $ 1 million.
One of the main obstacles to the prosecution of USA Gymnastics is the ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings it initiated in 2018. Key figures, ”NBC News reported at the time. Among the legal issues he faces are “the USOPC’s decertification of the NGB and all actions related to hundreds of civil suits and potential lawsuits against USA Gymnastics and USOPC related to allegations of sexual abuse by Nassar, former Olympic and national team coaches Don Peters and Marvin Sharp, ”the Orange County Register reported in January.
These bankruptcy proceedings have also caused the organization to rack up at least $ 13.6 million in legal fees, according to documents reviewed by the OC Register and other members of the Southern California News Group. This is more than seven times what the group spent on SafeSport, the program founded in 2017 to deal with abuse issues in sport.
Earlier this month, USA Gymnastics and a coalition of Nassar abuse survivors moved slightly closer to the calculation Biles and his teammates called for on Wednesday. Both parties have submitted a proposal to bankruptcy court that would allow the federation to come out of bankruptcy and include a $ 425 million settlement with athlete victims of abuse.
There is a culture within America’s elite athletics that provided the breeding ground for Nasser’s depravity.
The amount is double the previous offer from USA Gymnastics but still less than the $ 500 million Michigan State University, which employed Nassar as a sports department physician and teacher, agreed to pay to nearly 500 gymnasts who had come out against the doctor. But the survivors demanded that one of the provisions of the proposed plan obliges the federation to launch a truth and justice commission, finally providing the independent investigation into the Nasser operation which has been lacking to date.
But as Raisman told The New Yorker in July, the problem extends beyond American gymnastics and all American Olympic sports:
When I think of USA Gymnastics, I think it’s just rotten on the inside. It is not a good organization. Maybe there are people who intend to do the right thing, but I think leadership at the top needs to be completely overhauled.
The United States Olympic Committee is also a disaster. This is not just a problem in American gymnastics. I know figure skaters and other athletes have spoken out against the abuse. Many of these organizations are corrupt, and the American Olympic Committee is in charge of all of this. They need to hire people who really care, who take it seriously, and they don’t.
Raisman and Biles understand that this is more of a man’s evil, more of an athletic failure, and more than federal law enforcement stumbles. There is a culture within America’s elite athletics that provided the breeding ground for Nasser’s depravity. It is a culture where victory is essential, where silence is encouraged and where team spirit justifies complicity.
The conversations that Biles and his fellow athletes have sparked are a step in changing that for the better. But that’s not something a dozen Senate hearings can do without delving much deeper into the machine that produces Olympic medals for Team USA. It’s a goal worthy of the name – Durbin and his colleagues must start this process now, so that change can come before the Olympic torch is lit again in Paris in 2024.