Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) called Wednesday for a congressional investigation into “the role of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and USA Gymnastics in allowing serial pedophile Dr. Larry Nassar unsupervised access to hundreds of girls across three decades.”
Her request for the establishment of a select committee by the U.S. Senate came after Nassar was sentenced in a Michigan court to a prison term of 40 to 175 years, following an extraordinary, seven-day hearing in which over 150 girls and women, including Olympians Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber, testified about the abuses to which he subjected them.
In a letter sent to the Senate majority and minority leaders, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.)., respectively, and provided to The Washington Post, Shaheen claimed that while Nassar “was effectively sentenced to life in prison for sexual assault … not all of the responsible parties have been appropriately held to account.” She said that as the USOC “is a federally chartered institution and its athletes compete under the American flag,” the Senate “has a clear responsibility to expand this investigation beyond the narrow criminal charges adjudicated in Michigan.”
“It is time, now, to expose the scope and nature of sexual assault against vulnerable girls and boys under supervision of the USOC and its affiliated organizations so that these crimes are never allowed to happen again,” Shaheen said. She called for the select committee to be established and commence an investigation before the Winter Olympics begin Feb. 9.
In its own reaction to the hearing for the 54-year-old Nassar, who spent decades as a highly regarded physician for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, the chief executive officer of the USOC called Wednesday for the resignation of the entire board of directors of USA Gymnastics. The CEO, Scott Blackmun, also apologized to the athletes involved and said his organization was launching an investigation into how the abuses could have been allowed to have occurred.
“The athlete testimony that just concluded in the Nassar hearings framed the tragedy through the eyes of the victims and survivors, and was worse than our own worst fears … The purpose of this message is to tell all of Nassar’s victims and survivors, directly, how incredibly sorry we are,” Blackmun said in a letter. “We are sorry for the pain caused by this terrible man, and sorry that you weren’t afforded a safe opportunity to pursue your sports dreams. The Olympic family is among those that have failed you.”
In a formal response to the Blackmun’s letter, USA Gymnastics said, “We agree with the USOC’s statement that the interests of our athletes and clubs, and their sport, may be better served by moving forward with meaningful change within our organization, rather than decertification. USA Gymnastics supports an independent investigation that may shine light on how abuse of the proportion described so courageously by the survivors of Larry Nassar could have gone undetected for so long and embraces any necessary and appropriate changes.”
On Monday, three top USA Gymnastics board members resigned, with the organization’s president, Kerry Perry, saying, “We believe this step will allow us to more effectively move forward in implementing change within our organization.” The NCAA sent Michigan State a letter Tuesday indicating an interest in opening a probe into potential violations associated with the school’s handling of Nassar.
Before sending her letter, Shaheen had taken to Twitter to say she agreed with a column by Post columnist Sally Jenkins, who wrote, “Where in the fresh red hell is an independent investigation into USA Gymnastics, and why isn’t Congress threatening to smash the U.S. Olympic Committee’s charter into pieces with a gavel over this?”
“We must investigate the actions of the USOC and USA Gymnastics, including testimony under oath from coaches, executives, and other personnel of the organizations,” Shaheen said in her letter, adding that the probe’s authorization “must include subpoena power to compel the two organizations to produce relevant documents and internal communications.” She noted that one of the reasons a Select Committee was “necessary” was that it can be composed of “an equal number of female and male Senators.”
Nassar began working with USA Gymnastics in 1986 and became a team physician at Michigan State in 1997, which is when the first known complaint about him was lodged. His abuses began to break into public view in a September 2016 Indianapolis Star report that featured accusations from a former gymnast; he was fired by MSU shortly thereafter, and the gymnast was soon joined by dozens of other women.
USA Gymnastics parted ways with Nassar in the summer of 2015 after hearing of “athlete concerns,” although it delayed reporting him to the FBI and MSU has claimed it was not informed of those concerns. He was sentenced last month to a 60-year prison term on federal counts related to child pornography; Nassar is appealing that sentence.
Here is the full text of Shaheen’s letter:
Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer,
I am writing to call on the United States Senate to immediately establish a Select Committee to investigate the role of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and USA Gymnastics in allowing serial pedophile Dr. Larry Nassar unsupervised access to hundreds of girls across three decades. Today, Dr. Nassar was effectively sentenced to life in prison for sexual assault, following testimony from more than 150 girls and women who recounted his attacks. But not all of the responsible parties have been appropriately held to account. Dr. Nassar was able to commit these crimes unchecked for 30 years. This was not a case of negligence or failed oversight on the part of the USOC and USA Gymnastics. These organizations have serious questions to answer, including why they allowed this criminal behavior to occur, and they need to answer these questions publically before a Select Committee of the Senate.
The USOC is a federally chartered institution and its athletes compete under the American flag, so the Senate has a clear responsibility to expand this investigation beyond the narrow criminal charges adjudicated in Michigan. We must investigate the actions of the USOC and USA Gymnastics, including testimony under oath from coaches, executives, and other personnel of the organizations. Authorization for this investigation must include subpoena power to compel the two organizations to produce relevant documents and internal communications. A Select Committee is necessary because it would have an exclusive, undivided focus on the investigation and can be comprised of an equal number of female and male Senators.
In recent months, the American people have experienced an awakening with regard to the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace; the complicity of businesses and executives in these crimes; and the silence imposed on the victims. It is time, now, to expose the scope and nature of sexual assault against vulnerable girls and boys under supervision of the USOC and its affiliated organizations so that these crimes are never allowed to happen again. To signal that the Senate understands the gravity and urgency of this matter, I urge that a Select Committee be established and its investigation commence on an expedited basis, and certainly before the Winter Games begin in PyeongChang on February 9.
United States Senator
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