Last year, the House and Senate voted on different versions of a bill that would require amateur athletic governing bodies to promptly report incidents of sexual abuses to law enforcement authorities. Following the widespread outrage that emerged over the course of the emotional, seven-day sentencing hearing for former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, Congress is now set for a vote to turn the bill into law.
Elsewhere, members of Congress demanded more answers and accountability from bodies including the U.S. Olympic Committee, as they scrambled Thursday to respond to a sex-abuse scandal that has already caused MSU President Lou Anna Simon to resign.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced a vote next week on a final version of the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act. In a statement, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) referred to the 156 girls, women and parents who spoke at Nassar’s hearing and testified to the pain caused by his abuses.
“The crimes committed against these young women are atrocious and rattle us all to the core,” Ryan said. “The fact that it went unreported to law enforcement is intolerable — and it’s a huge wake-up call.”
Ryan said the pending legislation “makes major reforms to our nation’s amateur athletic governing bodies — including mandatory training, required reporting, and a reformed system to deal with allegations of sexual abuse.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who championed the bill in the Senate last year, called on the House to “pass it immediately.”
“While I’m supportive of an investigation into the institutional culture at USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee that allowed these abuses, we need to pass comprehensive legislation now,” Feinstein said Thursday. “Time and again, I’ve seen how the failure of Congress to act when an issue is at the forefront of the national conversation means that Congress never acts at all. We should not let that happen here.”
On Wednesday, as Nassar was being sentenced by a Michigan court to a prison term of 40 to 175 years, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) had called 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.” Shaheen asked for the establishment of a select committee by the Senate with subpoena powers, claiming 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.”
Feinstein was among the members of Congress seeking more answers Thursday to how Nassar, who began working with USA Gymnastics in 1986 and for MSU in 1997, could have been allowed to continue his abuses for so long, particularly with victims alleging they complained to officials at Michigan State as far back as 1997. In a letter to the school’s board of trustees, Feinstein urged MSU to “to immediately commission an independent investigation” into its handling of “all reported sexual abuse allegations against Dr. Nassar.”
“Student athletes should never feel unsafe participating in a sport they love or fear seeking help when they suffer from sports injuries,” Feinstein wrote. “Nor should they ever fear that the institution that they so proudly represent — such as universities like Michigan State University — will have anything but the students’ best interests at heart.”
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) also called on MSU to “commission an independent, outside investigation similar to those done at Penn State and Baylor.” He said in a statement that “after the failures” at those two universities, including the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal at Penn State and accusations that Baylor ignored or suppressed reports of rapes committed by its athletes, “we still have not learned how to create institutional safeguards to protect students and children on college campuses.”
Two other senators, Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), sent a joint letter to the president of USAG, Kerry Perry, claiming that “revelations from Dr. Nassar’s sentencing hearings provide ample evidence that USAG and MSU were negligent in acting on reports” of his behavior. Of “particular concern,” they said, were accusations from Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney that, as part of a $1.25 million settlement with USAG following her allegations of abuse by Nassar, she was compelled to sign a nondisclosure agreement that might cost her a $100,000 fine if she were to speak out publicly against the disgraced ex-doctor.
Moran and Blumenthal asked Perry to respond to several specific questions, including these:
- “In her lawsuit against USOC, USAG, and MSU, Ms. Maroney alleges that she was ‘coerced’ into signing the NDA while under emotional duress from Dr. Nassar’s abuse. To the extent possible, please provide all details possible regarding the justification and circumstances surrounding Ms. Maroney’s NDA with USAG.”
- “What steps are being taken to prevent these atrocities from occurring again, whether in gymnastics or any Olympic sport?”
Saying that the “gruesome nature of these crimes and large number of victims make Mr. Nassar one of the worst sexual abusers and child molesters our country has ever seen,” Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) called on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to launch a probe into the USOC, USAG and MSU. Citing previous congressional inquiries into steroid use in baseball and concussions in the NFL, Maloney wrote, “When conduct by professional athletes and organizational responses have presented significant public health concerns, Congress has taken a particular interest in bringing those issues to light.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said Thursday that by “advancing” the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act, “we are taking action to protect our nation’s young athletes and future Olympians.” She described the “many instances of sexual assault” as “deeply disturbing and beyond horrible,” and said, “These young women deserve justice, and the assurances that these heinous crimes of abuse and exploitation will never happen again.”
“As I listen to these brave young women in the U.S. gymnastics program come forward and share their stories, I can’t help but think about my own daughters,” McMorris Rodgers said. “Like all moms, I send my children to places like school and gymnastics expecting they are safe and can just be kids. That is how it should be.”
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