Calling the sexual abuse and assault of Team USA athletes by former USA Gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar “worse than our worst fears,” the chief executive officer of the United States Olympic Committee apologized Wednesday to athletes and announced that the organization will launch an independent investigation of how Nassar’s abuse could have happened.
In addition, Scott Blackmun called for the resignation of the entire board of directors of USA Gymnastics.
Blackmun’s letter was released minutes after the conclusion of a seven-day sentencing hearing that featured emotional statements from more than 150 girls and women who asserted abuse by Nassar, including Olympians Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber.
“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 wrote. “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.”
Last year, USA Gymnastics commissioned an independent review of its sex abuse prevention policies by a former federal prosecutor, but the review avoided determining if USA Gymnastics officials could or should have stopped Nassar earlier. USA Gymnastics has said it first learned of concerns about Nassar in the summer of 2015 and, after investigating on its own for five weeks, decided to report him to the FBI.
The independent investigation will be conducted by a third party, Blackmun wrote, and will “examine how an abuse of this proportion could have gone undetected for so long. We need to know when complaints were brought forward and to who.” The inquiry will examine any culpability by both USA Gymnastics officials and those at the USOC, and Blackmun said the organizations will make the results public.
USA Gymnastics responded to Blackmun’s letter in a statement Wednesday night, saying the organization “accepts the absolute need of the Olympic family to promote a safe environment for all of our athletes.” However, the organization rejected Blackmun’s call for decertifying USA Gymnastics as a national governing body, instead calling for “meaningful change” to better serve the interests of athletes, clubs and gymnastics as a whole.
“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,” the statement read. “USA Gymnastics and the USOC have the same goal — making the sport of gymnastics, and others, as safe as possible for athletes to follow their dreams in a safe, positive and empowered environment.”
Earlier this week, three USA Gymnastics board members resigned over the Nassar case. In his letter, Blackmun called for the entire board of directors, which has 21 members, to resign.
Blackmun wrote to Team USA:
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. It was powerful because of the strength of the victims, survivors and parents, who so eloquently and forcefully told their stories and so rightfully demanded justice. The USOC should have been there to hear it in person, and I am deeply sorry that did not happen.
The purpose of this message is to tell all of Nassar’s victims and survivors, directly, how incredibly sorry we are. We have said it in other contexts, but we have not been direct enough with you. 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.
I know this apology is not enough. We have been working on taking steps at the USOC and mandating changes among National Governing Bodies to ensure this does not happen again. Our next steps will be these:
1. We Must Change the Culture of the Sport. This was the primary recommendation of the independent Deborah Daniels Report on USA Gymnastics and the athlete testimony underlined its importance. We heard athletes describe being unsure or unaware of how to report abuse and to whom, and sometimes even what constitutes abuse. We heard athletes describe being afraid or discouraged from reporting abuse. We heard athletes describe feeling hurt, betrayed, discounted and alone. Since October of last year, we have been engaged in direct talks with USAG leadership on this fundamental point. New leadership at the board level is critical and you recently saw three USAG board resignations. Further changes are necessary to help create a culture that fosters safe sport practice, offers athletes strong resources in education and reporting, and ensures the healing of the victims and survivors. This includes a full turnover of leadership from the past, which means that all current USAG directors must resign.
2. We Must Change the Governance Structure of the NGB. We need to help USA Gymnastics better support its mission, which is to provide the best resources and safest environment for athletes to train and compete. We have strongly considered decertifying USAG as a National Governing Body. But USA Gymnastics includes clubs and athletes who had no hand in this and who need to be supported. We believe it would hurt more than help the athletes and their sport. But we will pursue decertification if USA Gymnastics does not fully embrace the necessary changes in their governance structure along with other mandated changes under review right now.
3. We Must Know Who Knew What and When. The USOC has decided to launch an investigation by an independent third party to examine how an abuse of this proportion could have gone undetected for so long. We need to know when complaints were brought forward and to who. This investigation will include both USAG and the USOC, and we believe USAG will cooperate fully. We will make the results public.
4. We Must Support Safe Sport Victims and Survivors. Team USA safe sport assault victims and survivors need access to testing, treatment and counseling. The USOC will devote substantial funds to help provide these resources to victims and survivors. We are working on the details of how this funding will become available to athletes and will communicate them soon.
I hope that all members of Team USA remember that the USOC ombudsman office is always available to provide free, independent and confidential help to athletes with concerns or questions about safe sport or other matters. Contact information, along with other helpful athlete resources, are here.
In order to bring even more focus and urgency to these important points, the USOC board of directors has mobilized a board-level working group chaired by independent board member Susanne Lyons. Susanne can be reached at email@example.com.
Finally, I invite any member of Team USA to communicate with me or Ms. Lyons directly if there is more that you think the Olympic family can or should be doing for you and your families.
Chief Executive Officer
United States Olympic Committee
In addition, the executive committee of the United States Olympians and Paralympians Association apologized to “athletes everywhere,” saying it was appalled by the situation.
We hear you.
We have heard your many stories detailing the sexual and emotional abuse you endured while training and competing in pursuit of your goals and your dreams. We applaud your individual and collective courage and conviction in coming forward and telling all … and calling out those who abused your trust.
We are both appalled by the actions of those who hurt you and deeply saddened by your suffering. For those whose stories we haven’t heard (and may never hear), we respect your decision and your privacy … but also acknowledge the pain you feel in silence.
We are united in saying that there is no place for abuse in sport — at any age, at any level, in any venue. As Olympic and Paralympic alumni, we want you to know we are a family that stands strong for the ideals of the Olympic and Paralympic movements.
When we, as athletes, returned from past Games, we shared an understanding that “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Now we must ask how can athlete dignity be preserved when the responsible institutions fail so in their oversight?
So what shall we do? We shall continue to advocate for education and safe sport, to teach young boys and girls to recognize the signs of abuse and provide a safe place to speak without repercussion. Parents, coaches and trainers need to be educated to recognize the signs and learn how to behave properly in coaching situations. We shall support Title IX, the U.S. Center for SafeSport and pending federal legislation to protect our athletes.
For any of you who are currently in need (or know someone who is), the newly created and independent U.S. Center for SafeSport is available for confidential 24/7 reporting and crisis support:
SafeSport.org 24/7 SafeSport Crisis Helpline: 866-200-0796
We know the power of commitment to a belief and to goals; our goal is that your experiences are never repeated. Together, we shall seek to create a way of life based on the joy of effort.
Together in sport,
United States Olympians and Paralympians Association Executive Committee
President Dick Fosbury — Track and Field, 1968
Willie Banks — Track and Field, 1980/1984/1988
Allison Baver — Speedskating, 2002/2006/2010
Carol Brown — Rowing 1976/1980/1984
Candace Cable — Paralympic Track and Field, 1980/1988/1992/1996; Alpine Skiing, 1992; Nordic Skiing, 1994/1998/2002/2006
Caryn Davies — Rowing, 2004/2008/2012
Gary Hall Sr. — Swimming, 1968/1972/1976
Micki King — Diving, 1968/1972
Carol Lewis — Track and Field, 1980/1984/1988
John Naber — Swimming, 1976
Bill Toomey — Track and Field, 1968
Iris Zimmerman — Fencing, 2000
In Detroit, the Free Press put the face of victims front and center, just as they had been during Nassar’s trial, by tweeting their names:
Read more from The Post:
Kevin Blackistone: USA Gymnastics needs to blow things up and start over with a safe foundation