U.S. Olympic authorities still haven’t cleaned out the evil internal rot — that’s evident from the utterly degrading settlement “offer” that USA Gymnastics and the United Olympic and Paralympic Committee have made to the victims of serial pedophile doctor Larry Nassar. This nauseating document isn’t an offer so much as an accountability-evading ruse. Its chief feature is a clause that would force Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and 500 other young women to blanket-release a long list of abusers, molesters and enablers, as well as the entire USOPC, from all liability in exchange for a short stack of cash.
“It’s such a slap in the face, such complete disregard for the damage done,” said Rachael Denhollander, whose determination to go public brought down Nassar. “It’s nowhere near a step toward justice. It tells us: ‘Your assault was not that big a deal. Get over it.’ ”
Without this list of releases, the offer document says, a financial settlement is impossible. The list is a host of creeps. Creeps such as Don Peters, banned for life from coaching over allegations he sexually abused teenage gymnasts. Creeps such as John Geddert, who allegedly gave one of his gymnasts a black eye. Bela and Marta Karolyi, whose creepy sequestered camps became abuse havens. Former USAG chief Steve Penny, the arch-creep, whose stunning slow walk of the Nassar investigation let a pedophile say publicly that he “retired.”
Now, why would these releases be so nonnegotiable? What does that suggest? It suggests there is more ugly conduct that Olympic officials don’t want to come to light, that’s what. It suggests a coverup.
No wonder the gymnasts went crazy when they read the “offer.” Biles slammed it on Twitter, and Raisman blasted it on “Today.”
Money is a measure of respect. What this settlement “offer” says is that Olympic officials don’t respect the gymnasts’ injuries, recognize the seriousness of the damage or understand the reforms they want. Instead, in exchange for those nonnegotiable gag orders, they’ve offered a lowball figure of $215 million to be divided among more than 500 victims. The highest amount a young woman would get, as recompense for being left unprotected and subject to Nassar’s digital rapes in a hotel room or training camp dorm, would be $1.2 million.
Want some context? Sportscaster Erin Andrews won $55 million from Marriott for failing to protect her privacy. A single victim of a Boy Scout pedophile in Oregon was awarded $18.5 million. Michigan State has agreed to pay $500 million to a far smaller pool of victims Nassar assaulted in his role as a university employee.
What should the monetary justice be for a child gymnast who was penetrated barehanded by Nassar, painfully, hundreds of times?
Raisman has said she felt forced by Olympic officials to submit to his “treatments” repeatedly for years. His youngest victim was just 10. What’s the price for those invisible brands? What’s the price for the years of flashbacks, rage, psychotherapy, self-blame, confusion and inability to trust? What’s the price for the stigma and the haunt?
How would you like to be Biles, who read the settlement document while sitting in an airport on her way to prepare for a competition and came across this sentence pressuring her to sign: “Courts are unlikely to hold the Debtor legally responsible for the unforeseeable criminal misconduct that gave rise to the Abuse Claims.”
Unforeseeable? Unforeseeable? USA officials knew Nassar improperly “treated” young girls on their beds. They never even bothered to check on the health and safety procedures at camps where Biles was isolated for days.
How would you like to be Raisman, leafing through your copy, when you come upon this sentence, insisting it’s in your best interest to sign for a pittance because, “Most fundamentally, all of the abuse claims are subject to dismissal on the basis that the Debtor did not have a legal duty to the Claimant.”
No legal duty? No legal duty?
The settlement offer will go nowhere but in the trash. The rightly enraged gymnasts will reject it. The presiding judge has said the USOPC needs to get out its wallet. But in the meantime, USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland needs to be marched back to Capitol Hill, so she can explain to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and others on the Judiciary Committee why our Olympic officials have “no legal duty” to keep the United States’ athletes from being molested, abused and digitally raped by a team doctor — and why any settlement requires so many gags.
The USOPC has spouted lots of platitudes about systemic failures. But we still don’t have a full picture of who concealed what and when. The problem appears to go back decades. These “releases” would prevent the gymnasts from ever finding out and from holding anyone accountable beyond the narrow slice of officialdom that has been forced to resign.
This should be the last straw for Congress. When are legislators going to clean out this mess? When will they give our most inspired young athletes the organization they deserve? And when will they force answers from law enforcement? The gymnasts aren’t just out for compensatory sums and punitive damages. They want “transparency, culture change and replacement of those who subscribe to the money- and medals-first model,” according to attorney John Manly. What they’ve gotten is the same old bureaucracy, still more invested in sheltering cronies, stifling fact-finding and fighting liability than in fixing a horrendous problem and making real amends.
The USOPC has protected itself from congressional action by suggesting that knocking down the organization and starting over would somehow harm preparations for the 2020 Tokyo and 2028 Los Angeles Games. Nonsense. That’s pure sophistry. Our athletes are primarily self-driven and self-funded — just try to stop them. They deserve a restructured, athlete-first organization, in which they come ahead of branding executives’ salaries, with the money flow uncorked and redirected from administrative bloat to athlete training and well-being. Parents, ask yourselves: Should your prodigies really be entrusted to an organization that continues to argue it has “no legal duty” to protect girls from a gloveless Larry Nassar?
“The best thing we can do for our current athletes is to stop saddling them with this grossly incompetent organization that does not have their interests at heart,” Denhollander said. “Had we razed this organization four years ago, they would now have a safe and supportive organization going into the Games. Instead Simone Biles is having anxiety attacks in an airport on her way to camp.”
Congressional overseers need to read the settlement offer. It says it all.
“The fact they thought this was even reasonable shows how little they understand about our motivation,” Denhollander said. “None of these survivors are going to quit. We’re not quitting.”