Imagine your daughter had a physical talent, a baffling, inimitable wildflower gift beyond your understanding. Suppose you entrusted her to the U.S. Olympic Committee to help explore that gift. In exchange, USOC officials demanded the rights to her commercial likeness, used her performances to make millions of dollars for themselves, and carelessly allowed her to be sexually preyed on. And then claimed any harm to her wasn’t their responsibility.
They took credit for the gold medals that came from that body, but none of the blame for the scars left on it. How would you feel?
No one at the USOC seems to understand how their behavior looks to the rest of us. Should any parent feel comfortable entrusting their child to the USOC going forward?
“Absolutely not,” said Rachael Denhollander, who led the child molestation case against gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar. “There is no way I would put my child in there.”
USOC officials keep trying to move on briskly from the Nassar scandal. They don’t seem to hear how offensive their brightly inane statements about the future are with so much reparation left unfinished. They certainly don’t seem to understand that what parents and victims really need from the USOC is not more containment strategy. Fortunately, Congressional overseers such as Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) are determined to continue the hard investigating that the USOC would like to see end.
The USOC hoped that last week’s devastating report from the law firm Ropes & Gray was a conclusion, the last chapter of its sexual abuse scandal. It’s merely a good start. The report not only detailed how Nassar’s crimes were enabled and covered up by top officials, it described a pervasive culture in which abusers flourished across multiple sports over years without the USOC taking any significant action.
“They just didn’t respond in any kind of responsible manner,” DeGette said. “What that report showed us was that the gymnastics abuse wasn’t the first time it’s happened in this decade.”
In January, DeGette will become the head of the Oversight and Investigations sub-committee of the House Energy and Commerce committee, which is responsible for USOC oversight. DeGette has spent 22 years on the panel, and what’s more, she’s a Coloradan, so she is well-versed in the USOC’s platitudes and has watched its inaction up close. Including its failure to fund SafeSport, the body that is supposed deal with sexual abuse.
A few months ago, DeGette personally visited the SafeSport offices and saw for herself the inadequate staff, swamped with a “huge number” of abuse complaints — more, she says, than they can handle. “I want to investigate how they plan to implement changes,” she says.
She also wants documents. Thus far, only Ropes & Gray has deeply examined the internal communications that show when USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun learned from USA Gymnastics chief executive Steve Penny that the national team doctor was a probably a child molester, and how they responded.
“We need documents about when the USOC and USA Gymnastics officials knew what was going on, and what they did, and what the internal memos were,” DeGette said. “So, we will be requesting those, and if they aren’t forthcoming, we will subpoena them.”
DeGette is not the only lawmaker who wants answers. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have asked the Department of Justice for a criminal investigation into whether Blackmun lied to Congress. The FBI is conducting an internal inquiry into its own inaction. Hopefully those will be fully public, so that parents and athletes get the answers to vital questions that still plague them.
We know that Nassar was enabled by officialdom. “Now ask ‘Why,’ ” Denhollander said.
Why did USOC and USAG officials purposely perpetrate a false narrative and allow Nassar to retire with plaudits in September 2015, even after they knew Olympic gymnasts had credibly accused him of sexually assaulting them? Thus, Nassar was able to continue to access victims at training gyms, high schools. Attorney John Manly represents one child who was 11.
“She went to Nassar for another year,” he said. “They never called anybody.”
They stayed silent when Nassar announced he would run for a local school board.
They stayed silent when they knew USA Gymnastics was regularly referring more young athletes to him.
“I feel like I have indirectly been put in a position where I may have recommended that a parent put their child in harm’s way,” a USA Gymnastics program director wrote in an aghast email when Nassar was exposed.
Why did the FBI and Indianapolis police aid and abet that silence? Why did they fail so utterly to investigate Nassar or properly interview any witnesses? Why did they accept Penny’s favors, and texts, emails, and requests for confidentiality?
“Why?” Denhollander asks. “Is it lazy, is it self-protection, is it money? Are there people profiting? Is there child porn? What is the motivation, and why were they keeping quiet? There had to be some level of buy-in. I suspect when you find the motivation, you’ll find a lot more corruption.”
Why, to date, has no one ever executed so much as a search warrant on USA Gymnastics and the USOC?
Why has there never been a broad, multi-jurisdictional federal investigation into these crimes against hundreds of children, in which the cover-up spanned from Indianapolis to Colorado Springs to Los Angeles?
Is it because little girls are not important? Because it was sports, and therefore trivial? Because all women athletes should expect some level of abuse in a man’s world?
Because million-dollar-salaried Olympic officials, with the initials U.S. in front of their names, and political connections, got preferential treatment over abused girls like Jordyn Wieber, who made just $800 a month for bringing home gold medals?
“This is a country club-white shoe culture, in which these men were making millions a year,” Manly said. “More than the Joint Chiefs of Staff combined. That’s an obscenity. It’s a culture of entitlement and moral indifference.”
Why? Until the whys are answered, the USOC cannot and should not be allowed to move on.
“It was never just about Larry Nassar, and that’s what so many people have missed,” Denhollander said. “Larry became the story because of what happened at his sentencing and because he had so many victims. But Larry is not the story. Larry is just a symptom.”
For more by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.