Nine months before the 2016 Summer Games opened in Rio, a reprimand unprecedented in Olympic history was leveled upon Russia's track and field team. The international governing body for track and field stripped the Russian team of its license to participate in Rio upon a mountain of evidence that a systemic, state-sponsored doping program fueled the Russian team.
"The whole system," International Association of Athletics President Sebastian Coe stated at the time, "has failed the athletes, not just in Russia, but around the world."
The International Federation of Gymnastics should apply that precedent to USA Gymnastics.
For what we continue to be reminded of as young woman after young woman after young woman walks into a Lansing, Mich., courthouse to tell longtime Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar how deeply they detest him for sexually assaulting them — most of them when they were mere girls — is that, to borrow Coe's condemnation, the whole system has failed the athletes, not just here, but around the world.
After all, it isn't just Nassar who has been convicted in that Michigan courtroom of unspeakable assaults upon an estimate of more than 300 female athletes, many of them our Olympic heroes, over the past 20 years. It is, as well, all of those who enabled him over the years.
They include officials at Michigan State, where Nassar taught and practiced at the university's sports-medicine clinic from 1997 until he was fired last September. Crain's Detroit Business last week called for university President Lou Anna Simon's firing and questioned any legitimacy of the board of trustees after findings that the university knew long ago of Nassar's abuse of Michigan State female athletes but shirked their responsibility to act.
They include Bela Karolyi, owner of Karolyi Ranch, the 2,000-acre South Texas spread where so many U.S. women's gymnasts over the past four decades were trained, and Nassar practiced. Karolyi became famous in the 1970s when he turned the Romanian women's team into an Olympic powerhouse and Nadia Comăneci into an international star at the age of 14.
In the 1980s, Karolyi defected to the United States, where USA Gymnastics was so desperate for success like his that it gradually relinquished its girls to him despite Karolyi being responsible for ushering pubescent girls into Olympic gymnastics, which raised concerns about mental and physical abuse and forced the international federation to raise the age floor for Olympic participation to 16 in 1997. In 2001, USA Gymnastics made the relegation official by designating Karolyi's secluded grounds as the U.S. Women's National Gymnastics Training Center.
Karolyi hasn't been implicated in any wrongdoing at his ranch. However, after four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles tweeted late last week, "It breaks my heart even more to think that I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused," USA Gymnastics announced the last day it would use the ranch would be last Sunday.
And so it did, 32 years after Nassar joined USA Gymnastics' national team medical staff as an athletic trainer, and 24 years after an unidentified gymnast who would later become an Olympic medalist charged, according to a 2016 lawsuit, that Nassar began a six-year stretch of sexually assaulting her. That wrapped up a generation-long period of negligence, at the least, by USA Gymnastics in what became a horrific assault on hundreds of girls.
It was a nightmarish run even worse than that which convicted former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky committed against so many boys over a similar length of time through his access to them via his own charitable venture all but anointed by the university. College sports' governing body, the NCAA, reacted by heavily fining Penn State and drastically curtailing its football program's operational scope for several years. Why? It argued in a court filing in 2015 that Sandusky's abuse of children while a Penn State football coach evidenced "a profound lack of institutional integrity and institutional control."
Does that explanation not fit USA Gymnastics' role in this crime, too?
It shouldn't matter that USA Gymnastics is one of the jewels of the U.S. Olympic movement. So what that it raked in more than $34 million in revenue in its last Olympic year, 2016, according to tax filings, which made it one of the USOC's most profitable federations? What should matter is that USA Gymnastics used part of that largesse to cover up Nassar's crimes. It came in the form of a $1.25 million hush money payment to gold medalist McKayla Maroney not to talk about the abuse she suffered at the doctor's hands.
It shouldn't make a difference, either, that the U.S. women's gymnastics team, particularly under Karolyi's influence, became consistently the most-watched sports team in the country, Olympics or otherwise, as well as one of the most-celebrated and most-marketed. The survivor gymnasts won't be locked out. They can still participate as independent Olympians, a provision offered by the IOC since 1980. As NCAA President Mark Emmert said upon hammering Penn State, "One of the grave damages stemming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become too big to fail, indeed too big to even challenge. The result can be an erosion of academic values that are replaced by the value of hero worship and winning at all costs."
In USA Gymnastics' case, it was an erosion of human ethics and morals. How could so many adults, for so long, shirk responsibility, dismiss it altogether or attempt to cover up sexual abuse of children? How can the global Olympic movement allow such an entity in its midst which is counter to all it ostensibly stands for?
The USOC should be cognizant of as much as well. It has been an exemplar of behavior for the Olympic movement.
It isn't enough that three members of the board at USA Gymnastics resigned on Monday. There needs to be a complete housecleaning.
USA Gymnastics should self-impose a penalty by withdrawing from the next world championships and Olympics until its house is razed and rebuilt on a foundation of respect and protection of the athletes upon whom it makes its name.
If not, the international gymnastics federation should do the painful work for USA Gymnastics itself, which can never be as painful as what was inflicted upon so many of our girls over a generation.
Kevin B. Blackistone, ESPN panelist and visiting professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, writes sports commentary for The Post. Follow @ProfBlackistone.