In the 14 months after two top executives at the U.S. Olympic Committee learned in July 2015 that Larry Nassar — the longtime physician for Team USA women gymnasts — was suspected of sexual abuse, they failed to take any steps to ensure Nassar was no longer working with children, didn’t inform anyone else at the organization about the allegations, and deleted emails mentioning Nassar by name, according to a lengthy independent investigative report released Monday.
The inaction by the two USOC executives — along with similar missteps by officials at USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University and the FBI — enabled Nassar to sexually assault dozens more girls and young women, investigators found, until September 2016, when a newspaper exposé triggered his downfall.
On Monday, the USOC announced the firing of one of the executives, Alan Ashley, chief of sport performance. Former USOC CEO Scott Blackmun, also singled out by investigators for his inaction and apparent concern for secrecy, resigned in February, citing health concerns as he dealt with prostate cancer. Neither Ashley nor Blackmun replied to requests to comment Monday.
The 233-page report, produced by the law firm Ropes & Gray and commissioned by the USOC, depicted a plodding response to allegations involving Nassar by officials at both the USOC and USA Gymnastics who, “in their own way, maintained secrecy regarding the Nassar allegations and focused on controlling the flow of information about his alleged misconduct,” investigators wrote.
The report detailed previously known allegations about missteps by top officials at USA Gymnastics who waited five weeks before contacting the FBI about Nassar in July 2015, and then allowed him to retire quietly that September, returning to his full-time job at Michigan State, where he continued to assault girls and young women until September 2016. Former USA Gymnastics chief executive Steve Penny is facing a felony charge of evidence tampering in Texas, over allegations he ordered the removal of documents related to Nassar from the former national team training center that have since disappeared. Penny has denied the allegations.
The revelations involving the USOC, however, raise new questions about America’s wealthiest and most powerful Olympic sports organization’s role in the abuses committed by Nassar, a now-convicted serial pedophile accused by more than 330 girls and women — including Olympians Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Simone Biles, among many others — of sexual abuse, often committed under the guise of medical treatment.
Nassar, 55, is serving an effective life sentence that includes a 60-year term for federal child pornography crimes and a 40- to 175-year sentence for assaulting nine girls and women in Michigan.
In July 2015, investigators found, Blackmun learned about the allegations against Nassar in a phone call with Penny, who informed the USOC chief executive that the FBI in Indianapolis was investigating. Penny also discussed the allegations with Ashley, according to the report.
When Blackmun met with investigators this summer to explain his actions, he told them he recalled reacting to the Nassar news in 2015 swiftly and aggressively by calling a meeting with USOC experts on sex abuse and lawyers, “to make sure that we were doing everything that we should be doing,” the report stated.
This meeting never happened, investigators found. After reviewing more than 1.3 million documents, including emails and text messages, and conducting more than 100 interviews, investigators informed Blackmun they found no evidence he had told anyone about the Nassar allegations, and none of his employees recalled the meeting he described.
In September 2015, Penny sent an email with the subject “FYI - Larry Nassar” to both Blackmun and Ashley, informing them Nassar had retired from USA Gymnastics. Investigators recovered the email from Penny’s account at USA Gymnastics, but were unable to find it in either of the USOC executives’ email accounts.
In his interview, Blackmun acknowledged deleting the email that mentioned Nassar by name out of concern Russian hackers would obtain and publish it. Ashley told investigators he did not remember receiving or deleting the email, according to the report.
Penny also told investigators he had asked Blackmun if the USOC could send an employee who had previously worked as a police detective to Indianapolis to assist USA Gymnastics with the situation. Blackmun declined this request, Penny told investigators. Blackmun said he could not recall this request, the report stated.
As criticism of the USOC over the Nassar scandal reached a crescendo earlier this year — shortly after the wrenching testimony of more than 150 accusers during Nassar’s sentencing hearing ignited national outrage in January — USOC board members publicly voiced support for Blackmun.
“He has served the USOC with distinction,” board chair Larry Probst told reporters in South Korea in February, before the PyeongChang Winter Games. “We think that he did what he was supposed to do and he did the right thing at every turn.”
In a phone interview Monday, Probst and others expressed dismay at the revelation that Blackmun and Ashley had known more about Nassar than the USOC publicly acknowledged at the time.
“The revelations in the report, I would characterize as disconcerting, surprising and disappointing,” said Probst, who is stepping down at the end of the year.
Attorney John Manly, who represents many of Nassar’s victims, said Monday that the new details in the report point to the need for law enforcement to investigate the USOC, headquartered in Colorado Springs.
“It’s an unbelievably stinging indictment of the behavior of the USOC,” Manly said. “We hope that law enforcement will finally investigate this.”