COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Saying the Olympic family had utterly failed to protect its own, the chief executive officer of the US Olympic Committee called for the resignation of the remaining USA Gymnastics directors and announced an independent investigation Wednesday intended to determine how the sexual abuse attributed to former USAG sports doctor Larry Nassar could have gone on as long as it did.
In what he called an open letter to Team USA, Scott Blackmun said the third-party investigation will attempt to determine ‘‘who knew what and when’’ when it comes to Nassar, who was sentenced Wednesday to 40 to 175 years in prison for molesting seven women. Blackmun did not identify who would do the investigation or how long it would take, but he said the results will be made public.
Olympians Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber, and Simone Biles were among more than 100 gymnasts who say they were abused by Nassar over the years. Many victims said there were others to blame for enabling Nassar, from his employers at Michigan State to USA Gymnastics and beyond. They laid out in searing and heart-wrenching detail the abuse and the lack of support they felt during a seven-day hearing in Michigan that culminated with Nassar’s sentencing.
‘‘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,’’ Blackmun said. ‘‘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.’’
Nearly a year ago, USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny resigned under pressure from the USOC. Penny joined USA Gymnastics in 1999 and oversaw one of the greatest runs in Olympic history, success that made the federation a magnet for big-time corporate sponsors who wanted to be aligned with its healthy, winning image.
That image took a major blow after an investigation by the Indianapolis Star portrayed USA Gymnastics as slow to act when it came to addressing allegations of sexual abuse. Some sponsors have left, and last fall, Jamie Dantzscher, a member of the 2000 Olympic team, filed a civil lawsuit in California against USA Gymnastics and Nassar. Other lawsuits have followed, including some that name Penny, Martha Karolyi and her husband Bela as co-defendants because they allegedly knew about Nassar’s abuse.
Martha Karolyi retired in August 2016. A short time later, USA Gymnastics hired a former federal prosecutor, Deborah Daniels, to conduct an extensive review of the organization’s policies in regards to potential sexual misconduct. She concluded that the organization’s culture emphasized performance over protection.
Blackmun said the immediate goals now are to change that culture, the governance structure of federations like USA Gymnastics and devote time and resources to helping abuse victims and survivors.
He noted that the USOC has been in talks with USAG since October and that new leadership was critical. In the past week, three USAG board members have resigned and the Indianapolis-based organization severed ties with the Karolyi Ranch in Texas, a longtime training site where many survivors said they were abused.
Blackmun said those steps were not enough and called for a ‘‘full turnover of leadership,’’ including all current USAG directors.
The USOC considered decertifying USA Gymnastics as a national governing body for the sport, Blackmun said, but that would harm clubs and athletes that had nothing to do with the Nassar scandal. He said decertification will remain a possibility.
The US Olympians and Paralympians Association released its own letter to athletes that praised survivors for coming forward.
‘‘We are both appalled by the actions of those who hurt you and deeply saddened by your suffering,’’ it read. ‘‘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.’’
Read the full letter below:
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