PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Maybe it was always too much to expect satisfactory answers from the United States Olympic Committee members here about the ongoing fallout of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal because, of course, there are no satisfactory answers.
But that still didn’t make it any easier to listen to them on Friday continue to inject what should rightly be an ongoing discussion of outrage with their measured, patient tones, to hear them ask us to keep on waiting for action as they keep calling for investigations.
There was USOC chairman Larry Probst promising a “thorough, transparent, and independent” investigation of the failings in the Nassar case, promising to “take appropriate action” when that investigation is complete.
But until that point, he and his colleagues continue to stand behind CEO Scott Blackmun, who is not at the Olympics after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer, unwilling to remove him from his position despite what happened on his watch.
While there were additional promises to evaluate the USOC’s oversight of the governing bodies of each Olympic sport, more oversight they believe can help avoid the systemic abuse unmasked behind USA Gymnastics’ doors, it is impossible — no, it is irresponsible — not to ask the USOC why this took so long.
At this point, how can we doubt that people were aware of accusations against Nassar, that those accusations were shuffled and passed on in a stunning display of “not my responsibility” and thus allowed to continue? And how can we ever doubt again that the culture of so many of these Olympic sports helped Nassar hide his horror, that fear of retribution in the closed-off, insular, and subjective gymnastics world made it so incredibly difficult for parents and athletes to effect change?
USA Gymnastics has rightly been held to the fire for its failings, with resignations of its entire board forced by the USOC. But what of the USOC, which so far has paid no public price other than what Probst insisted in his most tone deaf moment of the afternoon?
“We are far from unscathed,” Probst said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of criticism about the USOC. We think that we did what we were supposed to do. We could have done more, of course you can always do more.”
Probst made a preemptive plea for patience in his opening statement Friday, but that didn’t stop the questions from coming.
“To the women, those who chose to testify and those who did not,” he said, “let me say this: This Olympic system failed you and we are so incredibly sorry. Words cannot express the anger that the board and leadership feel about the human toll Larry Nassar’s abuse has taken on these young women and their families. I have felt their sense of betrayal, sorrow, and anger.
“The moment of reckoning we are experiencing in the United States is extremely painful, especially for the women involved.”
But hey, criticism hurts, too.
Were the USOC’s feelings hurt when they were called out for not reaching out to top-level Olympic gymnasts such as Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, and Jordyn Wieber when each woman revealed herself as a Nassar victim? Did it feel bad when they were lambasted for failing to send even one representative to Nassar’s recent sentencing hearing, the one that captivated an entire nation for the courage of the woman who testified against him?
“That was simply a mistake. We should have been there,” Probst said. “We’ve said that repeatedly. It was an error in judgment and we should have been there.”
Maybe I’m the fool for wanting to leave that room with some sense of satisfaction, something to offset the feelings American bobsled veteran Elana Meyers Taylor had earlier tapped into when she called the Nassar case “one of the most horrific things I’ve seen in sports” and said, “I look up to the women in gymnastics.”
We must always remember they are the real heroes here. And for the nearly 300 of them (so far), there will never be enough words of apology strong enough to ease their pain from a doctor who disguised his abuse as legitimate medical treatment and a system that allowed it to go on.Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.