The US. Olympic Committee was made aware of sexual abuse in gymnastics more than two decades before the Lawrence G. Nassar molestation scandal shook the sport to its core, according to court documents filed Wednesday in a California federal court.
Kathy Scanlan, the president of USA Gymnastics from 1994 to 1998, said in a sworn statement last month that she had notified the USOC of the sexual abuse problem soon after she took charge of the organization. The USOC’s response, she said, was to discourage her from using the federation’s established protocol for investigating and disciplining its professional members who were accused of sexual abuse. She said that she had gone ahead and pursued cases anyway.
“USOC’s challenge to USAG disciplining professional members in this fashion (specifically impeding the ability to ban, suspend or investigate a member) would have inhibited me from adequately protecting minor members,” Scanlan said in her statement, which was part of hundreds of pages of documents filed Wednesday in a lawsuit that Aly Raisman, the two-time Olympian, has filed.
Raisman is suing Nassar, who was the national team doctor; the USOC; USA Gymnastics; and other defendants.
Scanlan’s testimony highlighted the fact that the federation and the USOC had battled for years over how to handle sexual abuse cases. That conflict appears to have lasted until at least 1999, when Scanlan’s successor, Bob Colarossi, confronted the USOC in a letter that was unsealed in 2017 as part of another sex abuse case in the sport.
Colarossi wrote that the Olympic committee had demonstrated an “apparent indifference to the welfare of young children” and that committee members had repeatedly advised responding to reports of abuse by conducting “bare-bones telephonic hearings immediately upon receipt of a sexual abuse complaint.”
Colarossi said that was not enough to protect young athletes.
Steve Penny, who took over as president and chief executive of the federation after Colarossi left, has also been accused of not doing enough to protect young athletes. He waited five weeks to contact the FBI after learning that gymnasts had complained of Nassar’s inappropriate touching.
Penny, who resigned in March 2017, also worried about the federation’s image as the Nassar case ensued and went out of his way to become close with investigators. Among other things the New York Times reported last month that he had discussed the possibility of a top security job at the USOC with an FBI agent who investigated the Nassar case. Nassar is now serving decades in prison on charges of criminal sexual misconduct and possession of child pornography.