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Will Larry Nassar Take Down the U.S. Olympic Committee?

Will Larry Nassar Take Down the U.S. Olympic Committee?


The letter came nearly a year and a half after The Indianapolis Star began publishing an investigative series about the sexual abuse of gymnasts. Mr. Blackmun’s words, no doubt meant to be heartfelt, seemed somewhat lawyerly. He did not say specifically that the United States Olympic Committee had failed the athletes. And the phrase “Olympic family” added a tinge of creepiness to a case about molestation.

Further complicating the situation for the Olympic committee is that Mr. Blackmun, the face of the organization, is scheduled to undergo surgery for prostate cancer on Friday. He announced this week that he would miss at least the start of the Pyeongchang Games.

His words in the open letter will bring little comfort to those assaulted by Dr. Nassar. So will the Olympic committee’s contention that it followed proper procedures upon being informed in the summer of 2015 by U.S.A. Gymnastics that gymnasts were being sexually abused.

The Olympic committee has long asserted that it is responsible for athletes only in the short period from when they are named to the Olympic team through a Winter or Summer Games. At all other events and training camps that are not held at U.S.O.C. facilities, the national governing bodies are responsible for the care and feeding of their athletes. That will seem like evasive legalese to many, an explanation few are likely to accept.

That appears clear from the scathing rebuke of the Olympic committee by Aly Raisman, the three-time Olympic gold medalist, at a sentencing hearing last Friday.

“Neither U.S.A. Gymnastics nor the U.S.O.C. have reached out to express sympathy or even their support — not even to ask: ‘How did this happen? What do you think we can do to help?’ ” Ms. Raisman said.

She continued: “Why has the U.S. Olympic Committee been silent? Why isn’t the U.S.O.C. here right now?”

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The N.C.A.A. investigation of Michigan State regarding Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar, above, at his sentencing in Michigan on Wednesday, may be tricky to navigate.

Credit
Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Olympic officials now say they applaud the athletes who have spoken out, but for too long the Olympic committee ignored and dismissed those voices and showed no desire to investigate their accusations, Ms. Raisman said at the hearing.

“It is like being abused all over again,” she said.

The Olympic committee and the gymnastics federation were “quick to capitalize on and celebrate my success” at two Summer Games, Ms. Raisman said. “But did they reach out when I came forward” about Dr. Nassar?

“No,” she said.

At this point, she said, “talk is worthless to me.” She added: “We’re dealing with real lives and the future of our sport. We need to believe this won’t happen again.”

On Monday, Ms. Raisman accused the Olympic committee on Twitter of “shamelessly taking credit” for the resignations of three members of the board of U.S.A. Gymnastics “as though they’re addressing the problem.”

The Olympic committee was “still not acknowledging its own role in this mess,” Ms. Raisman wrote. “ZERO accountability! It’s like none of us were ever abused!”

She mocked a U.S.O.C. statement calling for gymnastics officials to focus on “supporting the brave survivors.” Why hadn’t the Olympic committee appeared in the Michigan courtroom to show its own support? Ms. Raisman wondered.

“Did they issue any statement then?” she wrote. “Crickets.”

Finally, on Wednesday, Mr. Blackmun issued his open letter to Dr. Nassar’s victims and survivors. He laid out a four-point plan to “ensure this does not happen again.”

And in a letter sent to U.S.A. Gymnastics on Thursday, Mr. Blackmun called for the resignations of all of its board members by next Wednesday. He threatened to decertify the governing body if it didn’t fully embrace change. And he pledged “substantial funds” to assist athletes with reporting of abuse, treatment and counseling.

Mr. Blackmun also said that the Olympic committee would begin an independent, third-party investigation of itself and U.S.A. Gymnastics 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,” he wrote, adding that the results would be made public. It’s not yet clear who will lead that investigation.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, also called on Wednesday for a congressional investigation, complete with subpoena power, of the Olympic committee and the gymnastics federation.

“This was not a case of negligence or failed oversight on the part of the U.S.O.C. and U.S.A. Gymnastics,” she wrote in a letter to Senate leaders. “These organizations have serious questions to answer, including why they allowed this criminal behavior to occur” over many years.

Recently, Americans have “experienced an awakening with regard to the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace,” Ms. Shaheen wrote.

Now it is time, she added, “to expose the scope and nature of sexual assault against vulnerable girls and boys under supervision of the U.S.O.C. and its affiliated organizations so that these crimes are never allowed to happen again.”



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