USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal

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The USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal involves the sexual abuse of female athletes—primarily minors—over the past two decades, in which over 368 individuals have been sexually assaulted "by gym owners, coaches, and staff working for gymnastics programs across the country".[1][2]

Particularly, Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics (USAG) national team osteopathic physician, has been named in hundreds of lawsuits filed by athletes who said that Nassar sexually abused them under the pretense of providing medical treatment. Since the first public statements were made in September 2016, more than 265 women,[3] including former USAG national team members Jamie Dantzscher, Jeanette Antolin, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Maggie Nichols, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles, and Jordyn Wieber, have accused Nassar of sexually assaulting them. It is one of the biggest sexual abuse scandals in sports history.[4][5][6][7] On July 11, 2017, Nassar pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges; he was sentenced to 60 years in prison on December 7, 2017. On November 22, 2017, he pleaded guilty to seven charges of first-degree sexual assault and entered another guilty plea a week later to three additional charges of sexual assault. On January 24, 2018, Nassar was sentenced to an additional 40 to 175 years in prison, set to run after Nassar serves the 60-year federal prison sentence for child pornography. On February 5, 2018, Nassar received another 40 to 125 years.

An investigation over the period of nine months found that "predatory coaches were allowed to move from gym to gym, undetected by a lax system of oversight, or dangerously passed on by USA Gymnastics-certified gyms".[8] USAG and Michigan State University—where Nassar was a faculty member—have been accused of enabling Nassar's abuse[9][10][11] and are named as defendants in civil lawsuits that former gymnasts have filed against Nassar.[12][13][14]

Besides Nassar, other coaches across the country were involved in the scandal, in localities such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, Rhode Island, and Indiana.[8]

Background

In 1990, USAG started a list of permanently banned coaches, including for sex abuse. In 1992, Robert Dean Head, a USAG coach in Kentucky, pled guilty to raping a 12-year old. In 2007, USAG made background checks mandatory for all coaches. Don Peters, the national coach for the 1984 Olympic team, was banned from USAG in 2011, after two former gymnasts accused him of sexual abuse. In 2016, Olympic team doctor Larry Nassar was arrested on charges of sex abuse and possession of child pornography. Multiple victims of sexual abuse have filed lawsuits against USAG and other parties.[15]

There have been several incidents where USA Gymnastics has dismissed warnings about coaches. In a 2013 lawsuit USA Gymnastics officials admitted under oath that allegations of sexual abuse were routinely dismissed as hearsay, unless they came directly from a victim or victim's parent. USA Gymnastics waited for four years before reporting Marvin Sharp to police. He was charged and committed suicide in prison. Mark Schiefelbein was charged in 2002 for molesting a 10 year old girl. After prosecutors subpoenaed records, they learned that USA gymnastics had received prior complaints against Schiefelbein, who is serving a 36 year sentence. There had been a complaint about James Bell on file for at least five years before he was arrested in 2003 for molesting three young gymnasts. Bell plead guilty and is serving eight years in prison.[16]

At least four complaints were made against William McCabe, but USA Gymnastics did not report the allegations to poltice. One gym owner had warned that McCabe "should be locked in a cage before someone is raped." USA Gymnastics dismissed four complaints about the coach, who continued abusing young gymnasts for seven years. McCabe continued coaching for nearly seven more years, until one gymnast's mother went to the FBI with emails that had been sent to her 11 year old daughter. McCabe was charged with molesting gymnasts, secretly videotaping girls changing clothes and posting their naked pictures on the Internet. He plead guilty and is serving a 30 year sentence.[16]

At least four complaints were made against Georgia coach William McCabe, but USAG did not report the allegations to police. One gym owner had warned that McCabe "should be locked in a cage before someone is raped". McCabe continued coaching for seven years, until one gymnast's mother went to the FBI with emails that had been sent to her 11-year-old daughter. McCabe was charged with molesting gymnasts, secretly videotaping girls changing clothes and posting their naked pictures on the Internet. He plead guilty and is serving a 30-year sentence.[16]

A judge released over 5,600 pages of court records in the McCabe case after the Indianapolis Star requested the documents, which detail how USA Gymastics has responded to various sexual misconduct allegations that were made against coaches over a 10-year period from 1996 to 2006. The released documents included a letter which says a USAG regional chairmain spoke to the organization's president in support of allowing a convicted sex offender to keep his membership. Other documents include sexual abuse complaints that were filed against 54 coaches. The documents revealed that some of coaches were not banned from the sport despite being convicted of the crimes. USAG has since said that it has banned 37 of the 54 coaches.[17]

In a deposition, then USAG President Steve Penny said "To the best of my knowledge, there's no duty to report if you are – if you are a third-party to some allegation ... You know, that lies with the person who has first-hand knowledge."[16] Penny resigned in March 2017.[18]

Larry Nassar was a licensed osteopathic physician and the national team sports-medicine doctor for USA Gymnastics.[19][20] He also ran a clinic and gymnastics club at Michigan State University,[19] where he was a faculty member.[12] USAG fired Nassar in 2015 "after learning of athlete concerns".[21]

Sexual abuse allegations

In September 2016, The Indianapolis Star revealed that two former gymnasts had made accusations of sexual abuse against Nassar. Following those criminal complaints, Michigan State University reassigned Nassar from his clinical and teaching duties and fired him later that month.[21] Since then, over 250 women and girls have accused Nassar of sexually abusing them.[3][22][23][24] According to those reports, Nassar committed sexual assaults during medical examinations. The molestations ranged from inserting a finger in the gymnasts' vaginas and anuses to fondling their breasts and genitalia. These were criminal acts irrespective of consent, because the victims were minors. Nassar initially denied the charges, claiming that he was performing legitimate medical procedures.[12] In February 2017, three former gymnasts, Jeanette Antolin, Jessica Howard and Jamie Dantzscher, gave an interview with 60 Minutes in which they accused Nassar of sexually abusing them. The gymnasts also alleged that the "emotionally abusive environment" at the national team training camps run by Béla and Márta Károlyi at the Karolyi Ranch near Huntsville, Texas, gave Nassar an opportunity to take advantage of the gymnasts and made them afraid to speak up about the abuse.[25] Rachael Denhollander, one of the first women to publicly accuse Nassar,[24] said in court in May 2017 that Nassar sexually abused her on five doctor's visits in 2000, when she was 15 years of age.[26]

Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney, using the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter, said that Nassar repeatedly molested her, starting when she was 13 years old and until she retired from the sport in 2016.[20] Maroney filed a lawsuit against Nassar, Michigan State University, the United States Olympic Committee and USAG.[27] The lawsuit accused USAG of covering up the sexual abuse by paying Maroney $1.25 million to sign a non-disclosure agreement.[28]

During a 60 Minutes interview, Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman also accused Nassar of sexually abusing her.[29] Raisman stated that Nassar molested her when she was 15 years of age.[30] Gabby Douglas drew criticism from fellow Olympic teammate Simone Biles and others for sending a tweet that they interpreted as criticizing Raisman and of "victim-shaming",[30] stating that "dressing in a provocative/sexual way incites the wrong crowd".[31] Douglas later apologized for the tweet,[32] and said she was also a victim of Nassar's alleged abuse.[33]

Former national team member Maggie Nichols accused Nassar of abusing her; she documented the ways he "groomed" her by connecting with her on Facebook and complimenting her appearance on numerous occasions.[34] It was also reported that it was Nichols' coach, Sarah Jantzi, who first reported Nassar to USAG on June 17, 2015, after overhearing Nichols talk to another gymnast about Nassar's behavior.[35] Simone Biles came forward shortly after with firsthand accounts of how she too had been sexually abused by Nassar.[36] Jordyn Wieber made a statement at Nassar's court sentencing in which she also accused Nassar of sexually abusing her during her time at USAG.[37][38]

Criminal proceedings

In November 2016, Nassar was initially charged with sexual assault of a child.[39] Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette stated that the assaults began when the victim was 6 years old in 1998, to 2005.[40] He pleaded not guilty to three charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct against a minor during his first court appearance. The following month, he was also indicted on federal child pornography charges. According to the FBI, over 37,000 images and videos of child pornography were seized from Nassar's home, including a GoPro video of Nassar allegedly molesting girls in a swimming pool.[41] Nassar pleaded guilty to three federal child pornography charges on July 11, 2017,[42] and was given three consecutive 20-year prison sentences by U.S. District Judge Janet T. Neff on December 7, 2017.[43]

On November 15, 2017, it was announced that Nassar would plead guilty to counts of sexual assault in Ingham County (which contains most of East Lansing, the home city for Michigan State) and Eaton County in Michigan.[44] At the time, he faced a total of twenty-two charges, fifteen in Ingham and seven in Eaton. Among the allegations was that under the guise of providing legitimate treatment, he had instead molested seven girls at his home and at a clinic on the MSU campus.[45] It also stated that Nassar would enter a guilty plea in Ingham County on November 22 and would then plead guilty in Eaton County on November 29 and would serve at least 25 years in prison for these crimes.[44][45] Others who reported assaults by Nassar to the police were permitted to make victim impact statements during sentencing.[30]

During his appearance before Judge Rosemarie Aquilina in Ingham County Circuit Court,[46] and under the terms of his plea agreement, Nassar pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct charges with a minimum sentence of 25 to 40 years in prison.[47] Three of the victims were under the age of 13 and three ranged in age from 13 to 15.[30] Nassar issued a short statement in which he apologized and said that he was hopeful the community could move forward: "For all those involved, I'm so horribly sorry that this was like a match that turned into a forest fire out of control. I have no animosity toward anyone. I just want healing. ... We need to move forward in a sense of growth and healing and I pray (for) that".[48] More than 150 women made statements during his week-long sentencing hearing before Nassar was handed a state prison sentence of 40 to 175 years on January 24, 2018. During his federal sentencing, Judge Neff had previously ordered that any state prison term run consecutive with Nassar's federal sentence.[49] Judge Aquilina quoted a letter he sent her prior to sentencing, in which he blamed his accusers. She described him as a dangerous individual who showed little remorse and said that she "signed [his] death warrant".[50]

During his Eaton County Circuit Court appearance, Nassar pleaded guilty to engaging in sexual misconduct with three children under the age of 16.[51] On February 5, 2018, Judge Janet Cunningham sentenced Nassar to an additional 40 to 125 years in state prison. This sentence will run consecutive to Nassar's federal sentence but concurrent to his previous state sentence from Ingham County.[52][53]

Response and impact

USA Gymnastics

With regard to the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal in its entirety, USAG stated that “Nothing is more important to USA Gymnastics, the Board of Directors and CEO Steve Penny than protecting athletes, which requires sustained vigilance by everyone — coaches, athletes, parents, administrators and officials. We are saddened when any athlete has been harmed in the course of his or her gymnastics career.”[8] The USAG also said that it required criminal background checks for all of its coaches.[8] An independent investigation by The Indianapolis Star, however, found that "some coaches are fired at gym after gym without being tracked or flagged by USA Gymnastics, or losing their membership with the organization".[8]

Specifically with respect to Nassar, USA Gymnastics (USAG) said that its executives first learned of an athlete's concern regarding him in June 2015. Following an investigation, Nassar was fired and reported to the FBI in July 2015.[54] In March 2017, USAG president Steve Penny resigned amid accusations of negligence[13] and calls for his dismissal.[55] In response to the scandal, USAG adopted reforms based on a June 2017 report by an investigator hired to review the organization's policies and practices. One of the changes is a requirement that all USAG members report any suspected sexual misconduct to appropriate authorities and the US Center for SafeSport.[56]

USAG has received criticism over its handling of the sexual abuse allegations against Nassar.[57][58] According to a 2016 investigation reported by The Indianapolis Star, top executives at USAG routinely dismissed sexual abuse allegations against coaches and failed to alert authorities.[59][60] United States Senators criticized the organization's leadership for waiting five weeks before reporting Nassar to authorities after first learning of allegations involving Nassar in 2015.[61] Juliet Macur of The New York Times was critical of USAG for not attending the 2017 congressional hearing on protecting young athletes from sexual abuse, and noted that the organization had not apologized for its role in the scandal.[62] Two-time Olympian Aly Raisman was also critical of USAG's response to the scandal, pointing out that the reported $1 million severance package given to former president Penny could have been used to create a program to help the affected athletes.[63]

Amid the sex abuse scandal, USAG lost several major corporate sponsors, including Procter & Gamble, Kellogg's, Under Armour, The Hershey Company[64][65] and AT&T.[66] Procter & Gamble was the name sponsor of the National Championships for five seasons, AT&T sponsored the American Cup since 2011, and Kellogg's sponsored a series nationwide tours. Marketing revenues account for approximately 35% of USAG annual revenues, or about $9.4 million. Kellogg's and Procter & Gamble were two of the largest sponsors associated with the organization.[67]

In January 2018, USAG officially cut ties with Karolyi Ranch, the former national training center for the national team and a site where Nassar sexually assaulted many gymnasts.[68] Later that month the Karolyi Ranch announced on its website that the facility had permanently closed.[69] On January 22, 2018, three members of the USAG Board of Directors resigned.[70][71] Following Nassar's sentencing on January 24, 2018, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) published an open letter calling for the resignations of the remaining USAG Board of Directors, stating that failure to comply with the request would result in the USOC taking steps to decertify the governing body. The USOC also announced that it was launching a third-party investigation into the scandal.[72] On January 31, USAG received resignations from every member of its Board of Directors, complying with USOC's demands.[73]

On February 1, it was revealed that the USOC was aware of the abuse claims in 2015, prior to when they claim they first learned of it in 2016.[74] Reports surfaced that then-USAG President Steve Penny called USOC Chief Executive Scott Blackmun in July 2015 revealing that an investigation uncovered possible criminal behavior by Nassar against Olympic athletes. Additionally in September, 2015, Penny emailed the USOC Security Chief detailing the allegations against Nassar.[75][76]

John Geddert, team coach of the 2012 London Olympic team and personal coach of Jordyn Wieber, retired following an announcement by USAG that he had been suspended as a result of his connection to Nassar. Geddert operated two gyms that employed Nassar, including Twistars.[77][78] Ownership of Twistars has been transferred to Geddert's wife Katherine. Gymnasts have reported being abused by Nassar at Twistars.[79] Gymnasts have also accused Geddert of being abusive and dismissive of their injuries. One gymnast said Geddert had thrown her onto the low bar hard enough to tear the muscles in her stomach and end her career. They have said that Geddert's abuse left them vulnerable to Nassar's manipulation.[80]

On February 2, Valeri Liukin resigned as national team coordinator.[81][82][83] Later that month, the USOC CEO Scott Blackmun also resigned.[84]

On February 28, Raisman filed a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics and the USOC claiming both organizations "knew or should have known" about the ongoing abuse.[85][86]

Michigan State University

Michigan State University said that it first received a complaint against Nassar in 2014. A Title IX investigation into the complaint found no violation of policy. and Nassar was allowed to continue treating patients under certain agreed upon restrictions as stipulated by MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean William Strampel. However no monitoring was instituted.[87] After allegations against Nassar were made public by The Indianapolis Star in September 2016, Nassar was fired by Michigan State for violating the 2014 agreement.[41]

The university faces lawsuits from 144 local and MSU athletes who say they were sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar.[88] Former Michigan State University gymnastics coach Kathie Klages was suspended on February 13, 2017, and retired the next day, amidst the sexual abuse investigation of Nassar.[89] Klages has been accused of dismissing sexual abuse complaints by former gymnasts against Nassar and pressuring them to stay silent.[88] According to court documents, Klages was reportedly aware of sexual abuse allegations against Nassar as early as 1997.[89]

On December 12, 2017, Strampel resigned as dean and went on medical leave as faculty. Mediation ended in the civil lawsuits. Thus the MSU Board of Trustees voted to establish a $10 million fund to reimburse victims of Nassar for counseling services. MSU President Lou Anna Simon also apologized to the Nassar victims and donated her just approved raise to the Roy J. and Lou Anna K. Simon Scholarship fund while declining it in the future. Kaylee Lorincz, Nassar's Ingham County criminal case "Victim E", addressed the board wanting the university to change not for them to focus on litigation. Lorincz did not consider the apology to be "heartfelt".[87]

During Nassar's sentencing in January 2018, 8 former MSU athletes, including those from the gymnastics, softball, volleyball, rowing, and track and field programs, gave victim impact statements accusing MSU staff of dismissing their sexual abuse complaints against Nassar.[90][91] On January 23, 2018, the National Collegiate Athletic Association formally opened an investigation into the university's handling of sexual abuse allegations against Nassar.[92] On January 24, 2018, amid backlash over the university's role in the scandal, the Michigan House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly for a non-binding resolution sponsored by Rep. Adam Zemke, that called for the university's Board of Trustees to fire President Lou Anna Simon if she did not resign. Simon resigned later that same day.[93][94] Two days later, MSU athletic director Mark Hollis retired.[95]

On January 27, 2018, ESPN's Outside the Lines reported that their investigation "found a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of such allegations by officials ranging from campus police to the Spartan athletic department" that went "well beyond" the Nassar case. According to the investigation, at least 16 football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women since 2007, the team's first season under current head coach Mark Dantonio. The investigation also included two previously publicized allegations of similar conduct by members of the men's basketball program, as well as one never-before-publicized allegation made by former Michigan State counselor Lauren Allswede against Travis Walton.[96] ESPN has been critized for their reporting in linking these allegations to the Larry Nassar scandal by some members of the local and national media, especially for showing a graphic of Coach Dantonio, Coach Izzo, and Larry Nassar together with a title of "Crisis at Michigan State" in the Outside the Lines report.[97][98][99] Mark Dantonio denied all allegations on mishandling sexual assult[100] and Tom Izzo insisted that he would cooperate with any investigation as he had in the past stating "we'll cooperate with any investigation and always have". [101] In 2017 with sexual assault charges facing 4 former Michigan State football players, Mark Dantonio was cleared by the independent report conducted by the Jones Day firm, however it was determined that football administrative staff member Curtis Blackwell had violated policy [102] and was let go. The report also determined that Coach Dantonio had actually been the one to report the alleged sexual assault involving three players when he had been informed of the assault by another player. [103] The report found that Dantonio properly followed the mandatory reporting guidelines making several calls and texts to report the incident between 2:01 and 2:12 pm on January 16th, 2017, including calls to MSU's director of the Office of Institutional Equity. [104]

Several other investigations by state and federal agencies into Michigan State's involvement are ongoing, including the Michigan Attorney General's office [105] and the United States Education Department. [106] As a result of the Michigan Attorney General's investigation, in March 2018 William Strampel, who oversaw Nassar's clinic while dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, was arrested and charged with felony misconduct in office and criminal sexual conduct for allegedly groping a student and storing nude photos on his computer. Strampel also possessed a video of the pelvic floor manipulation procedure that was created as a training video by Larry Nassar. However, the video may constitute evidence of an assault, with investigations ongoing. [107]

Senate

The United States Congress responded to the sexual abuse claims that were made against Nassar and also responded to the personnel who were involved with USA Swimming and USA Taekwondo. United States Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill that would require national governing body members overseeing Olympic sports to immediately report sexual assault allegations to law enforcement or designated child-welfare agencies.[108] Former gymnasts Dominique Moceanu, Jamie Dantzscher and Jessica Howard testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on March 28, 2017, concerning the bill.[109][62] Rick Adams, chief of Paralympic sports for the United States Olympic Committee and head of organizational development for the NGBs, stated at the hearing: "We do take responsibility, and we apologize to any young athlete who has ever faced abuse." USAG was asked to testify at the hearing, but declined.[62]

The bill passed the Senate in November with bipartisan support, but has not moved forward in the House of Representatives. On January 25, 2018, Senator Feinstein announced that she would host a press conference on January 30, 2018 with several gymnasts, including Rachael Denhollander and Mattie Larson, to urge the House to move forward with a vote. That same day, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan released a statement that said House leaders would take up similar legislation that would require training, mandatory reporting and a revised system for how sports governing bodies deal with sexual abuse allegations.[110]

See also

References

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