The Washington Post
Senate investigators released a chilling reportlast week on the failure of seemingly everyone who had responsibility to stop the sexual abuse of Olympic gymnasts by disgraced former team doctor Larry Nassar - and the buck-passing that occurred after the Indianapolis Star revealed Nassar’s horrors. Along with the report came the release of a bipartisan bill aiming to prevent such abdication in the future. It should pass - and quickly.
“Repeatedly, institutions failed to act aggressively to report wrongdoing to proper law enforcement agencies,” the report found, and even when law enforcement heard allegations, “the FBI’s investigation dragged on and was shuffled between field offices while Nassar continued to see patients.” Senate investigators concluded that USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee “knowingly concealed abuse by Nassar, leading to the abuse of dozens of additional amateur athletes during the period beginning the summer of 2015 and ending in September 2016.” And the report revealed that the problem does not seem to be limited to gymnastics. “Even as Nassar’s case captured the headlines, it was hardly the only case of unchecked criminal behavior in amateur Olympic sports,” the report found. “His case underscored serious allegations of sexual abuse made in USA Taekwondo, USA Swimming, U.S. Figure Skating, and other sports.”
The system requires reform. A bill from Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., would provide it. The legislation would explicitly charge the Olympic committee with responsibility for athlete safety, including through oversight of sports federations such as USA Gymnastics. No longer could the committee claim it lacked authority over sports federations to do little as credible claims of abuse are reported - or to escape blame for tragedies like the Nassar episode. Neither the committee nor a sports federation could legally decline to report allegations of child sexual abuse to law enforcement. More athletes would be added to their governing bodies, and an organization policing abuse in amateur sports would be beefed up.
Olympic committee chief executive Sarah Hirshland praised the bill last week, though she also warned of “unintended consequences and disruption for athletes in operational reality” that she did not specify. Lawmakers should hear the Olympic committee’s concerns, but not be diverted from the central job of better protecting young athletes.
The Olympic committee and everyone else who failed in the Nassar catastrophe now suffer from a deep deficit of trust. A strong reform bill might help restore some faith in these organizations - and in the spirit of clean competition that amateur athletics is supposed to promote.