USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee , Michigan State University and multiple law enforcement agencies enabled former Team USA physician Larry Nassars decades of sexual abusing young gymnasts and athletes, according to report by commissioned by the USOC.
Ropes & Gray, the Boston-based law firm hired by the USOC to investigate the handling of the Nassar case, in a 252-page devastating rebuke of USA Gymnastics, the USOC, and Michigan State also confirmed what Nassars survivors have maintained since the scandal became public more than two years ago: that Nassars abuse was product of the toxic culture within the top level of USA Gymnastics.
“While Nassar bears ultimate responsibility for his decades-long abuse of girls and young women, he did not operate in a vacuum,” the report said. “Instead, he acted within an ecosystem that facilitated his criminal acts. Numerous institutions and individuals enabled his abuse and failed to stop him, including coaches at the club and elite level, trainers and medical professionals, administrators and coaches at Michigan State University (“MSU”), and officials at both United States of America Gymnastics (“USAG”) and the United States Olympic Committee (the “USOC”).
“These institutions and individuals ignored red flags, failed to recognize textbook grooming behaviors, or in some egregious instances, dismissed clear calls for help from girls and young women who were being abused by Nassar. “
“Multiple law enforcement agencies, in turn, failed effectively to intervene when presented with opportunities to do so. And when survivors first began to come forward publicly, some were shunned, shamed or disbelieved by others in their own communities. The fact that so many different institutions and individuals failed the survivors does not excuse any of them, but instead reflects the collective failure to protect young athletes.”
The report also states that then USOC CEO Scott Blackmun and Alan Ashley, the USOC chief of sport performance, failed to take any action when they were told by USA Gymnastics about the allegations against Nassar in July 2015. In fact the pair deleted an email related to the Nassar allegations.
In addition to not notifying any member of the USOC board of directors or Safe Sport staff, Blackmun, Ropes & Gray found, failed clear up a board members understanding that only USOC security chief Larry Buendort was the only USOC employee aware of the Nassar allegations prior to September 2016. Blackmun also failed to explain to the board member that “ not only that he and Mr. Ashley had been the first to know of the allegations, but also that Mr. Buendorf, promptly after learning of the allegations from Mr. Penny, had dutifully reported those allegations to Mr. Blackmun.
“USAGs and the USOCs inaction and concealment had consequences: dozens of girls and young women were abused during the year-long period between the summer of 2015 and September 2016. *
Ashley, who was paid $720,044 in 2017, was fired by USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland Monday.
Ropes & Gray found that both USA Gymnastics and the USOC adopted policies and were structured in ways that allowed sexual abuse to go unchecked.
“Nassars ability to abuse athletes for nearly three decades is a manifestation of the broader failures at USAG and the USOC to adopt appropriate child-protective policies and procedures to ensure a culture of safety for young athletes, the report said. “Although neither organization purposefully sought to harm athletes, both adopted general governance structures and specific policies concerning sexual abuse that had the effect of allowing abuse to occur and continue without effective intervention.”
USA Gymnastics officials ignored credible allegations of sexual abuse even before they were presented with allegations against Nassar in June 2015, Ropes & Gray found.
“USAG, in particular, implemented an array of sexual misconduct policies that ranged from the proactive and well-intentioned to the convoluted and detrimental,” the report said “USAG was aware of the risk of sexual abuse in gymnastics, took high-level steps to help protect gymnasts, and promoted itself as a leader in athlete protection. But despite this branding, USAG repeatedly declined to respond adequately to concrete reports of specific misconduct, and instead erected a series of procedural obstacles to timely investigation and effective response, even in the face of serious, credible allegations of child sexual abuse. USAGs actions in response to allegations against former coaches Marvin Sharp, Bill McCabe and Doug Boger highlight how in the years leading up to the revelation of Nassars abuse, the organization ignored credible reports of abuse, and instead required the complaining party to comply with numerous procedural requirements that operated to block or delay effective action.”
The report also outlines how the culture and structure of USA Gymnastics and the womens national team program enabled Nassars abuse.
“Nassar found an environment in elite gymnastics and Olympic sports that proved to be conducive to his criminal designs,” the report said. “With an overwhelming presence of young girls in the sport and accepted, indeed required, intimate physical contact in the training and treatment of gymnasts, the sport rendered athletes inherently vulnerable. In addition, there were embedded cultural norms unique to elite gymnastics that eroded normal impediments to abuse while at the same time reducing the likelihood that survivors would come forward. The culture was intense, severe and unrelenting. It demanded obedience and deference to authority. It normalized intense physical discomfort as an integral part of the path to success.
“Young gymnasts were largely separated from their parents during their training programs and travel to competitions. And due to the demands of high-performance training and competitions, gymnasts also found themselves socially isolated – largely cut off from the world outside the four walls of the gym. These conditions, coupled with the driving intensity of the cultural expectations to be perfect every day, and every minute of every day, taught these young gymnasts to toe the line. They learned not to rock the boat if they were to achieve – after years of immense personal sacrifice and tremendous commitment by their families – the dreams they had been chasing, year in and year out, for almost the whole of their young lives.”
The report highlights how young gymnasts were particularly vulnerable to Nassar at the Karolyi Ranch, the U.S. national and Olympic teams training site in remote Central Texas.
“The USOCs and USAGs failure to exercise appropriate oversight to protect athletes from sexual abuse is perhaps best exemplified by the conditions and lack of oversight at the Karolyi Ranch,” the report said. “For 17 years, the Ranch was the epicenter of competitive gymnastics in the United States. Approximately once every month, members of the Womens Artistic Gymnastics Team (the “National Team”) and other elite female gymnasts gathered from across the country to participate in rigorous training camps run by Bela and Martha Karolyi. The Karolyi Ranch, which was owned and operated by the Karolyis, was both the USAG-designated Training Center for the National Team and, beginning in 2011, a USOC-designated official Olympic Training Site.
“Notwithstanding the expectation of excellence associated with the imprimatur of the USOC and USAG brands, as well as that of the Karolyi training program, no institution or individual took any meaningful steps to ensure that appropriate safety measures were in place to protect the young gymnasts. And within the isolated and secluded environment of the Karolyi Ranch, “two hours away from nothing,” Nassar had broad latitude to commit his crimes, far from the gymnasts parents and unimpeded by any effective child-protective measures.
“The institutional failures, however, extended beyond weak structural elements, governance deficiencies and failures of oversight. In the summer of 2015, when the National Team member allegations of sexual assault were squarely presented to USAG and the USOC, the two organizations, at the direction of their respective CEOs, engaged in affirmative efforts to protect and preserve their institutional interests – even as Nassar retired from the sport with his reputation intact and continued to have access to girls and young women at the college, club and high school levels. The actions of these organizations, their CEOs and other senior personnel reveal that, apart from USAGs referral to law enforcement in the summer of 2015 and again in the spring of 2016, USAG and the USOC took no meaningful steps to protect athletes from the danger presented by Nassar. Rather, these organizations, each in their own way, maintained secrecy regarding the Nassar allegations and focused on controlling the flow of information about his alleged misconduct.”
Ropes & Gray also charges the USOC with failing to include athlete input into policy making or to create effective reporting and resolution procedures for sexual abuse.
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“As the USOC evolved toward a more traditional corporate governance model, it did not meaningfully involve athletes in decisions or policy-making; nor did it provide an effective avenue for athletes to raise and resolve complaints involving sexual misconduct matters,” the report said. “The complaint process that did exist had been designed, consistent with the purposes of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act of 1978 (the “Ted Stevens Act” or the “Act”), to protect athletes rights to compete in Olympic sports. The USOC did not have specific processes in place during the period of Nassars abuse that were sufficient to protect athletes from sexual abuse. The USOC also chose to adopt a deferential, service-oriented approach to the National Governing Bodies (“NGBs”), including USAG.
“In this governance model, the USOC exerted its broad statutory authority and monetary influence over individual sports primarily for the purpose of encouraging success at the Olympic Games, effectively outsourcing any decisions regarding on-the-ground child-protective practices to the NGBs. As a result of this approach, the USOC was not in a position to know whether the NGBs were implementing strong, effective policies. And the NGBs, operating independently, enacted a wide range of policies and procedures, many of which failed to conform to best practices. As a result, patterns emerged across the NGBs where survivors of sexual and other forms of abuse encountered a complaint process that was difficult to navigate, poorly tailored to allegations of sexual abuse, and lacking in protections against retaliation for athletes and others who advanced allegations of misconduct against successful coaches or other adults in positions of authority. The USOC, despite having been directly informed by NGBs of the threat of sexual misconduct in elite sports, failed to address the risk until 2010, and then failed to take effective action for many years, permitting NGBs to continue adhering to inadequate and harmful policies and practices.”