The United States Olympic Committee, which has been critical of USA Gymnastics’ response to the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, has some explaining to do. The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the USOC was alerted in July 2015 that a top doctor had been accused of abusing patients, and did nothing at all with that information.
According to the Journal, Steve Penny, the former president of USA Gymnastics, called the Chief Executive of the USOC, Scott Blackmun, and told him that a gymnast had accused a team doctor of sexual assault, which had been uncovered during an internal investigation. The internal investigator had suggested that they contact law enforcement, and Penny was looking for guidance on what to do next. Unfortunately, he didn’t get any. Instead, Blackmun apparently told Penny to “do what he had to do.”
Two months later, Penny sent an email to Larry Buendorf, the USOC’s chief security officer, with even more information. Penny mentioned Nassar specifically (the Journal believes it’s the first time a USAG official mentioned Nassar in writing to the USOC), telling Buendorf that three top gymnasts had accused him of assault. The email also included a graphic description of one of Nassar’s “treatments.” Buendorf’s response to Penny at that time is unknown. He told the Journal on Wednesday that he told Penny to turn the matter over to law enforcement.
In both cases, neither USOC official did anything after hearing about the accusations and the investigation into Nassar. No guidance was offered, and neither Blackmun or Buendorf contacted law enforcement, other athletes, anyone else at USA Gymnastics, or Nassar’s other employers. Penny did contact law enforcement, which triggered a federal probe into the matter, but the investigation stalled for nearly a year while Nassar continued to “treat” patients.
The USOC has never been completely clear on when it learned about the abuse allegations. Initially, the USOC said that it first found out in September 2016 when Nassar was arrested. But last month the organization said it had first learned about the matter over a year earlier.
Last month, in response to a gymnast’s lawsuit, the organization said it was “first made aware of the possibility that a USA Gymnastics physician had sexually abused USA Gymnastics athletes in the summer of 2015, when we were informed by USA Gymnastics.” At that time, “USA Gymnastics indicated they were in the process of contacting the appropriate law enforcement agencies.”
This second statement doesn’t refute what the Journal learned about Penny’s call and email to the USOC, but it does confirm that it knew about the allegations and did nothing, apparently satisfied with USA Gymnastics’ internal investigation and response.
These allegations make the USOC’s recent actions seem pretty galling. Last week they told the entire USA Gymnastics board that they would all have to resign or the organization would be decertified, specifically citing their weak response to the Nassar scandal. Considering that the USOC knew about the allegations a year before they came to light but did nothing, they also have a lot to answer for.
– – – – – –