The organization that oversees the Olympic movement in this country failed to protect young athletes from the threat of sexual misconduct in elite sports, according to a new report that offers a damning assessment of two of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s top executives who were in charge at the time the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal unfolded.
An investigation commissioned by the USOC provides a detailed look at the inaction of USOC CEO Scott Blackmun and chief of sport performance Alan Ashley in the roughly yearlong period after they were informed of the allegations against Nassar.
The 233-page report, a copy of which was read by USA TODAY before it was released to the public Monday afternoon, found that after Blackmun and Ashley learned about Nassar from then-USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny on July 25, 2015, neither man “engaged with USAG on the reported concerns, shared the information with others at the USOC or took any other action in response to the information from Mr. Penny to ensure that responsible steps were being taken by USAG and the USOC to protect athletes.”
It was not until Sept. 12, 2016, that Nassar’s abuse was made public in a report in the Indianapolis Star, part of the USA TODAY Network.
Blackmun resigned Feb. 28, and Ashley was fired Monday morning by new USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland after she was made aware of the contents of the report.
“It is simply unacceptable what has happened,” Hirshland told USA TODAY Monday afternoon on a call to discuss the report. “We have said it before, and we will say it again: There is no place for this type of abuse in the Olympic and Paralympic movement. And our effort will never stop. We have work to do. We will continue to use the report findings, and we will work toward empowering, protecting and supporting our athletes, and we know that that work will never stop.”
The law firm Ropes & Gray was hired in February by the USOC to investigate when USAG and USOC officials first became aware of evidence of Nassar’s abuse and what they did with that information. Investigators reviewed more than 1.3 million documents and interviewed more than 100 people, including gymnasts, employees and board members of the USOC, USAG and the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Longtime gymnastics coaches Martha and Bela Karolyi declined repeated requests to be interviewed.
The comprehensive report comes more than two years after revelations that Nassar, the longtime physician for USAG and Michigan State University, molested more than 350 girls and young women under the guise of medical treatment. The investigation follows a tumultuous year for the USOC in which it was summoned before Congress to answer questions about Nassar and other sexual abuse scandals that engulfed several national governing bodies. Though much has been reported about Penny and USAG’s systemic failures, the report sheds new light on the USOC’s secrecy in the matter and its lack of oversight.
In its executive summary, Ropes & Gray said Nassar’s ability to abuse athletes for nearly 30 years “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.” Both USAG and the USOC had governance structures and policies in place that “had the effect of allowing abuse to occur and continue without effective intervention.”
The report says Penny and Blackmun, who were then serving as CEOs of USAG and the USOC, respectively, “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.”