Remember their daring performances on the bars or balance beam, in the vault or on the floor. All championship accomplishments. But their Olympic gold medal-winning performances are nothing compared to the bravery shown by Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Maggie Nichols testifying in graphic detail before the Senate Judiciary Committee about sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Again and again, hundreds of young girls were sexually assaulted by this depraved predator, who will now spend the rest of his life in a federal penitentiary in Florida.
But the often-disabling PTSD these survivors suffer will not begin to diminish until the system that let them down is reformed and those who turned their backs on these elite athletes’ complaints are held accountable. Those bad actors include the FBI (multiple agents in multiple offices), the US Olympics Committee, US Gymnastics and others who, through their silence, dismissiveness and, in some cases, criminal behavior, became Nassar’s enablers. Six years later, the young women are still waiting for individual accountability and top-to-bottom systemic reforms.
It was gut-wrenching to learn how the FBI mishandled complaints, dragged their feet on action, never officially opened investigations or documented allegations, failed to do adequate interviews, never held hearings, doctored and destroyed documents, lied to the Inspector General, and never informed the workplace supervisors so that Nassar was left to abuse scores of other athletes. One agent charged with investigating the allegations was actually trying to find employment opportunities with the Olympics Committee. This level of sustained and serial corruption is painful and appalling.
Male leadership at the top of the Olympic and Paralympic Committees are now gone, and one FBI agent was fired. But where is the claw-back of pensions and bonus payouts of the miscreants who quietly “retired?” Where are the additional criminal actions again those who failed their duties in child exploitation cases and surely did not fulfill their Constitutional duties to preserve and protect? Where are the systemic reforms to protect those who give their all to represent the United States in the global arena? How many predators at all levels of amateur sports are taking advantage of vulnerable young people whose safety has been entrusted to them?
To listen to the Olympic gymnasts, the U.S. Center for SafeSport is more a symbolic fig-leaf than a protective shield. It’s up to Congress now to act. The first step should be the appointment of an independent investigator with broad subpoena powers to bring all the facts into the open. Step two is to deliver individual accountability and serious systemic reform.
Last week’s hearings seem to present the outrage as bipartisan. Let’s hope that politics (remember Donald Trump and Congressman Jim Jordan on this issue) don’t get in the way of speedy action to hold all the perps and their enablers accountable.