Two senators at the helm of a congressional inquiry into sexual abuse in Olympic and amateur sports say they're not satisfied with initial responses from the Colorado Springs-based U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University and intend to "seek additional clarification."
"After our initial review, we remain concerned about potential systemic issues within these institutions," said Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in a joint statement Tuesday.
They've also expanded their investigation, sending similar letters to the remaining 53 national governing bodies, and plan to call hearings.
The Senate investigation was launched in late January, after sentencing hearings began for serial child molester and former MSU and USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who pleaded guilty to 10 counts of sexual assault, in addition to federal child pornography charges, and will spend the rest of his natural life in prison.
"The despicable actions of the former USAG team doctor and sports medicine physician at MSU, first brought to light in a thorough investigation by the Indianapolis Star in 2016, are well documented," wrote the senators in a Jan. 25 letter to U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun. "However, recent reports and revelations from Dr. Nassar's sentencing hearings provide ample evidence that USAG and MSU were negligent in acting on reports of Nassar's abuse of more than 140 young women."
To date, more than 265 people have come forward alleging abuse by Nassar.
In their letters to the USOC, USAG and MSU, the senators sought detailed answers on a number of points, including a timeline of knowledge about the allegations, current reporting protocols for child and sexual abuse allegations, and what steps are being taken to prevent such "atrocities" from occurring again.
Allegations that attempts had been made to cover up the scandal by compelling accusers to sign non-disclosure agreements were of "particular concern" to the senators.
Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, who filed a lawsuit against the USOC, USAG and MSU on Dec. 20, claims the national governing body for gymnastics negotiated a secret settlement that included a $100,000 fine if she spoke out about sexual abuse.
In its response to the senators' questions, made public Tuesday by the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security, legal counsel for the USOC pointed to the organization's past and ongoing efforts to "improve dramatically the Olympic community's ability to detect, report, investigate, and resolve allegations of sexual and other abuses." That work included a letter and 300 pages of materials submitted to legislators in March, when the USOC launched the nonprofit U.S. Center for SafeSport, based in Denver.
"In the months since those discussions, we have unfortunately continued to see new and concerning revelations about the Olympic community's failure to protect athletes, particularly with respect to USA Gymnastics," wrote Brian D. Smith, of Covington & Burling LLP, in a response dated Feb. 9.
"The Nassar abuse reveals the weaknesses of the Olympic community's reporting and response structure before the launch of the Center for SafeSport in March 2017. Because the allegations of abuse occurred before the existence of the Center, the investigation and reporting of the allegations fell to USA Gymnastics, which we now know as a flawed approach," Smith wrote, pointing to what the USOC hopes to learn from an ongoing internal investigation by (independent third party law firm) Ropes & Gray," Smith wrote, pointing to what the USOC hopes to learn from an internal investigation by third-party law firm Ropes & Gray.
The senators, in their original letter, acknowledged that the USOC had taken encouraging steps to rehabilitate its structure but said those steps were not enough.
"While we appreciate the efforts by USOC to establish the U.S. Center for Safe Sport, which is focused on protecting the well-being of athletes on and off the field," they wrote, "it is obvious that additional measures need to be taken in order to prevent similarly heinous crimes from occurring in the future while ensuring appropriate reporting in the unfortunate event that they do."
A new bill that has passed both houses of Congress and stands to become law soon will require national governing bodies and amateur sports organizations to report child abuse allegations to local or federal law enforcement. The Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act also gives the non-profit U.S. Center for SafeSport the authority to investigate and punish criminal behavior.