U.S. senators continue to call for accountability for officials they claim enabled sexual abuse of American gymnasts by an Olympic team doctor, but won't specifically name former top officials at the Colorado Springs-based U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
A 2018 investigation ordered by the committee determined former CEO Scott Blackmun and former Chief of Sport Performance Alan Ashley failed to act on reports of ongoing sexual abuse by former gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who is serving a 175-year sentence in Michigan tied to assaults on athletes.
In 2018 a USOPC spokesman told The Gazette that the organization had been made aware of potential abuse by a doctor in 2015, but that it followed proper legal channels from there.
"We have consistently said we learned in 2015 of a doctor potentially having abused an athlete and that it was reported to the FBI. That's what is supposed to happen," then spokesman Mark Jones said in an email.
A 2018 report stemming from an independent investigation into Nassar's actions, commissioned by the USOPC, found that while Blackmun was told that the Nassar case was reported to the FBI and they were investigating, he did not follow up with federal agents or other law enforcement.
“Nor did Mr. Blackmun initiate any internal review or other assessment to gather facts regarding Nassar, the athlete concerns, the scope of the alleged misconduct or Nassar’s ability to gain access to athletes at USOC-owned and operated facilities, such as the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado,” the report said.
Spokeswomen for Colorado's U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper wouldn't say if the Democrats support legal action against Blackmun and Ashley, but said the lawmakers backed action against a wider net of officials.
"We owe it to these women and to everyone else who has survived sexual abuse in our country to hold those who enabled (Nassar) accountable,” Bennet said in a statement.
"Senator Hickenlooper wants anyone culpable to be brought to justice. We must never allow the abuse suffered by U.S. gymnasts to ever happen again," the spokeswoman said.
In 2018, Blackmun resigned, citing a battle with prostate cancer. Olympic leaders said Ashley was fired after failing to take action after learning of Nassar's abuse.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, gymnasts called on officials to further investigate the FBI, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee for failing to stop the abuse.
“I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles told senators. She said USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee “knew that I was abused by their official team doctor long before I was ever made aware of their knowledge.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also blamed that system and said "people within the athletic field that were aware of this and turned a blind eye to it, who did nothing" should be prosecuted.
"I got to tell you, frankly, as a parent, as a grandparent, there’s a hell of a lot more I’d like to see in prison,” Leahy said.
A spokesman for Leahy declined to name those who should be prosecuted, saying it would not be up to Leahy to "name names," but said the senator believed more people should be held culpable for the abuse. Prosecutorial decisions "would be up to the Department of Justice to decide," the spokesman said.
This is not the first time former Olympic officials have drawn the ire of senators. Leaders of the Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over the health and safety of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes in 2018 referred Blackmun to the Department of Justice for investigation of "materially false statements" they said he made to the subcommittee.
Blackmun told the subcommittee he met with Olympic committee officials after learning of Nassar's alleged abuse. The investigation ordered by the Olympic committee report found no evidence that Blackmun had reported wrongdoing by Nassar.
Reached by phone, Blackmun declined to comment. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee did not respond to requests for comment.
After the Olympic committee report was released in 2018, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and ranking member of the investigating subcommittee, told The New York Times a criminal investigation would be “highly appropriate.”
Gazette reporter Stephanie Earls and Gazette City Editor Tom Roeder contributed to this report.