Monday, December 10, 2018

Law firm issues scathing report on USOC lack of oversight of abuse scandal

Posted By on Mon, Dec 10, 2018 at 4:54 PM

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Larry Nassar, the convicted molester of Olympic gymnasts now serving a life sentence in prison, bears ultimate responsibility for the abuse, a new report says, but adds, "he did not operate in a vacuum. Instead, he acted within an ecosystem that facilitated his criminal acts."

The U.S. Olympic Committee, which moved to take over USA Gymnastics in November, posted the entire 200-page report from an investigation it ordered into the abuse on Dec. 10 on its website. Find the report here.

The report concludes in its executive summary that, "USAG engaged in essentially no oversight of Nassar throughout the lengthy period of his serial sexual assault of gymnasts."

It took a newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, to uncover the scandal, the report says, before anyone lifted a finger to do something.

The executive summary lays the abuse at the feet of several individuals and institutions, calling it a "collective failure":
Numerous institutions and individuals enabled his abuse and failed to stop him, including coaches at the club and elite level, trainers and medical professionals, administrators and coaches at Michigan State University (“MSU”), and officials at both United States of America Gymnastics (“USAG”) and the United States Olympic Committee (the “USOC”). These institutions and individuals ignored red flags, failed to recognize textbook grooming behaviors, or in some egregious instances, dismissed clear calls for help from girls and young women who were being abused by Nassar. Multiple law enforcement agencies, in turn, failed effectively to intervene when presented with opportunities to do so. And when survivors first began to come forward publicly, some were shunned, shamed or disbelieved by others in their own communities. The fact that so many different institutions and individuals failed the survivors does not excuse any of them, but instead reflects the collective failure to protect young athletes.

The report blames, in part, former CEO Scott Blackmun and Alan Ashley, chief of sport performance, as stated in this passage of the executive summary:
Mr. Blackmun and Mr. Ashley also each deleted from their respective email accounts the one email referencing Nassar by name that Mr. Penny had sent to the two of them in September 2015. Further, in early 2018 – long after the Indianapolis Star had publicly exposed Nassar – Susanne Lyons, then a board member at the USOC and soon to become the organization’s acting CEO, sent an email to Mr. Blackmun conveying her understanding that, prior to publication of the Indianapolis Star article, Mr. Buendorf was the only person at the USOC who had known that Nassar was the alleged perpetrator. Mr. Blackmun failed to correct Ms. Lyons’s clear misunderstanding. He failed to explain to Ms. Lyons not only that he and Mr. Ashley had been the first to know of the allegations, but also that Mr. Buendorf, promptly after learning of the allegations from Mr. Penny, had dutifully reported those allegations to Mr. Blackmun.
USAG’s and the USOC’s inaction and concealment had consequences: dozens of girls and young women were abused during the year-long period between the summer of 2015 and September 2016.

The USOC, based in Colorado Springs, issued a news release about the report, saying the investigators, the law firm of Ropes and Gray, has unfettered access to more than 100 witnesses and 1.3 million documents. The release:

Today global law firm Ropes & Gray released an independent investigation report commissioned by the United States Olympic Committee board of directors into sexual abuse in Olympic gymnastics. Ropes & Gray’s independent report provides important contributions to understanding the failures of the U.S. Olympic community and will enable the USOC to take additional action to protect athletes.

In February 2018, a special committee of the USOC board of directors hired Ropes & Gray to conduct an independent and thorough investigation to determine when individuals affiliated with USA Gymnastics and the USOC first became aware of any evidence of Larry Nassar’s abuse of athletes; what that evidence was; and what they did with it. The investigators also examined contributing factors and circumstances.

“The U.S. Olympic community failed the victims, survivors and their families, and we apologize again to everyone who has been harmed,” said Susanne Lyons, USOC independent board member and incoming board chair. “The USOC board commissioned this independent investigation because we knew we had an obligation to find out how this happened and to take important steps to prevent and detect abuse. We now have a much more comprehensive view of individual and institutional failures. Everyone in the Olympic and Paralympic community, including the USOC, must learn from the report and take appropriate actions to strengthen protections for athletes. We recognize that we must do more, and we will do more.”

“This year, the USOC has already taken important actions to strengthen athlete safeguards and help the USOC be more effective in our mission to empower and support athletes,” said USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland, who joined the USOC in August 2018. “Sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination have no place in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community, and it’s on all of us – member organizations, institutions and individuals alike – to foster a healthy culture for competitive excellence. We will use the findings from Ropes & Gray’s independent investigation to do everything possible to prevent something similar from happening in the future.”

The USOC has already implemented a number of reforms and initiatives, including instituting new leadership and stronger accountability measures; starting the process to revoke USAG’s recognition and determine the best path forward for gymnastics in the United States; launching, supporting and strengthening the U.S. Center for SafeSport and other athlete safety programs, policies and procedures; empowering athletes’ voices in shaping key USOC and NGB policies; and evaluating and reforming how the USOC engages with NGBs and athletes. The USOC will share information about additional actions it is taking as a result of these findings.

Ropes & Gray conducted an extensive and completely independent 10-month investigation. The firm had full discretion to investigate and make findings – and it alone decided what to include in the report and its conclusions. According to Ropes & Gray, the investigators interviewed more than 100 witnesses, had access to more than 1.3 million documents and publicly available information, including information from the USOC, USAG, survivors and others. The USOC granted Ropes & Gray access to all requested documents, witnesses and other information under its control, and required that USAG cooperate with the investigation.

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