Sex abuse scandals haunt USA Gymnastics even at the Olympics – Press Enterprise – California News Times


TOKYO >> Ten years ago Tokyo hosted another major international gymnastics competition, the 2011 World Championships.

Those Worlds would launch a decade of American dominance unprecedented in the sport; an era where Team USA has won all seven Olympic or World all-around team titles available between 2011 and 2019, all but one of the individual all-around crowns during that period, 32 of 52 individual Olympic and World individual gold medals, and witnessed the emergence of a once in a lifetime talent, Simone Biles.

But the members of that 2011 Worlds team, four of whom would be part of the record shattering Olympic gold medal winning squad a year later in London, are torn when looking back on that groundbreaking week in Japan, a golden shine covering tortured memories and deep scars.

McKayla Maroney had been battling injuries in the weeks leading up to the 2011 Worlds. Longtime Team USA physician Larry Nassar gave her a sleeping pill on the flight to Japan. Maroney was still groggy by the time reached their hotel.

“And the next thing I know I was all alone with him in his room getting a ‘treatment,’” Maroney recalled in a court filing.

Nassar sexually assaulted her.

“I thought I was going to die that night,” Maroney said.

The nightmare of Tokyo and similar incidents at U.S. Olympic and national team training camps at the Karolyi Ranch, at the Olympic Games in Sydney and London, the horror Nassar inflicted on a generation of young women, more than 500 and counting, has been exposed over the last five years.

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U.S. gymnasts,from left, Jordyn Wieber, Gabrielle Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Alexandra Raisman, Kyla Ross raise their hands on the podium during a medal ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

But as the Olympic women’s team competition opens this weekend at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body, has yet to fully answer to what extent the organization and its top officials ignored or covered up the predatory and abusive behavior of Nassar and several Olympic team coaches. USA Gymnastics has also still failed, Olympic and national team members and their supporters argue, to take any effective steps to end the culture of abuse that enabled Nassar and others to prey upon young gymnasts.

“They continue to fail us,” Maggie Nichols, a member of the 2015 World champion team, said, referring to USA Gymnastics. Nichols in June 2015 became the first athlete to inform USA Gymnastics officials that she had been sexually abused by Nassar. “It’s been six years and there’s really been no progress, just attorneys doing the wrong thing getting paid a lot of money.”

Indeed many former Olympians and national team members believe American gymnastics as it is currently structured is so dysfunctional, so tone-deaf that it is broken beyond repair.

“You can’t build on a foundation that doesn’t exist,” said Kathy Johnson Clarke, a two-time Olympic medalist and member of the iconic 1984 Olympic team that triggered the growth of gymnastics in this country that laid the groundwork for Team USA’s recent success.

The Tokyo Games open against the backdrop of the long awaited release last week of a Department of Justice Inspector General report that found the FBI failed to respond to allegations that Nassar sexually abused Olympic and national team members “with the urgency that the allegations required,” and that the agent in charge of the bureau’s Indianapolis office and another agent made false statements to minimize mistakes made in the Nassar investigation and to conceal potential conflicts of interest. The FBI’s complacency and errors in the case enabled Nassar to sexually abuse at least 40 new victims, according to the report. The number of new victims between the time when top USA Gymnastics and FBI officials were informed of the allegations in the summer of 2015 and when the allegations became public in September 2016 could actually be more than 100, according to three people familiar with the cases.

“It’s now up to Director Wray to hold bad actors accountable,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate judiciary committee, referring to FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI must learn from its failures and take correct actions to ensure this never happens again.”

Olympians, national team members, the other 500 plus survivors of Nassar and predatory coaches are still waiting for USA Gymnastics to be held accountable. Instead, critics charge, the national governing body, dominated for years by marketing personnel and attorneys, still clings to a mindset that prioritizes medals and money (and concerns about legal liability) over athlete safety; an organization that still isn’t asking itself the right, the tough questions.

“There were so many people scrambling when the (expletive) hit the fan to find all the fans and pull the plug on them,” said Johnson Clarke referring to the fallout from the Nassar scandal. “No, no, no. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was why was there so much (expletive)? That’s what you have to ask to get to the bottom of this. Not why is it blowing. Why was there so much (expletive) in the first place?”

And it’s not just Olympians, former national team members and other survivors who are looking for answers. Child protective services and law enforcement agencies from at least 17 states have requested documents from USA Gymnastics, according to records obtained by the Southern California News Group.

Team USA is the overwhelming favorite to win a third consecutive team all-around gold medal next week. Biles’ defense of her individual all-around title is almost a foregone conclusion. Both triumphs will take place in the 32nd month of USA Gymnastics Chapter 11 proceedings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court Southern District of Indiana. The case, because of federal bankruptcy guidelines, placed a stay on legal proceedings against USA Gymnastics and steps by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to decertify the national governing body.

USA Gymnastics proposed a $217 million settlement with survivors as part of a reorganization plan filed with the bankruptcy court in early 2020. A disclosure statement filed with the court outlined a tiered pay-out plan where USA Gymnastics would pay $1.25 million to former Olympic and World Championships team members who were abused by Nassar but $82,550 to others. Attorneys for 512 of the 517 survivors who said they were sexually abused by Nassar and other USOPC and USA Gymnastics national team coaches and officials told SCNG last March that none of their clients would vote to accept the proposed settlement. The rejection was just about the proposed financial settlement. Survivors, like Congress, are demanding USA Gymnastics and the USOPC turn over documents that will provide a fuller, if not complete, picture of who was aware, who enabled and who ignored and covered up abuse by Nassar and others such as former Olympic team coaches Don Peters and John Geddert. Were former U.S. Olympic and national team directors Martha and Bela Karolyi more than just the architects of American gymnastics’ culture? Were they aware of the sexual abuse?

But the proposed settlement not only comes with no stipulation USA Gymnastics and the USOPC release documents that would address the extent to which USA Gymnastics and USOPC officials were aware of the predatory behavior of Nassar and others, and what steps they allegedly took to conceal that sexual abuse from unknowing potential victims, but also calls for the release of the USOPC, former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny, the Karolyis, Peters and others from all claims.

The priorities of the settlement proposal, survivors and their supporters maintain, reflects the dark side of Team USA’s international success, as much a part of the USA Gymnastics Olympic legacy as the triumphs of Biles and a generation of American golden girls.

Peters was banned for life by USA Gymnastics in 2011 after an Orange County Register investigation revealed he had sex with three teenage girls he coached. Geddert, the controversial head coach of the 2012 Olympic women’s gymnastics team, died by suicide in February just hours after the Michigan Attorney General’s office filed two dozen human trafficking and sexual assault charges against him. Longtime U.S. national team coach Marvin Sharp, the personal coach of two Olympians, was found dead in an Indiana jail cell, having also committed suicide after being arrested on child molestation charges involving persons under age 14. Law enforcement also found thousands of child pornography photos at his home and gym. Maggie Haney, a member of the 2016 Olympic staff and considered a rising star in international coaching circles, was suspended by USA Gymnastics for eight years in 2020 for physical, verbal and emotional abuse. An arbitrator later reduced the suspension to five years.

Penny was arrested in October 2018 after a Texas grand jury indicted him on felony evidence tampering charges. The indictment alleges Penny ordered the removal of documents from the Karolyi Ranch related to Nassar’s activities. He has denied any wrongdoing.

“USA Gymnastics, we gave our blood and sweat and time to try and win medals for them and they treat us like trash,” said Jeanette Antolin, a former U.S. national team member and Nassar survivor.

Between December 2018, when USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy, and January 2021 the organization, a tax-exempt, non-profit, spent $13.6 million on legal fees, according to court filings. Or $11.5 million more than the organization spent on its SafeSport program during the same period.

“Obviously, we would love to be out of bankruptcy (so) that we can be able to more freely move forward with all of the things that we have been working on and to not have this be a part of the narrative,” current USA Gymnastics CEO Li Li Leung said at the Olympic Trials in St. Louis last month. “But at the end of the day, what has happened is something that we are learning from and we’re using the past to inform how we go forward.”

USA Gymnastics president and CEO Li Li Leung speaks during the Winter Cup gymnastics competition in Indianapolis in 2019. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

But even Leung’s supporters question whether she is capable of moving USA Gymnastics forward.

Leung was hired in February 2019 as USA Gymnastics’ fourth CEO since Penny was pressured to resign by the USOPC in March 2017. Leung, a former NBA vice president and sports marketing executive, came to the job with a background similar to her predecessor, Kerry Perry, a marketing executive.

“I like Li Li,” Johnson Clarke said. “In a different time she would be perfect. But I believe she’s not what they needed. (USA Gymnastics) has been so constrained, so misguided by their legal team for so many years that I don’t know how you right this ship.”

USA Gymnastics had a longstanding policy prior to the Nassar scandal of not warning member gyms or parents of potential sex abuse victims of sexual misconduct allegations against coaches or other individuals, a longtime top aide to the organization’s former CEO acknowledged in a previously undisclosed sworn deposition revealed by SCNG last month.

Renee Jamison, the administrative assistant to Penny from 2005 to 2011 and later the organization’s director of administration and Olympic relations, also revealed in the deposition that employees were instructed by USA Gymnastics not to report sexual misconduct complaints to law enforcement or Child Protective Services – even though they were informed by the organization that they were mandated reporters.

Instead, USA Gymnastics employees prior to 2015 were told to forward sexual misconduct complaints to attorneys representing the organization – first Jack Swarbrick, and later Scott Himsel, Jamison said. Swarbrick is currently the University of Notre Dame athletic director.

The policy, Jamison said, was one of the reasons why Penny and USA Gymnastics did not notify Michigan State University officials about sexual assault allegations against Nassar when they were first brought to Penny’s attention in June 2015. Michigan State officials said they did not become aware of allegations that Nassar had sexually assaulted Team USA members under the guise of medical treatment until the allegations were made public in September 2016.

“The task is completely impossible,” Johnson Clark said. “Li Li is not the right person to bring in right now. You need to bring in an expert in crisis management, someone who’s going to actually disagree with legal. Someone when legal says, ‘Sorry we shouldn’t do that,’ says, ‘Well I’m going to do it anyway, I don’t care how it looks, it’s the right thing.’”

The recent taunting of gymnast Riley McCusker by a USA Gymnastics judge on social media was another reminder that the culture that spawned Nassar and Peters and Geddert remains in place under Leung.

Riley McCusker is introduced during the women’s U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials Friday, June 25, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

McCusker won a gold medal with the U.S. squad in the team competition at the 2018 World Championships while coached by Haney at MG Elite, a New Jersey training center. Yet despite her success, McCusker was a frequent target of Haney’s wrath. Haney berated McCusker so severely at a 2019 FIG World Cup in Birmingham, England that a Great Britain gymnastics official told a member of the U.S. party that if a coach spoke to a British athlete as Haney had to McCusker, they would never be allowed to coach again, according to interviews and USA Gymnastics documents.

McCusker stayed with Haney. At one point Haney threatened to commit suicide if McCusker left MG Elite, according to interviews and USA Gymnastics documents.

McCusker stayed, but continued to be subjected to abusive behavior. Haney screamed at her and kicked her out of the training, according to interviews, texts and emails, McCusker struggled mentally and physically, suffering anxiety, depression and a series of overuse injuries. Jessica McCusker, Riley’s mother, told other parents that her daughter said, “I hate myself.”

McCusker missed the World Championships last fall because of a debilitating muscle ailment frequently linked to overtraining. McCusker’s parents issued a statement on social media supporting Haney. McCusker resumed training with Haney but an SCNG report of USA Gymnastics’ investigation of Haney heightened tensions between the coach and gymnast and her family.

McCusker finally left MG Elite and began training at Arizona Sunrays in Phoenix after Haney was placed on interim suspension in 2020. Riley McCusker later submitted a letter critical of Haney to the USA Gymnastics hearing panel that ultimately suspended Haney.

McCusker finished sixth at the Olympic Trials, just missing making a squad bound for Tokyo that she had once seemed a lock to join. Not long afterward McCusker detailed a range of emotions on social media.

Sex abuse scandals haunt USA Gymnastics even at the Olympics – Press Enterprise Source link Sex abuse scandals haunt USA Gymnastics even at the Olympics – Press Enterprise



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