USA Gymnastics cares deeply for our athletes of all skill levels and ages, and their health and well-being come before all else. We believe one instance of child abuse – whether at a school, church or gym – is one too many, and we are angered when any child has been harmed during his or her athletic career. We work every day to help young people fulfill their potential in a safe environment, and keeping them safe requires as much diligence and attention as training for a competition.
Keeping athletes safe requires sustained vigilance by everyone – coaches, athletes, parents, administrators and officials – and there is more work to be done. We are determined to strengthen standards throughout the sport.
We recently initiated the most comprehensive, thorough and independent evaluation of our athlete safety program to date. Deborah J. Daniels, a former prosecutor who spent her career prosecuting abusers and offenders, is examining our requirements, mandates and structure to identify ways to strengthen our program and better protect youth. This is a community-wide effort designed to examine the culture and generate recommendations that can help USA Gymnastics strengthen its efforts in this area.
The U.S. Center for SafeSport, which opened earlier this month, is an independent agency established to oversee Safe Sport in the USA, similar to how the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency oversees anti-doping in our country. The Center serves as an independent third party to handle all sexual abuse claims for the Olympic National Governing Bodies, as well as providing important leadership on Safe Sport and oversight and expertise on abuse to the NGBs.
The USA Gymnastics Board of Directors has also established a Policy Review Panel to address modifications to our existing programs, policies and processes. This panel’s efforts complement Daniels’ independent review, and it will work closely with USA Gymnastics staff to ensure the organization takes the appropriate steps to fully implement recommendations, policy changes and governance matters while moving forward with refining its practices. This is especially important given the U.S. Center for Safe Sport and its requirements for compliance. Additionally, USA Gymnastics has another former federal prosecutor, who specializes in child sex abuse cases, conducting an audit of its administrative misconduct files to determine what, if any, additional actions are necessary. Nothing is more important to USA Gymnastics than protecting young people, and we are committed to doing everything we can to promote a safe environment for athletes.
What is your response to the allegations that USA Gymnastics turned a blind eye or attempted to cover up the sexual abuse claims made against Dr. Lawrence Nassar by gymnasts at the Karolyi Ranch?
The allegations are false. USA Gymnastics is appalled that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in the manner alleged. We are grateful to the athletes that brought their concerns about Dr. Nassar to USA Gymnastics in the summer of 2015. When we first learned of these concerns, we acted without hesitation. We hired an investigator who interviewed athletes, which led USA Gymnastics to report Dr. Nassar to the FBI. We then removed him from any further assignments. During the course of the FBI investigation, USA Gymnastics has cooperated fully, including facilitating interviews and adhering to the FBI’s request not to take any action that would interfere with the Bureau’s investigation.”
The information gleaned in the interviews provided the information needed to go to law enforcement, and USA Gymnastics contacted the FBI the next business day after it received that report.
July 11th was the first date the athlete and her mother were available to speak in-person with the female investigator, who is experienced in handling sexual misconduct issues. After that interview, the investigator recommended speaking with additional athletes, which took place during the next two weeks.
When the investigator completed the recommended interviews on Friday, July 24, she reported to USA Gymnastics that it was appropriate for USA Gymnastics to notify law enforcement and report Dr. Nassar. USA Gymnastics contacted the Indianapolis office of the FBI on Monday, July 27 (the next business day), to report Dr. Nassar, and a meeting with the FBI was scheduled for July 28. USA Gymnastics met with three agents on Tuesday, July 28, at the Indianapolis FBI office.
USA Gymnastics reported Dr. Nassar to the FBI because of its interstate jurisdiction. The FBI confirmed that it was the appropriate agency to report this to and assured the organization that it had handled the matter correctly. USA Gymnastics understood from its meeting with the FBI that it should not take any action nor communicate anything that might interfere with the FBI’s investigation. After our initial report to the FBI in July 2015, USA Gymnastics remained in contact with the Indianapolis bureau and understands that the FBI contacted one or more athletes. USA Gymnastics later learned the FBI had transferred the matter to another jurisdiction. As time passed, USA Gymnastics became concerned that it had not received any updates about the investigation. USA Gymnastics contacted the FBI’s LA Bureau in April 2016. USA Gymnastics then met with two agents with the Los Angeles bureau in early May. USA Gymnastics continued its cooperation with the FBI following this meeting. During this process, USA Gymnastics respected the privacy of the athletes involved in this matter.
When USA Gymnastics launched their investigation into the claims against Dr. Nassar (and when he was subsequently fired), why weren’t the allegations shared with Michigan State, where he was still practicing?
USA Gymnastics understood from its meeting with the FBI that it should not take any action nor communicate anything that might interfere with the FBI’s investigation. USA Gymnastics believed that any further actions would be taken by the FBI.