Entire USA Gymnastics Board Resigns Under Pressure

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Orange County Register (California)


The USA Gymnastics board of directors resigned Friday amid mounting pressure from Capitol Hill and the U.S. Olympic Committee and outrage from an American public touched this month by the heartbreaking and horrifying accounts by more than 150 survivors of Larry Nassar's sexual abuse.

The House Energy and Commerce committee also announced it would hold hearings on the Nassar case and has sent letters of inquiry to USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming, USA Taekwondo and Michigan State asking the organizations to explain how they have handled sexual abuse cases.

The resignation of the 16 members remaining on the board, which follows the resignation of board chairman Paul Parilla and two other board officers Sunday, comes two days after Ingham County (Michigan) Judge Rosemarie E. Aquilina sentenced Nassar, 54, the former U.S. Olympic and USA Gymnastics women's national team physician, to 40 to 175 years in prison on sexual abuse charges.

Aquilina's ruling followed seven days of testimony from 156 survivors of Nassar's abuse that have prompted demands for further investigation into who empowered and enabled Nassar's abuse, and cast a long shadow over the U.S.' golden global gymnastics empire built by Bela and Martha Karolyi.

"It was necessary, absolutely and it's sad that it took someone demanding that they resign for them to actually realize that it's necessary," said Jeanette Antolin, a former U.S. national team member and a Nassar survivor. "But we got it done one way or the other. This army of women is not going to stop until what has to be done is done to make sure our sport and other kids are safe."

USA Gymnastics move also comes a day after USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun demanded the board's resignation as part of a major haul of the national governing body. USA Gymnastics CEO and President Steve Penny resigned last spring under pressure from former gymnasts, members of Congress and the USOC.

"Our position comes from a clear sense that USAG culture needs fundamental rebuilding," Blackmun wrote in an email to USA Gymnastics officials.

Michigan State President Lou Anna K. Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis also resigned this week following allegations they and other university employees ignored complaints about Nassar's sexual abuse and complaints about sexual misconduct by Spartan athletes.

"USA Gymnastics completely embraces the requirements outlined in the Jan. 25, 2017, letter from the United States Olympic Committee and appreciates the opportunity to work with the USOC to accomplish change for the betterment of our organization, our athletes and our clubs," USA Gymnastics said in a statement. "We understand that the requirements imposed by the letter will help us enhance our ability to build a culture of empowerment throughout the organization, with an increased focus on athlete safety and well-being. Our commitment is uncompromising, and we hope everything we do makes this very clear."

But former gymnasts and their supporters were quick to characterize the USA Gymnastics statement as the latest attempt at spin control amid the worst sex abuse scandal in American sports history.

"First of all the idea that they're going to help athletes after what they allowed to happen on their watch, I don't know how they look themselves in the mirror with that letter out," said John Manly, an attorney for several of the Nassar survivors. "With one or two exceptions and I'm excluding the (athlete board members) from this, the board members who resigned either sat idle by or actively supported Mr. Penny and Mr. Parilla who actively concealed not only from Olympians and national team athletes but recreational gymnasts in Michigan that there doctor was a child molester."

Penny was aware from at least June 28, 2015, of allegations of sexual abuse against Nassar, according to USA Gymnastics and court documents.

Maggie Nichols, the 2015 World Championships floor exercise bronze medalist, was overheard confiding in Aly Raisman, an Olympic champion, at a 2015 U.S. national team training camp about concerns she had with a procedure Nassar had performed on her in which he inserted is ungloved hand without lubrication into her vagina. Sarah Jantzi, Nichols' club coach at Twin City Twisters in Minnesota, overheard the conversation at the Karolyi Ranch in rural Texas and reported it to Rhonda Faehn, USA Gymnastics senior vice president for the women's program. Faehn in turn informed Penny.

Raisman told USA Gymnastics investigators that McKayla Maroney, her teammate on the 2012 Olympic champion team, had been sexually assaulted by Nassar.

Maroney confirmed in a July 24 interview with investigators that she was sexually assaulted several times including at Karolyi ranch and at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo while Maroney was impaired by medication given to her by Nassar and during the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Despite this knowledge Penny and other USA Gymnastics officials did not report the allegations to officials at Michigan State where Nassar continued to treat young girls for another 16 months at the university's sports medicine clinic. Penny and USA Gymnastics officials also allegedly helped Nassar lie about the reasons he was missing major events that summer and then retire in September 2015 without giving the real reason for the move. Nassar's abuse did not become public until September 2016.

On the same day last December Nassar was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Michigan to 60 years in prison on child pornography charges, USA Gymnastics attorneys filed with the same court a motion to dismiss a series of Michigan civil lawsuits by 93 former athletes against the organization based in part on USA Gymnastics insistence that it was not obligated to inform Michigan State of Nassar's sexual abuse after USA Gymnastics officials learned of it in June 2015.

The filing came as USA Gymnastics released a statement in response to Nassar's federal sentence that it was "sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career."

"Frankly I think the big question here is why law enforcement in Texas and Indiana aren't actively investigating USAG's former board members and officers for child endangerment," Manly said. "Nothing they do or say can make (the survivors) forgive the systemic rape, forgive (USA Gymnastics officials) standing by and supporting what happened here.

"Rather than putting out a note they all ought to be hanging their heads in shame and I hope at some point the board members that are responsible have to sit in a docket and meet the 30 children we represent who were sexually assaulted by Nassar since 2015 when they all knew what he had done."

Blackmun said on Wednesday the USOC would " launch an investigation by an independent third party to examine how an abuse of this proportion could have gone undetected for so long.

"We need to know when complaints were brought forward and to who. This investigation will include both USAG and the USOC, and we believe USAG will cooperate fully. We will make the results public."

Friday's resignations were the first of six steps Blackmun demanded in his email to USA Gymnastics.

"The shocking and tragic stories surrounding Larry Nassar's years-long abuse of vulnerable athletes are now well known to all of us and the recently concluded Nassar sentencing hearings served to drive home the impact on individual victims in a way we will never forget," Blackmun wrote in the email. "We must take further action to ensure that it cannot happen again."

The USOC is also demanding that an "interim board must be seated, consistent with USAG's current bylaws. Athlete representatives on this new board must be selected by athlete constituent groups as contemplated in the USAG bylaws, and may include athletes who have resigned from the USAG board under 1, above. No other USAG board member who has resigned in number 1 above may be included in the newly configured board."

The USOC also said all USA Gymnastics staff and board members must complete Safe Sport training at the U.S. Center for Safe Sport within three months and "comprehensive ethics training" in the next six months.

"If USAG cannot or does not achieve steps 1 through 6 above promptly and clearly, the USOC will have no choice but to pursue termination of USAG's NGB status," Blackmun said. "Please refer to Section 8.20 of the USOC Bylaws for details on how that would occur. In order to avoid immediate termination proceedings, USAG must complete all the steps set out above, including achieving step 1 by Jan. 31, 2018, and step 2 by February 28, 2018."

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January 27, 2018


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