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Nassar Scandal Inspires Bill to Protect Athletes

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New legislation, based on an 18-month study of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, seeks to protect athletes from such abuse in the future.

As reported by Time, the investigation report, released Tuesday, found that, “Repeatedly, institutions failed to act aggressively to report wrongdoing to proper law enforcement agencies. Repeatedly, men and women entrusted with positions of power prioritized their own reputation or the reputation of an NGB over the health and safety of the athletes. Repeatedly, USOC, [USA Gymnastics] and other [National Governing Bodies (NGBs)] took actions to conceal their negligence and failed to enact serious reforms, even after they were faced with the courageous accounts of survivors.”

Several hundred gymnasts and other athletes have come forward reporting they had been abused by Nassar, either while they were training in USA Gymnastics affiliated programs, or at Michigan State University, where Nassar held a faculty position before being dismissed in 2016. Nassar is currently serving a life sentence in prison.

In a press briefing Tuesday, Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security chair Sen. Jerry Moran and ranking member Sen. Richard Blumenthal, said the culmination of their 18-month investigation led to a bipartisan bill that would grant Congress more authority to take action against the USOPC and NGBs and hold them accountable for protecting the safety of athletes.

“These individuals and institutions frankly looked the other way, and turned a blind eye to the ongoing evil, monster predator Larry Nassar,” said Blumenthal. “And he was not a lone wolf. He was enabled and emboldened by people in positions of trust who looked the other way in the face of this crushing, ongoing and vile evil.

Moran and Blumenthal are calling for Congress to take on more authority in overseeing the USOPC and the NGBs the Olympic and Paralympic Committee manage. The U. S. Olympic Committee (now the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee) is a federally chartered non-profit whose mission and responsibilities were last updated in 1998 with the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. 

The proposed legislation, the Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2019, would codify Congress’ role in overseeing the USOPC and its affiliated NGBs. In defending its response to the Nassar scandal, the USOPC has said that the NGBs operate as relatively independent entities and receive little oversight from the USOPC. The new legislation calls for the USOPC to take direct responsibility for the NGBs overseeing various sports. 

Said Moran, “No longer can the USOPC say, ‘That’s an NGB issue.’ Now it’s made clear that they have oversight over the NGBs.”

The Act calls for giving Congress the power to dissolve the board of the USOPC if, “it is failing to fulfill its purposes as described in the [Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act].” Congress would also have the power to decertify an NGB and strip it of its status as a national governing body for a sport for failing to establish a safe environment for athletes.

Specifically, the USOPC would also be required to review each NGB’s status every four years. Athlete representation at the USOPC and at every NGB would also be increased, from 20 percent of the organization in question’s membership, to one-third. And the current requirement that the athlete representatives must have competed as amateurs in the preceding 10 years prior to their appointment would be eliminated.

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