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Olympics executives’ ‘unconscionable’ decision to hide Nassar sex abuse

More than 300 athletes have revealed that they were sexually abused by USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Though Nassar is now in jail, the fallout from his crimes continues, as details emerge proving that top Olympics executives knew of the allegations against him, didn't stop him and in fact enabled his sinister behavior. Sportswriter Christine Brennan of USA Today joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now: new revelations this week about a failure of leadership at the very top of USA Olympics. The trial of Larry Nassar and the women who came forward to publicly accuse him of sexual abuse remains one of the more powerful moments of this year.

    As Amna Nawaz explains, we're now getting a fuller picture of how top officials knew about allegations and kept the gymnastics world in the dark for more than a year, before the scandal broke open in a newspaper expose.

  • Gwen Anderson:

    I realized I had been molested by somebody I trusted, that I was one of the gymnasts that he had abused, that my life was never going to be the same.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    More than 150 victims shared wrenching court testimony earlier this year of how sports doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused them for years, under the guise of medical treatment.

  • Rachael Denhollander:

    This is what it looks like when people in authority refuse to listen, put friendships in front of the truth, fail to create or enforce proper policy, and fail to hold enablers accountable.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Nassar worked for USA Gymnastics for 29 years, including as team doctor for four Olympic Games. He also worked for years at Michigan State University.

    More than 300 athletes say he abused them during that time. At least seven are gold Olympic gymnasts, including Aly Raisman.

  • Aly Raisman:

    If, over these many years, just one adult listened and had the courage and character to act, this tragedy could have been avoided.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Nassar was convicted and is now in prison. This week, an independent investigation revealed that senior officials at USA Gymnastics and the body that oversees it, the U.S. Olympic Committee, not only knew of his actions, but also — quote — "enabled Nassar and his system of abuse."

    The report named former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny, former U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun, and U.S. Olympic Committee sports performance chief Alan Ashley. It said they — quote — "allowed Nassar to continue to have access to young athletes and girls for another 14 months while he was already under investigation."

    The report concluded that — quote — "The inaction and concealment had consequences. Dozens of girls and young women were abused during the year-long period."

    Both USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee say they have acknowledged their failures, and have vowed reforms.

    Some perspective now on all of this from sportswriter and columnist Christine Brennan of USA Today. She has long covered the Olympics and has written about the culture that led to this abuse.

    Thanks for being here.

  • Christine Brennan:

    Amna, thank you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, let's back up what we know about the report.

    What did officials know back in July 2015, when they first found out, and what did they do about it?

  • Christine Brennan:

    Yes, the officials knew that — USA Gymnastics, the CEO there, got in touch with the top U.S. Olympic Committee officials and told them there were allegations of sexual abuse by the team doctor, and then another month later told them the name of the team doctor, Larry Nassar.

    So this was in July of 2015. And it wasn't until September of 2016, 13-and-a-half months later, that the news finally was made public. And that was in The Indianapolis Star, naming Larry Nassar, the allegations there.

    So you have two the top two U.S. Olympic Committee officials, Scott Blackmun, CEO, resign in February, and Alan Ashley, the chief of sport performance, who was fired when the report came out, you have those two men, knowing all these details, doing absolutely nothing, sitting on the information, and basically more worried about their reputations and the brand than worried about the young women who were being assaulted.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, do we know, was this just an issue of inaction, or did it go beyond that? Was there a cover-up of some kind?

  • Christine Brennan:

    It's both.

    The cover-up is clear. They both were — the report says that there was — there was an e-mail that both of them received. And it disappeared from both of their accounts. So that, of course, this is terrible, because if they were deleting e-mails.

    And then, of course, you have got the fact that they just — they didn't tell their staff. They didn't do anything. All the things that could have happened, the things they could have done that they didn't do, and to think of how different things might have been if they had called the FBI, if they had sent out an alert to every gymnastics parent in the country, things that would have been so easy for them to do, and, of course, would have been the right thing to do.

    It is unconscionable. I know both men. In fact, I know all three men. I have covered the Olympics for years. And it's absolutely unconscionable, to me, and unconscionable what they did, that they decided that it was OK just to defer to law enforcement.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So you mentioned Scott Blackmun there resigning. The other two men we named in the report, they're also out of their positions.

    I guess the big question is, is that it? Is the reckoning over? Is the house clean?

  • Christine Brennan:

    That's a great question.

    I mean, there is a new leader of the U.S. Olympic Committee, as the CEO, the first female full-time CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee. And that's Sarah Hirshland. She's been on the job since August, and has done some major things, including wanting to decertify USA Gymnastics, which is the nuclear option under the Amateur Sports Act.

    But that's something that the U.S. Olympic Committee can do. And, of course, she is also the one who fired Alan Ashley, when she was made aware of his in action for those 13-and-a-half months.

    I think that we will probably see Congress getting even more involved. There have already been five congressional hearings over the last — this year, in the calendar year. I think they probably will do more.

    One of the things I think that should be done, SafeSport, the Center for SafeSport, a lot of people have heard about that, right? And you kind of picture this big thing and it's working fine, and it's been around forever.

    A year-and-a-half, they have had 1,600 — over 1600 cases, people coming to them with complaints. And up until the end of October, they had four employees, four employees. That's a $6.4 million budget. So Congress needs fund that immediately.

    And I think you also need to have a database. Right now, there's no cohesive database, believe it or not. So, if you're a parent, and you say you want your child to start getting involved with gymnastics or volleyball, or whatever it is, a database, so that you can go and see who's been banned, because some of these coaches even move from one sport to the other.

    There's no cohesive database. You and I can get on a plane by having our eyes scanned and walk into buildings with our fingerprints, and yet our Olympic movement in the United States can't somehow get on the same page, so that parents and young athletes can know who is a sexual predator.

    And I think that's something that needs to be dealt with immediately.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's worth shouting out some of your colleagues at USA Today published a new report today focusing basically on half-a-dozen coaches who had been banned because of sexual misconduct and are still coaching and have access to kids in some way in different sports.

    I mean, obviously, we're having this conversation now because of gymnastics, but I think a lot of parents out there, as you just mentioned, are wondering, how can they trust that these institutions are doing all they can to protect kids?

  • Christine Brennan:

    And these national governing bodies, it's what they're known as, and they're far-flung.

    Some of them have a staff of one or two people. That's no excuse, but they're tiny. Some are bigger, like gymnastics or swimming. Swimming has had hundreds and hundreds of abuse allegations. And, of course, gymnastics, we know over 350 women abused, sexually abused, by Larry Nassar.

    And so that's the issue. But, yes, USA Today, we found, my colleagues found that there were a half-dozen coaches who were banned, and now are back. And, again, I think these are the — if there's any positive here, the warning signals are out. The reporting is there. We're on it. I'm going to stay on this story. It is so important.

    The darkest days in the history of the U.S. Olympic movement, this is something that we obviously have to stay on top of. I think the good news is, clearly, this report shows that action needs to be taken.

  • Amna Nawaz:


    Christine Brennan, thank you for being here.

  • Christine Brennan:

    Amna, thank you.

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