USA Gymnastics revealed last week that it received a sexual abuse complaint in 2015 about a longtime team doctor and launched its own internal investigation, waiting five weeks before forwarding the information to law enforcement. One lawmaker is now crafting a bill that would establish clear protocol and require organizations like USA Gymnastics to contact authorities immediately upon receiving a complaint of abuse.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she is working on legislation that will spell out how amateur athletic associations, including national governing bodies for Olympic sports, such as USA Gymnastics, respond to allegations of sexual abuse. Feinstein revealed her intentions in a “60 Minutes” segment that aired Sunday night.
“Our bill would apply to all amateur athletics governing bodies, the organizations responsible for overseeing amateur sports nationwide,” Feinstein said in a statement. “They have a special obligation to protect young athletes and must immediately put an end to any abuse they become aware of.”
Feinstein is working to secure cosponsors and said she intends to introduce the bill soon. She has met with at least three former gymnasts who said they were sexually abused by Larry Nassar, the longtime team physician for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team who now faces accusations from dozens of gymnasts who were under his care. She said, “It was one of the most powerful, emotional meetings I’ve had during my 24 years in the Senate.”
Nassar, 53, was arrested in November on charges of sexually assaulting a child in Michigan and indicted a month later on federal charges of possession of child pornography. More state and federal charges are likely, as dozens of other women have come forward in lawsuits alleging Nassar violated them during exams.
The three women who met with Feinstein all shared their stories on-camera for “60 Minutes,” describing a confident, friendly doctor who abused the women under the guise of treatment.
“He was so sure of himself,” said Jessica Howard, a U.S. national champion in rhythmic gymnastics from 1999 to 2001. “And as a young girl, you’re confused. You don’t know what’s going on.”
Jamie Dantzscher, a member of the U.S. national team from 1994 to 2001, said she started receiving treatment from Nassar around 1995. Just 13 or 14 years old at the time, Dantzscher was experiencing lower back pain when she first sought help from Nassar.
“He would put his fingers inside of me and move my leg around,” she said. “He would tell me I was going to feel a pop. And that would put my hips back and help my back pain.”
Dantzscher, now 34, said Nassar continued the abuse for about five years, through the 2000 Olympics where Dantzscher was a member of the U.S. team that won bronze. While she previously spoke to the Indianapolis Star, which agreed not to reveal her identity, and filed her lawsuit under the name Jane Doe, Dantzscher spoke on-camera for “60 Minutes.”
Nassar has pled not guilty to the criminal charges, and his lawyers have said his treatment of the gymnasts was legitimate.
Some of the gymnasts said the inappropriate contact took place at Karolyi Ranch, the famed training camp in Texas run by Bela and Martha Karolyi. The three gymnasts, which also included Jeanette Antolin, who competed with the national team from 1995 to 2000, said the Karolyis’ compound was an intense, high-pressure environment. By contrast, Nassar was usually warm, friendly and welcoming.
Howard, 15 at the time, had a hip injury and says USA Gymnastics suggested she travel to Karolyi Ranch to see Nassar. The doctor instructed her not to wear underwear and started massaging her. “He just continued to go into more and more intimate places,” she told “60 Minutes.”
“I remember thinking something was off,” she said, “but I didn’t feel like I was able to say anything because he was, you know, this very high-profile doctor and I was very lucky to be at the ranch working with him.”
USA Gymnastics relieved Nassar of his duties in July 2015, after its internal investigation had concluded. The organization’s board chairman Paul Parilla and CEO Steve Penny issued a statement Thursday saying they’re “appalled that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in the manner alleged.”
“Keeping athletes safe requires sustained vigilance by everyone – coaches, athletes, parents, administrators and officials – and there is more work to be done,” their statement read. “We are determined to strengthen standards throughout the sport.”
(The Washington Post)