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Damning Report On Larry Nassar Abuse, USOC Failures Shows Why Olympic Governance Must Change

Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, speaks at Yongsan Garrison, a U.S. military base in Seoul, South Korea in 2017. (Lee Jin-man/AP)
Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, speaks at Yongsan Garrison, a U.S. military base in Seoul, South Korea in 2017. (Lee Jin-man/AP)

The report on the independent investigation of Larry Nassar runs 233 pages. It’s an impressive document covering everything from how Nassar groomed young gymnasts for sexual abuse to what is wrong with the Olympic governance structure.

For more than 60 pages, the report details “who knew what when” and the inaction that followed. Those 60 pages offer a staggering, damning catalog of adults who ignored reports of Nassar’s criminal behavior.

The adults who did nothing include former United States Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun and chief of sport performance Alan Ashley. On Monday, the USOC fired Ashley because, like Blackmun, he failed to act when he learned about allegations against Nassar in July 2015.

The survivors of Nassar’s sexual abuse have long held that the USOC enabled Nassar and covered-up his crimes. It’s about time the USOC and its executives are held publicly accountable and take responsibility. The quick firing of Ashley is progress, but there’s a long way to go and potentially more revelations about the USOC to come. The USOC’s wealth and power shouldn’t deter future investigators, law enforcement, legislators, athletes and anyone else concerned about the safety and well-being of young athletes.

The independent investigation, which was commissioned by the USOC and conducted by Boston-based law firm Ropes & Gray, found that Blackmun and Ashley did not tell USOC employees, board member or athletes about the allegations against Nassar. Blackmun and Ashley also did not confirm whether USA Gymnastics reported the allegations to law enforcement and state authorities.

As a result of how Blackmun and Ashley handled the allegations, the report states, “The USOC as an organization was effectively disabled from considering and taking appropriate action in response to the athlete complaints and Nassar due to the decision by two senior officers of the USOC to keep the matter to themselves.”

While under investigation, Nassar was quietly fired from his medical coordinator role with USA Gymnastics in September 2015. But he continued to treat patients at Michigan State University for another year until an investigative report from the Indianapolis Star made allegations against Nassar public.

The one action taken by Blackmun and Ashley: They deleted an email referencing Nassar by name.

Now, instead of distancing Blackmun and Ashley from Nassar, the deleted email highlights how two USOC executives were complicit in hiding the truth about Nassar. That put athletes at risk. Let that sink in. The USOC put athletes at risk of sexual abuse. The USOC is part of what the report describes as “an ecosystem that facilitated [Nassar’s] criminal acts.”

Of course, that ecosystem also includes USA Gymnastics.

But in its examination of Olympic sport, the report makes it abundantly clear that Larry Nassar wasn’t simply a USA Gymnastics problem. It wasn’t simply the leadership of USA Gymnastics that enabled Nassar. There were Nassar-related failures of judgment, failures of governance and failures of leadership at the very top levels of U.S. Olympic sport.

Going forward, the USOC shouldn’t act all high and mighty in its move to decertify USA Gymnastics. Remember, glass houses. And USOC executives shouldn’t get all self-congratulatory for showing Ashley the door hours after they learned about the contents of the Ropes & Gray report. The details included in the report left the USOC little choice.

By holding a mirror up to the USOC, by calling out the organization that commissioned the independent investigation, the report shows that the governance and organizational culture at the very top levels of Olympic sport need to change in the U.S.

The report describes a "loose governance model" that allowed Nassar "to create a personal fiefdom where he wrote the rules and set the tone for the medical treatment of the women’s gymnastics program for close to 20 years." Meanwhile, the decision-making by Blackmun and Ashley happened within an organizational culture where secrecy was valued more than athlete safety.

In addition to fixing its governance and culture problems, the USOC now needs to prove it has athletes’ best interests in mind. That process may take the longest.

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Shira Springer Twitter Sports and Society Reporter
Shira Springer covers stories at the intersection of sports and society.

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