Maroney: USA Gymnastics covered up Nassar abuse

Richard Winton, David Wharton and Gus Garcia-Roberts
Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles — Gymnast McKayla Maroney filed suit Wednesday against the United States Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, alleging that officials had her sign a confidential financial settlement to keep secret the sexual abuse she suffered as a teen by team doctor and confessed molester Larry Nassar.

In papers filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Maroney, a gold medalist and one of the nation’s best-known Olympic athletes, accused the USOC of covering up its knowledge of Nassar’s misconduct as part of a “culture and atmosphere that conceals known and suspected sexual abusers.”

In a statement, USOC spokesman Mark Jones said that the committee was not aware and had not approved of the confidential settlement. “We were first made aware of the possibility that a USA Gymnastics physician had sexually abused USA Gymnastics athletes in the summer of 2015 when we were informed by USA Gymnastics,” Jones said in the statement. “At that time USA Gymnastics indicated that they were in the process of contacting the appropriate law enforcement agencies. We are heartbroken that this abuse occurred, proud of the brave victims that have come forward and grateful that our criminal justice system has ensured that Nassar will never be able to harm another young woman.”

USA Gymnastics has not responded to a request for comment on Maroney’s suit.

Maroney’s suit also names as a defendant Michigan State University, where Nassar worked as a doctor.

Court records show that its chairman, Paul Parilla, repeatedly refused to say in a deposition earlier this year how many settlements the organization had reached that involved Nassar.

Maroney, a Los Angeles resident, said that USA Gymnastics paid her the settlement, in violation of California state law, in return for her not publicly disclosing Nassar’s abuse. The documents do not disclose how much she was paid, but sources familiar with the deals say that Maroney received $1.25 million last winter. Maroney’s lawsuit seeks to nullify the agreement.

Maroney’s attorney, John Manly, said in an interview that sports officials delayed reporting Nassar’s misconduct to authorities, including the FBI, allowing him to continue to abuse underage athletes.

Earlier this month, a federal judge sentenced Nassar to 60 years in prison. He had pleaded guilty in November to sexually assaulting several female gymnasts and possessing child pornography. Though he was not charged with sexually abusing Maroney, she provided a victim impact statement before the sentencing.

“He abused my trust, he abused my body and he left scars on my psyche that may never go away,” Maroney said in that statement. “He needs to be behind bars so he will never prey upon another child.”

The complaint claims a pattern of indifference by the USOC of sexual abuse of minors dating back decades. It cites a 1999 letter from then-USA Gymnastics President Robert Colarossi to USOC executives in which he said the committee’s policies on preventing abuse were “fundamentally flawed” and showed “an apparent indifference to the welfare of young children.”

Colarossi, who left USA Gymnastics in 2005, declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Despite his warning, according to Maroney's suit, the USOC took 11 years to create a program and handbook aimed at preventing access to minors by sexual abusers, and then "maintained its course and culture of ignoring abuse."

The complaint alleges that MSU received complaints from two female student athletes, including a women’s softball player, of improper touching by Nassar during medical treatment starting in the late 1990s. Despite this knowledge, the lawsuit claims, MSU allowed Nassar to treat minor gymnasts affiliated with USA Gymnastics, including Maroney.

In the complaint, Maroney alleges that Nassar molested her “before, during and after trainings and competitions,” including before the World Gymnastics Championships in Tokyo in 2011, when she was 15.

According to Maroney, USA Gymnastics “coerced” her into signing the confidential settlement as she was still reeling from the sexual abuse, and “in need of funds to pay for psychological treatment for her worsening psychological condition.” The lawsuit claims that the agreement included a “non-disparagement clause and confidentiality provision,” which could penalize her $100,000 if she spoke of the abuse or the settlement.

Maroney’s attorney, Manly, contends that the settlement was illegal, as California law prohibits confidential civil agreements involving potential felony sex crimes.

During a May deposition, Manly repeatedly asked USA Gymnastics Chairman Parilla about confidential settlements. “Have you settled cases involving U.S. national team members in California?” Manly asked, according to court records.

An attorney for the USA Gymnastics objected to the questions, and Parilla — himself an Orange County lawyer — did not answer. Parilla did not respond to a message seeking comment for this article.

Maroney first alleged publicly that she was sexually abused by Nassar in a Twitter post in October, detailing his molestation of her from age 13 through 15.

“I know how hard it is to speak publicly about something so horrible, and so personal, because it's happened to me too,” Maroney said in the post, which she hashtagged #metoo, in reference to the public accusations of sexual assault and harassment that have followed the scandal surrounding revelations about film mogul Harvey Weinstein.

USA Gymnastics has commended Maroney on multiple occasions for her “courage,” declaring in a statement that due to her and others’ “strength in coming forward, predators can be held accountable for their actions." On her birthday, the organization said that it celebrated “not only the talent it took to deliver the best vaults in the world but also McKayla's incredible bravery and strength to come forward.”

Maroney’s complaint notes that USA Gymnastics issued those statements despite “attempting to silence” her with the confidential settlement.