Senate, House panels to probe MSU, USA Gymnastics

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Committees in both the U.S. House and Senate are investigating sexual abuse in organized sports, targeting Michigan State University as well as USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee, among other amateur sports groups.

The announcements followed the sentencing in Michigan this week of MSU and USA Gymnastics sports doctor Larry Nassar to 40 to 175 years imprisonment for first-degree sexual misconduct charges after more than 150 women and girls said he had sexually abused them.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee said Friday it wants answers from MSU’s Board of Trustees by Feb. 9 on when the university knew about allegations against Nassar, who received the complaints, how they were handled, and if there are other allegations of sexual misconduct involving other MSU faculty or staff.

In a letter to Board Chairman Brian Breslin, the panel also seeks details about the university’s policies and procedures for reporting, handling and investigating complaints of sexual abuse, and whether those policies had changed since the time when MSU first learned of allegations against Nassar.

“The abhorrent abuses associated with this case are outrageous, and may raise concerns about whether the university has sufficient oversight mechanisms to prevent such abuse from occurring,” committee leaders wrote to Breslin.

“Accordingly, the committee is seeking information from the university on the role it plays in overseeing any incidents involving MSU employees, sports and its students.”

Three Michigan lawmakers on Friday morning had called for an inquiry and hearings by the panel, which has jurisdiction over sports. Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph; Tim Walberg, R-Tipton; and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; are members of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“Families in Michigan and throughout the country were traumatized to learn the perverse details of this tragedy,” the members said in a joint statement.

“It is incumbent on all of us to ensure this never happens again and to learn the role that USOC, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University played in the tragedy.”

A Senate Commerce subcommittee is also looking into the matter, sending letters to MSU, USA Gymnastics and the Olympic Committee on Thursday.

Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, who lead the subcommittee, demanded the gymnastics organization respond to allegations from Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, who says USAG wanted her to sign a non-disclosure agreement imposing a $100,000 fine if she were to violate a confidentiality clause by speaking out about her sexual abuse.

MSU President Lou Anna Simon resigned Wednesday, followed by Athletic Director Mark Hollis on Friday, amid the growing backlash over the school’s handling of complaints against Nassar.

National attention to the Nassar scandal grew last week after a Detroit News investigation found that eight women reported sexual misconduct by Nassar to at least 14 MSU representatives in the two decades before his arrest.

Other lawmakers, including Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, have called on congressional investigators to open inquiries into MSU, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics’ handling of the Nassar case.

Peters sent his request to the Senate Commerce Committee, and Bishop asked the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Olympic committee is chartered by Congress.

Peters and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, are also pushing the MSU board to commission an outside investigation into the school’s handling of Nassar.

New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican, on Thursday asked Senate leaders to establish a select committee that would devote its “exclusive, undivided focus” on the Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics’ roles in the Nassar affair.

They want the special committee to be convened before the Winter Olympic Games begin in February, and for the panel to have an equal number of male and female members.

“Dr. Nassar was able to commit these crimes unchecked for 30 years,” the senators wrote in a Thursday letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

“This was not a case of negligence or failed oversight on the part of USOC or USA Gymnastics. These organizations have serious questions to answer, including why they allowed this criminal behavior to occur, and they need to answer questions publicly before a Select Committee of the Senate.”

The requests come as House Speaker Paul Ryan said his chamber would vote Monday on legislation that would require amateur athletic associations such as USA Gymnastics to promptly report abuse to police.

The House and Senate both passed similar legislation last year but in different versions.

“The crimes committed against these young women are atrocious and rattle us all to the core,” Ryan said in a statement Thursday. “The fact that it went unreported to law enforcement is intolerable – and it’s a huge wake-up call.”

Feinstein, a lead sponsor of the Senate-passed legislation, called on Congress to act on the legislation “immediately.” She met last February with eight survivors of Nassar’s abuse, she said.

“It was one of the most disturbing, emotional meetings I’ve held in 25 years in the Senate. I made a promise to those women that I would act,” Feinstein said in a statement.

“Time and again, I’ve seen how the failure of Congress to act when an issue is at the forefront of the national conversation means that Congress never acts at all. We should not let that happen here.”

She noted the bill is supported by 270 individuals and organizations, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Advocacy Institute and dozens of former Olympic gymnasts and other athletes.

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