U.S. House OKs plan to protect amateur athletes

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The U.S. House passed a bipartisan bill Monday to require sports governing organizations that train young amateur athletes to “immediately” report suspected cases of abuse to authorities.

The House passed the bill — approved by the Senate in November — by a vote of 406-3.

The vote came in the wake of last week’s sentencing of Michigan State University 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 sexually abused them.

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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy last week lauded the “bravery” of the women and girls who spoke out and confronted Nassar at his sentencing.

“These women have endured too much, which is why we must do more to protect our amateur athletes so this never happens again.”

Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said on the floor that he was in “disbelief” that it is taking an act of Congress to ensure that sports governing bodies do their jobs and protect young athletes.

Several lawmakers on Monday evening read from Nassar victim statements on the House floor.

“I say shame, shame, shame to those who enabled this,” said Florida Rep. Lois Frankel, a Democrat and co-chair of the congressional Women’s Caucus.

U.S. House and Senate committees last week opened investigations into the handling of sexual abuse allegations by MSU, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee, among other amateur sports groups. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is also investigating MSU.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who sponsored the legislation with Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, says her bill is supported by 270 organizations and athletes, including a several survivors of Nassar’s abuse.

Feinstein called her meeting last year with eight survivors of Nassar’s abuse “one of the most disturbing, emotional meetings I’ve held in 25 years in the Senate.”

Feinstein is holding a news conference Tuesday in Washington with Rachael Denhollander, who reported Nassar to the MSU Police Department in 2016 alleging he abused her when she was a teenage gymnast.

“I made a promise to those women that I would act,” Feinstein said in a statement last week. “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.”

The legislation amends the Ted Stevens Amateur and Olympic Sports Act, which governs amateur athletics governing bodies, to require them and their employees to report sex-abuse allegations to local or federal law enforcement or to a child-welfare agency designated by the Justice Department.

It also designates the U.S. Center for SafeSport to develop, implement and enforce policies and training for the national governing bodies and their members to prevent the abuse of minors or amateur athletes. One of those procedures would be to establish a mechanism to allow a complainant to “easily report an incident of sexual abuse.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said it was unfortunate that the House had stripped funding from the Senate legislation for the U.S. Center for SafeSport. About $1 million annually was requested for budget years 2018 through 2021.

Republican leaders said the funding was removed because it was deemed an earmark, which is prohibited, and that the funding would have to go through another process.

Another would prevent minor athletes from being in a one-on-one situation with an adult — who is not their legal guardian — without another adult being nearby.

The bill also revises the law that allows victims to sue the perpetrators of sex crimes committed against them as minors up to 10 years after the date they discovered the injury or violation.

The authors of the bill say this is needed because children often may not recognize the crimes committed against them until later in adulthood.

Congress chartered the U.S. Olympic Committee, the organization that certifies 47 national sports organizations that train amateur athletes.


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