U.S. Senate panel plans hearing on athlete abuse

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — A Senate subcommittee plans to hold a hearing next week on the role of amateur sports organizations in protecting aspiring Olympic athletes from sexual and other abuse.

The announcement from the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security, which has jurisdiction over sports, says the Wednesday hearing will include victims of abuse to discuss concerns and challenges in preventing abuse within their respective sports.

The panel may also hear advice from witnesses on lawmakers’ implementation of a new law passed by Congress this year to impose oversight procedures to protect future athletes.

Former sports doctor Larry Nassar of Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics was sentenced earlier this year to essentially life in prison for possession of child pornograph and first-degree sexual misconduct charges after more than 150 women and girls said he sexually abused them.

Following Nassar’s sentencing, Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and ranking Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut sent questions to MSU, the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and more than 50 amateur sports governing bodies, requesting data and records on their handling and prevention of sexual abuse in organized sports.

Their responses have been posted on the subcommittee’s website.

The full Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing last May on efforts to promote athlete safety, as did the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Separately, a bipartisan group of senators in January asked Senate leadership to establish a special committee charged solely with investigating the USOC and USA Gymnastics over the sexual abuse scandal involving Nassar. Senate leaders have not done so.

Both the House Energy and Commerce and House Oversight and Government Reform committees are also investigating, as well as the U.S. Department of Education and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office.

President Donald Trump in February signed into law a bill requiring sports governing organizations that train young amateur athletes to report suspected cases of abuse to authorities within 24 hours.

It also designated 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.”