Olympians blame 'adults' for not stopping Nassar abuse

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Olympic gymnastic stars Jordyn Wieber and Jamie Dantzcher told a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday that their abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar would not have occurred had the "adults" at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University "done their job."

Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Jordyn Wieber recounts her sexual abuse at the hands of team doctor Larry Nassar while testifying before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security Subcommittee.

"They are still refusing to admit what the problem really is and that they’re accountable for it,” Wieber, a DeWitt native, said about MSU, which employed Nassar through the London 2012 Olympics.

Asked by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, how Interim MSU President John Engler is doing in his new role, Wieber replied: "He’s almost trying to fight the survivors, rather than trying to work with us," adding that he hasn't reached out to her.

"Why still is reputation of the university and money more important than the lives of hundreds of girls and women who were abused under their responsibility?" she said.

Wieber and Dantzcher, a 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, and other athletes asked the senators to hold the organizations accountable.

"I believed this abuse was allowed to happen because many adults at USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic Committee, Michigan State University and in various gyms throughout the country kept Larry Nassar's secret," Dantzcher said.

"They failed to speak up, and let Nassar assault the children."

Nassar, formerly of MSU and USA Gymnastics, was sentenced earlier this year to what amounts to life imprisonment after admitting to sexually abusing girls and women under the guise of medical treatment and to possessing child pornography.

The Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Olympic Committee and amateur sports, heard Wednesday from Wieber and Dantzcher, as well as Bridie Farrell, a retired American speed skater, and Craig Maurizi, a U.S. figure skater and coach.

Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said the hearing represents the next step in the panel's bipartisan inquiry into “cultural and systemic problems” of abuse following the revelations that Nassar had abused so many over two decades, despite victims' complaints.

“You were let down by individuals you trusted but who chose to ignore you, to look the other way, or to deliberately cover up the abuses you suffered because their priority, simply put, was not your safety or well-being," Moran told the athletes.

His panel has notified MSU, USA Gymnastics and the USOC that it plans a second hearing on the subject for May 22, when they would be witnesses, Moran said.

Nassar's victims speaking out against USA Gymnastics during his sentencing in Michigan this year inspired Maurizi to do the same, he said.

Two months ago, Maurizi renewed a complaint of sexual misconduct that he filed in 1999 about his coach Richard Callaghan -- a complaint that U.S. Figure Skating had dismissed as filed too late. The U.S. Center for SafeSport has now opened an investigation and suspended Callahan from coaching, Maurizi said.

"These brave women gave me the courage to speak out again, and I wanted to publicly thank them today," said Maurizi, who was living in Troy and coaching at the Detroit Skating Club when he filed the '99 complaint.

"I respectfully ask you to find out why the USOC did nothing for decades, while reports of child sexual abuse in many Olympic sports were ignored," he asked the senators

Farrell in 2013 alleged that she had been sexually abused by her teammate Andrew Gabel in the late 1990s when she was 15 and Gabel was in his 30s. Gabel apologized and later resigned from U.S. Speedskating, following Farrell’s claims.

Farrell faulted the USOC for claiming there wasn’t anything that it could do for her because it did not have such jurisdiction over national governing bodies.

“However, in the midst of the USA Gymnastics shakedown, the USOC acknowledged that national governing bodies could be decertified and overtaken by the head organization,” she said.

“It certainly seems the USOC wants to pick and choose when to be involved, and it seems only when it favors the USOC."

Farrell told senators that an individual in the boxing community at the Olympic training center at Northern Michigan University had raised questions in 1990 about Gabel’s relationship with a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 20s.

University officials investigated but determined the allegations could not be substantiated, according to document excerpts she provided the committee.

Wieber, now a California resident and gymnastics coach at UCLA, on Tuesday became the latest gymnast to file a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and MSU, alleging they “enabled” Nassar to continue his alleged sexual abuse of young athletes.

Wieber was the 2011 national champion and member of the “Fierce Five” team that won the gold medal in London in 2012.

She claims she was repeatedly molested by Nassar from age 12 or 13 until she was 17 years old. Her suit, filed in Los Angeles, also alleges MSU and USA Gymnastics knew that Nassar was abusing children but failed to disclose that information to gymnasts or the public.

Dantzcher and gymnasts Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney have also sued the organizations with similar claims. Dantzcher testified last year before the before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her abuse by Nassar.

Dantzscher said she sat through depositions of former USA Gymnastics Chairman Paul Parrilla and former President Steve Penny and was "stunned" by their lawyers' efforts to prevent them from answering any "meaningful questions," describing their answers as "misleading."

"I urge the committee to read these depositions and question Mr. Parrilla and Mr. Penny under oath," she said. "Maybe they will answer tough questions and tell you the truth. I hope they do."

She also urged parents of young athletes to watch for "red flags" such as being told they can't ask questions or watch their children train.

Moran and ranking Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut previously sent questions to MSU, the USOC, 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.

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 the sports governing bodies that train young amateur athletes to report suspected cases of abuse to authorities within 24 hours.

The law 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.