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USOC fires official as Larry Nassar report released

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DENVER (AP) — An independent report details a toxic pattern of bureaucratic paralysis among Olympic leaders who reacted slowly, if at all, after they knew Larry Nassar was suspected of molesting young gymnasts.

From the top office at the U.S. Olympic Committee to FBI bureaus in three cities to what was essentially an unchecked, rogue operation at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas, nobody stepped in quickly enough to stifle Nassar’s crimes, the report concludes.

That delay ultimately gave Nassar more than a full year to abuse gymnasts after the first allegations surfaced.

The USOC swiftly fired sports performance chief Alan Ashley in the wake of Monday’s release of the 233-page report from the law firm Ropes & Gray. One of its conclusions was that neither Ashley nor Scott Blackmun, who resigned in February as CEO of the USOC, elevated concerns about Nassar’s alleged abuse when they first learned of them from USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny in July 2015.

And an email from Penny notifying Blackmun and Ashley of Nassar’s decision to step down from his volunteer position in September 2015 — after allegations had surfaced but before they’d become widely known — was deleted from both executives’ accounts. The report suggests Blackmun was fearful his email system may have been vulnerable to Russian hacking.

“One thing we’ve learned from this experience is that these types of situations should be escalated,” said Susanne Lyons, a board member who served as acting CEO earlier this year. “Transparency is important.”

The report says the USOC; USAG; Nassar’s employer, Michigan State; and the FBI all failed to protect athletes. The USOC’s failures led to an approximately 14-month period — July 2015 to September 2016 — during which Nassar was allowed to continue to molest girls despite the allegations.

“While Nassar bears ultimate responsibility for his decades-long abuse of girls and young women, he did not operate in a vacuum,” the report says. “Instead, he acted within an ecosystem that facilitated his criminal acts.”

Nassar is serving decades in prison on charges of child pornography and for molesting young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment; many of his accusers testified in heart-wrenching detail at his sentencing hearing in January.

The USOC commissioned the report shortly after the testimony. More than 100 people were interviewed, including some survivors of sexual abuse. But a sizable number of Nassar victims — including 180 being represented by attorney John Manly — refused to participate because Manly didn’t believe the report was completely independent of the USOC.

“That being said, it is a stinging indictment of the highest levels of the leadership of the United States Olympic Committee for their role in the cover-up (of) the largest sex-abuse scandal in the history of sports,” Manly said.

Among the conclusions:

  • Blackmun never reported the allegations to either the USOC board or anyone on his staff. When asked about the Nassar case by chief security officer Larry Buendorf, who had received word separately from Penny, Blackmun told Buendorf he was aware of the issue and did not seek further guidance. Blackmun, who voluntarily answered questions for the report, explained he understood the seriousness of the Nassar allegations but because they involved an “insider” — Nassar was well-respected and had worked with USAG for nearly 30 years — the case was “especially sensitive.”
  • While Penny repeatedly tried to get the FBI to investigate, one of his key objectives was to keep the allegations from spilling into the public, to avoid “sending shockwaves through the community,” as he said in a conversation with an FBI agent. Because of that, very few inside USAG knew the extent of Nassar’s crimes — a factor that curtailed efforts to control him.
  • Despite Penny’s contacts with law enforcement, the report concludes “the investigation appears to have languished … for over seven months” in the FBI’s Detroit office. USAG later took the allegations to the FBI’s Los Angeles office, but not until the Indianapolis Star report detailing Nassar’s abuse came out in September 2016 did that office take action.
  • The Texas training center where much of the abuse occurred was run by Bela and Martha Karolyi, whose penchant for churning out gold medalists earned them virtual carte blanche without having to answer to parents, individual coaches, or USAG and USOC authorities. The harsh regimen they imposed left athletes afraid to report injuries and almost completely beholden to Nassar, who “had broad latitude to commit his crimes, far from the gymnasts’ parents and unimpeded by any effective child-protective measures.”

The backdrop of it all was a U.S. Olympic bureaucracy that had grown reluctant to police the sports organizations it oversaw. When Blackmun took over the USOC, its relationships with the national governing bodies (NGBs) were at a low point. He spent years trying to repair the relationships and the USOC “chose to adopt a deferential, service-oriented approach” to NGBs, according to the report.

“In this governance model, the USOC exerted its broad statutory authority and monetary influence over individual sports primarily for the purpose of encouraging success at the Olympic Games, effectively outsourcing any decisions regarding on-the-ground child-protective practices to the NGBs,” the report states.

That, in the minds of many of the survivors, was the most critical shortcoming: In short, the USOC valued medals over the athletes who won them.

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USA Gymnastics files for bankruptcy

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USA Gymnastics is turning to bankruptcy in an attempt to ensure its survival.

The embattled organization filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition on Wednesday in an effort to reach settlements in the dozens of sex-abuse lawsuits it faces and to avoid its potential demise at the hands of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

USA Gymnastics filed the petition in Indianapolis, where it is based. It faces 100 lawsuits representing over 350 athletes in various courts across the country who blame the group for failing to supervise Larry Nassar, a team doctor accused of molesting them. Nassar, 55, worked at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University for decades. He is serving effective life sentences for child porn possession and molesting young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.

Kathryn Carson, the recently elected chairwoman of USA Gymnastics’ board of directors, said the organization’s goal is to speed things up after mediation attempts failed to gain traction.

“Those discussions were not moving at any pace,” Carson said. “We as a board felt this was a critical imperative and decided to take this action.”

The filing does not affect the amount of money available to victims, which would come from previously purchased insurance coverage, she said. Carson said the insurance companies “are aware we’re taking this action and our expectation is they will come to the table and pay on our coverage.”

Carson added: “This is not a liquidation. This is a reorganization.”

John Manly, an attorney representing dozens of women who have pending lawsuits against USA Gymnastics, chastised the organization for continuing to “inflict unimaginable pain on survivors” and encouraged law enforcement officials to “redouble” their investigative efforts.

“Today’s bankruptcy filing by USA Gymnastics was the inevitable result of the inability of this organization to meet its core responsibility of protecting its athlete members from abuse,” Manly said in a statement. “The leadership of USA Gymnastics has proven itself to be both morally and financially bankrupt.”

USA Gymnastics insists that’s not the case, stressing that the filing is based on legal expediency, not fiscal distress.

While Carson acknowledged that sponsorship is down since the first women came forward against Nassar in the fall of 2016, she described the financial condition of USA Gymnastics as “stable.”

USA Gymnastics reported assets in a range of $50 million to $100 million and a similar range of liabilities, with 1,000 to 5,000 creditors. The organization said its largest unsecured creditor is former president and CEO Steve Penny, who is owed $339,999.96. USA Gymnastics is disputing Penny’s claim, though attorney Cathy Steege declined to get into the specific nature of the dispute.

Penny resigned under pressure from the USOC in March 2017. Two other presidents — Kerry Perry and former U.S. Rep. Mary Bono — have followed in what has become a revolving door amid the organization’s hierarchy.

It’s that chaos at the top that led the USOC to initiate the process of removing USA Gymnastics as the sport’s national governing body at the Olympic level — a step that’s taken only under the most extreme circumstances.

In an open letter to the gymnastics community in November, USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said “you deserve better,” and that the challenges facing USA Gymnastics were more than it was capable of overcoming as currently constructed.

Carson said the legal maneuvering Wednesday delays the USOC’s efforts to strip its designation as a national governing body.

“We always have a dialogue going with them and intend to make it clear with them we have a lot to talk about and we want to keep that going,” she said.

USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said the committee is reviewing the filing’s potential effect on decertification. “Financial stability and viability are essential for a national governing body to operate in the best interests of the athletes,” Sandusky said.

USA Gymnastics believes bankruptcy protects it from having opportunities or assets taken away by a debtor. Carson acknowledged that being a national governing body “is a big part of how we raise our revenue.”

Carson, who replaced Karen Golz as chairwoman last week, said she accepted the position because she believes in the direction of USA Gymnastics, which she said doesn’t need money but rather time.

“We think we’re changing the dynamic and we certainly believe that we will try to remain the NGB,” Carson said. “To be clear, it is our lawyers’ firm belief that the bankruptcy will automatically stay (decertification) … and we will work with the USOC to regain credibility.”

Nicholas Georgakopoulos, a bankruptcy expert and law professor at the Indiana University’s Indianapolis campus, said USA Gymnastics is “hoping for a miracle” with its legal maneuvering.

“The USOC says you violated this relationship, here are the consequences and USA Gymnastics is saying it filed for bankruptcy, there are no consequences,” Georgakopoulos said. “This is like a gambling addict who goes to the casino and gambles every day and one day the casino says you can’t come anymore, you’ve lost too much, and addict says, I filed for bankruptcy, you can’t stop me from coming to the casino.”

If the USOC wants to go forward with decertification, it must now go to court.

USA Gymnastics has no timetable on how long the bankruptcy process will take and did not offer a ballpark on how much it expects to pay in settlements. Its doors, however, remain open for business.

“We are continuing to pursue all aspects of our current operating model,” Carson said. “This affords us an opportunity to reorganize as well as resolve the claims with the survivors.”

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Ron Galimore, USA Gymnastics COO, resigns

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Longtime USA Gymnastics chief operating officer Ron Galimore resigned Friday, the latest high-profile departure for the embattled organization in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal.

The move came as USA Gymnastics is facing decertification of its status as the national governing body for the sport amid concerns about its leadership and the way it handled complaints against Nassar. The former team doctor is now serving decades in prison for sexual assault and possession of child pornography.

Nassar is accused of sexually abusing hundreds of female athletes under the guise of treatment at both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State.

USA Gymnastics did not comment on the move Friday beyond saying in a statement that its board accepted the resignation and wished Galimore “well in his future endeavors.”

Galimore released a statement Friday night, saying:

“I am proud to have served USA Gymnastics and its members for more than 24 years. I realize that changes are necessary as the gymnastics community moves forward in the wake of Larry Nassar’s horrific actions, which affected so many in our sport.

“I want to be clear that my resignation was not associated in any manner with the online discourse and media reports that have tried to link me to an effort to shield Nassar from scrutiny. I have spoken with investigators and been deposed concerning these matters, and am confident that I have always acted responsibly and with the best interests of athletes in mind.

“Gymnastics has been the center of my life since I was a kid. I resigned from my position with both a degree of sadness but also the hope that my departure may aid USA Gymnastics in pursuing its vision for a new beginning as it undergoes restructuring with a renewed sense of focus on creating a safe place for children to learn gymnastics.”

The Indianapolis Star reported in May that an attorney hired by USA Gymnastics directed Galimore to come up with a false excuse to explain Nassar’s absence at major gymnastic events in the summer of 2015. The organization was looking into complaints against Nassar at the time.

“We’ll let Ron know to advise people that you weren’t feeling well and decided to stay home,” Scott Himsel, an attorney hired by USA Gymnastics, wrote in an email, according to the newspaper.

USA Gymnastics is accused of covering up assault allegations. The group didn’t tell Michigan State or elite gymnastics clubs about complaints against him in 2015. The organization said it did not disclose the complaints out of guidance from the FBI.

Nassar publicly stated in September 2015 that he was retiring from the Indianapolis-based group, but he continued to see young women and girls for many months at his Michigan State office and a gym near Lansing, Michigan.

While there has been significant turnover atop the organization in the last two years — USA Gymnastics is currently searching for its fourth president and chief executive officer since March 2017 — Galimore remained on as its second-highest ranking officer. Though he kept a lower profile in recent months, he was a medal presenter at the world championships earlier this month.

Galimore’s continued presence had been a point of contention with Nassar survivors and vocal critics who wondered how committed USA Gymnastics is to changing its culture if it allowed Galimore to remain on board.

New USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland told the gymnastics community “you deserve better,” in an open letter released earlier this month. Hirshland said the challenges facing USA Gymnastics are more than it is capable of overcoming as currently constructed.

The organization is weighing whether to give up its status as a national governing body on its own or if it will try to convince the USOC that it can fix its problems and create an environment that puts an emphasis on athlete safety, wellness and overall transparency.

Galimore, a standout gymnast who was on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that boycotted the Moscow Games, joined USA Gymnastics in 1994, initially working with the men’s program before moving into other areas within the organization.

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