USA Gymnastics

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Larry Nassar survivors offered $215 million by USA Gymnastics

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USA Gymnastics has filed a bankruptcy plan that includes an offer of $215 million for sexual abuse survivors to settle their claims against the embattled organization.

The $215 million total is the amount USA Gymnastics’ insurance carriers are willing to provide the sport’s national governing body to end years of legal battles with athletes who were abused by former national team doctor Larry Nassar. The two sides have been in mediation since USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy in December 2018.

Nassar is serving decades in prison for sexual assault and possession of child pornography in Michigan. Hundreds of athletes have come forward over the last three years saying Nassar abused them under the guise of treatment, including reigning Olympic champion Simone Biles and six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman.

Bankruptcy law requires businesses to provide an exit plan within 18 months, and the exit plan is another step in a still lengthy process. USA Gymnastics President Li Li Leung told The Associated Press on Thursday that the organization wants to “work toward a true consensual settlement” with survivors.

Leung described the $215 million as the amount the insurance carriers have agreed to provide at this point.

“Our hope is that discussions will continue and more money will be (available),” said Leung, who took over in March 2019, several months after Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy protection. “It’s not capped at $215 (million).”

There is a two-step voting process for claimants to determine whether to accept the offer. At least half the claimants who vote have to approve the agreement, and the majority needs to represent at least two-thirds of the monetary value of the settlement. The claimants could also vote down the measure and continue to pursue their lawsuits to collect any judgments from insurance policies available to USA Gymnastics or they could not vote on it at all and discuss how to go forward.

The proposed settlement does not include any money from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, which has been named as a co-defendant in some of the lawsuits.

John Manly, an attorney representing 200 Nassar survivors, chastised both USA Gymnastics and the USOPC for “blatant disregard” of the victims.

“This proposed plan does not include the critical structural changes necessary to ensure the safety of girls moving forward, nor does it appropriately address the myriad physical and emotional challenges the victims face as a result of these crimes,” Manly said in a statement. “Most disturbingly, this proposed plan attempts to absolve USOPC of any responsibility for these crimes which were committed under its watch. This plan from USAG is not just unworkable, it is unconscionable.”

Michigan State University, where Nassar worked for decades, agreed in May 2018 to pay $500 million to more than 300 women and girls who said they were assaulted by Nassar.

At the time it filed for bankruptcy, USA Gymnastics was facing 100 lawsuits representing more than 350 athletes in various courts across the country who blame the group for failing to supervise Nassar. If claimants agree to accept the offer, the $215 million will be placed into a trust, with the money then distributed by a trustee. A judge would decide how the $215 million is allocated.

The plan put forth by the organization also requires it to continue to strengthen its athlete safety policies. USA Gymnastics revamped its Safe Sport policy last summer and hired its first vice president of athlete health and wellness last December.

The organization hopes to have a bankruptcy exit plan of some kind approved ahead of the Toyko Olympics, which begin in July.

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MORE: Athletes warily embrace progress as USA Gymnastics evolves

Athletes warily embrace progress as USA Gymnastics evolves

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The dread was familiar. The fear too. They gripped MyKayla Skinner shortly after she decided to return to elite gymnastics last summer.

Skinner wasn’t worried about recapturing the skills that made her an alternate on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team. A standout college career at Utah not only rekindled her love of the sport but served as a form of self care, the hyper intense pressure of performing for former national team coordinator Martha Karolyi replaced by the sense of joyousness she felt competing for the Utes.

That feeling of safety vanished as Skinner prepared for her first national team camp since deciding she would make a run at the 2020 Olympics.

She’d watched her friends and former teammates come forward to admit in open court they’d been abused by former national team doctor Larry Nassar, now serving what amounts to a life sentence for sexually assaulting gymnasts with his hands and possessing child pornography.

She kept an eye on USA Gymnastics as it stepped on one land mine after another in the aftermath as the lawsuits piled up and its role as the sport’s national governing body became tenuous at best. And while the organization believes it has taken positive steps to emerge from the rubble, Skinner wondered what was real and what wasn’t. She texted friend and reigning Olympic champion Simone Biles in hopes of finding clarity, worried about a bait and switch.

“I was like, ’I’m so scared to come to camp. Like, how is it with all the changes, new coaches and everything?″ Skinner said.

Biles, a Nassar survivor who has embraced her role as the the sport’s most influential voice since rocketing to stardom following her golden run at the 2016 Games, assured Skinner the vibe had shifted.

Sitting in a small conference room this week while preparing for the first national team camp of 2020, the Olympics just seven months away, the 23-year-old recently married Skinner admitted she’s still adjusting to the “new” USA Gymnastics.

“It’s just so weird coming into the gym and not feeling like, you know, ‘I’m going to die,’” she said. “Before it was like, ‘I’ve got to hit that routine or I’m going to get yelled at.’ So it’s just been really nice to kind of relax a little bit and be able to really focus on gymnastics and get to enjoy it more.”

There is a sense of lightness during practices that was hard to come by during Karolyi’s hugely successful but strident tenure.

The athletes no longer end each workout by lining up in order of height and offering a robotic, monotone “thank you” to the staff.

Upbeat music plays as they stretch. They talk openly and animatedly while waiting for their turn at each event, a decided departure from the near silence that was commonplace — and perhaps symbolic — of Karolyi’s authoritarian leadership style.

It’s one of the reasons Biles is “optimistic” about USA Gymnastics’ future. When asked why, her words sounded conciliatory even as her tone suggested she has no plans to stop calling out the powers that be when the moment requires.

“I feel like they’re working towards the right direction,” Biles said. “But there are still a lot of unanswered questions that a lot of us as survivors and as the community around us need. But for the most part, in the gym and what we do as a team, that’s going good.”

That wasn’t always the case under Karolyi. At turns brilliant and brutal, Karolyi’s near total control over the women’s elite program turned it into a powerhouse even as it left its athletes at times feeling powerless, the most decorated gymnast in the history of the sport included.

“With Martha you really feared (her) because she held your whole career in her hand,” Biles said. “And now I feel like you’re a little bit more forgiven because it’s such a hard sport and mistakes will be made but it’s how you rise from them and to learn to not do it again.”

A lesson USA Gymnastics itself is attempting to learn itself as it tries to recover from the largest sexual abuse scandal in sports history. The changes it has instituted since the summer of 2017 are both obvious and subtle.

It moved training centers twice, from the Karolyi Ranch in Texas — a decision reached only after Biles expressed outrage about possibly returning to a place she associated with Nassar’s behavior — to Evo Athletics in Bradenton, Florida, to The Gymnastics Company in suburban Indianapolis.

The rustic cabins at the remote ranch tucked into the Sam Houston National Forest have been replaced by hotel rooms near an interstate, a Starbucks and fast food restaurants. Coaches and athletes are prohibited from being alone together during trips to and from national team camps, forcing some to ride share or carpool upon arrival.

Perhaps most telling, the training tables inside The Gymnastics Company are situated right in the middle of the massive steel-structure, not tucked away in a corner.

“We didn’t want to create a back room,” high performance team coordinator Tom Forster said.

Those days are over.

During practice on Monday evening, Annie Heffernan, vice president of the women’s program, sat at a table with Kim Kranz, the organization’s first-ever vice president of athlete health and wellness.

President Li Li Leung, a former collegiate gymnast who came over from the NBA last spring, quietly walked among them, making small talk as she went. Forster — as approachable as Karolyi was aloof — gave the coaches a brief talk and then offered more smiles in 15 minutes than Karolyi did in a given year.

While gymnasts are still rewarded during camps for their performance, national team staff members now have the ability to honor an athlete for things that have nothing to do with chasing perfection.

“It could be an attitude, it could be sportsmanship,” Forster said. “It could be that they came back after that fall and did great. It’s not based on ‘this one’s the best, we have to acknowledge her.’”

The organization has stressed the need for open communication. The members of the 2019 World Championship team were asked to fill out a survey after the competition and share their thoughts on what worked and what didn’t. The same is done after team camps.

“They can complain about anything and anyone that they want to,” Forster said. “They can make it anonymous if they choose or they can say, ‘Hey I want feedback, or ’This is me, and I want to hear from you.’ They can do whatever they wish.”

Measuring any progress is tricky. The organization that long served as the gold standard for the U.S. Olympic movement has lost the benefit of the doubt. Even as it tries to prove how it has evolved over the last three years, the reality is things remain complicated.

Two coaches currently under investigation by U.S. SafeSport attended the camp with their athletes this week. Mediators are still trying to work through the bankruptcy petition USA Gymnastics filed in 2018 as a last-ditch effort to avoid decertification by the USOPC. Nassar survivors continue to call for the organization’s dissolution. Money is tight as sponsors wait for the legal process to play out. When the organization started placing equipment inside The Gymnastics Company, it had staffers do most of the lifting rather than hire professional movers.

All of which leaves the young women vying for an Olympic spot in an awkward position.

Most of the gymnasts in the senior elite program have no connection to Karolyi or Nassar, who was dismissed in the summer of 2015. Yet they find themselves serving as a beta test of sorts on whether the culture shift the organization is trying to bring about is actually happening.

Each of the 15 gymnasts interviewed by The Associated Press this week said they feel they have the freedom to express themselves without fear of retribution. Each believe their mental and physical health and safety is considered important. All of them, however, talked with a coach or a member of the USA Gymnastics staff within earshot.

It’s a lot for group of teenagers and 20-somethings to carry around. Yet it doesn’t appear overwhelming. When Grace McCallum inadvertently sailed off the uneven bars during training on Tuesday morning, her group broke out into laughter — McCallum included — as the three-time world championship medalist picked herself up off the mat.

Yet it was just one moment during one practice that happened to be conducted in front of reporters, photographers and video crews. Whether any of this new approach actually sticks will depend on what happens when the cameras aren’t around.

Much like the sport itself, the process will take dedication, discipline and the ability to address mistakes honestly. Two-time Olympic medalist Laurie Hernandez, however, is hopeful it can be done. She went nearly 3 1/2 years between national team camps after winning gold and silver in Rio. The difference between then and now is jarring. In the best way.

“Now we can truly enjoy each other’s company while just relaxing and enjoying our gymnastics,” Hernandez said. “That says a lot about the environment that’s being created for us. … it’s going to take a second. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not like we’re going to forget what happened before. But it’s getting there.”

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MORE: Investigators at home of Olympic gymnastics coach tied to Larry Nassar

Athlete abuse watchdog starts series of hearings on Larry Nassar case and beyond

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The Game Over commission, a group founded by child-abuse prevention think tank CHILD USA, is taking its first major step in an independent investigation of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case and related institutional issues with a public hearing Monday in Philadelphia.

The daylong hearing is being live-streamed.

After a series of hearings and other investigative work, Game Over plans to come up with a list of recommendations to reform U.S. sports. Once the work is complete, its data will be available to the public.

The hearing opens this morning with testimony from abuse survivors. This afternoon at 1:15 p.m. ET, the session will move into a discussion of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the evolution of SafeSport efforts. At 2:30 p.m. ET, a panel of journalists will describe how they investigated reports of abuse, including the Nassar case.

Nassar has been sentenced to multiple lengthy prison sentences in the wake of sexual abuse accusations by hundreds of gymnasts. Michigan State University, which employed Nassar, reached a $500 million settlement in 2018 with the 332 survivors who had come forward at that time.

Prominent sexual abuse complaints have also been raised in other Olympic sports, including swimming, diving, taekwondo, figure skating and speedskating.

Concurrently, Olympic sports federations launched various internal watchdog efforts and in 2017 established the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a body akin to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

The cases have been investigated multiple times so far. In July, U.S. senators Jerry Moran and Richard Blumenthal released a report summing up their investigation and wrote the Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2019, which would give Congress direct oversight over U.S. sports federations. The bill has not advanced out of committee. Neither have overlapping bills by Rep. Diana DeGette and Sen. Cory Gardner.

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