Olympic leaders grilled by Congress on sexual abuse issues

Congressional leaders sharply questioned the leaders of USA Gymnastics and US Olympic Committee on Wednesday for their organizations’ roles in failing to stop sexual abuse.

US Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan — the state where former gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused hundreds of women — berated US Olympic Committee acting CEO Susanne Lyons for how long it took to launch a Safe Sport policy to address athletes’ safety.

“Why should I take confidence from what you’re saying today when you look at this timeline?” Dingell asked, her voice rising. “You keep telling me ‘We’re working on it, we’re setting up a study.’ Is it going to take another five years? What are we doing to protect these young people right now so this never happens again?”

Lyons responded, “I appreciate your anger and concern and I share it, and I understand how frustrating it must seem and how incompetent it must seem that we didn’t do something sooner.”

Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor and Michigan State University team physician, admitted in a Michigan court that he had used his influence and position as a trusted medical professional to sexually abuse young girls and women over two decades.

Wednesday’s barbed questions came toward the end of a House hearing with Lyons and Kerry Perry, president and CEO of USA Gymnastics.

The two opened the hearing by apologizing for the actions of Nassar, whose abuse of high-profile Olympians created a renewed focus on sexual abuse in the Olympic ranks.

“I want to apologize to all who were harmed by the horrific acts of Larry Nassar,” Perry said.

She said she was “appalled and sickened by the despicable crimes” of Nassar and said USA Gymnastics has taken a new course over the last five months to protect athletes.

Lyons also apologized to Nassar’s victims and admitted her organization had failed.

“The Olympic community failed the people it was supposed to protect, and I would like to apologize once again to those individuals and to their families, some of whom are with us today,” she said. “I know we can do better and we will do better.”

Nevertheless, Rep. Buddy Carter of Georgia called on Lyons to resign and pointedly asked Perry, “How you can work for an organization like this that let this happen?”

Perry was appointed to take over USA Gymnastics late last year. She replaced Steve Penny, who resigned in March 2017 amid backlash over the organization’s handling of sexual abuse claims, including against Nassar.

Also speaking at the congressional hearing were Jamie Davis, CEO of USA Volleyball; Tim Hinchey, president and CEO of USA Swimming; Steve McNally, executive director of USA Taekwondo; and Shellie Pfohl, president and CEO of the US Center for SafeSport.

Several of the women abused by Nassar, including gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman, have said USA Gymnastics is responsible for not doing more to stop the years of abuse. In court in January, Raisman said the organization was “rotting from the inside” and called on Perry to take responsibility for the issue.

“Where is the honesty? Where is the transparency? Why must the manipulation continue?” Raisman asked.