WASHINGTON – Executives with major sport governing bodies, including Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, appeared before Congress Wednesday, facing tough questions about their ongoing response to sexual abuse allegations.
“What are you doing to protect these young people right now so this never happens again?” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) demanded to know.
Representatives from USA Volleyball, USA Swimming, the United States Olympic Committee, USA Taekwondo, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Center for SafeSport appeared before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee as congressional investigations continue amid a growing number of sexual misconduct allegations.
“First I want to apologize to all who were harmed by the horrific acts by Larry Nassar,” Kerry Perry told the committee, current president and CEO of USA Gymnastics.
Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics team doctor, will remain in prison for the rest of his life after hundreds of gymnasts said he sexually abused them under his care.
“With congress today, I hope these institutions have a feel of what it’s been like fighting for our own justice every single day while they try to take the easy way out,” Lindsey Lemke said in a statement to CBS4, a Nassar victim and Michigan State University student athlete. “It is important that we continue to demand accountability so that we can ensure something like this will never ever happen to another person again.”
Under sworn testimony, Perry outlined what the organization has done since she took over in December, including closing the national training center at the Karolyi Ranch and implementing a series of recommendations for change.
“We must ensure that our youth are safe when they go to the gym, when they take the ice, when they go out on the field to practice their sport,” Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) said. “Young athletes look to their coaches, their instructors and trainers as role-models.”
The U.S. Center for SafeSport, a newly-created independent body meant to handle sexual abuse claims for the 48 national governing bodies, said 38 of the 48 have had new reports of misconduct between March 2017 and April 2018. Overall the organization said that includes 488 reports of sexual abuse.
“This is a significant number of cases,” Brooks said.
Local clubs are watching the developments with a close eye.
“I think this is a really important topic,” Debbie Hamby said, co-owner of Indy Stars Gymnastics in Indianapolis.
Hamby opened her gymnastics club three years ago, just as the Nassar allegations were about to come to light, and said safety has been at the forefront of their operations since day one. That includes cameras and an invitation and encouragement for parents to actively participate.
“This is a topic that is really important to parents,” she said. “We as a club have new gymnasts coming all the time. And it is frequently one of the first questions that parents will ask me – what do you do to protect the children? How do you safeguard that they’re in an environment that’s going to be safe and they will thrive?”
Congress has already mandated governing bodies like USA Gymnastics report allegations to local or federal law enforcement alongside setting aside grant money to help keep young athletes safe.
But from the response to Wednesday’s testimony, it is clear members of Congress are not yet satisfied.
“Ms. Perry, I’m glad you’re here today,” Dingell said. “But a lot of people have been wanting to hear from you since you took the job. You have to be transparent with everybody.”