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Larry Nassar Case Exposes Wider Problems in U.S. Olympic Sports Culture

— November 23, 2017

In the months after former Olympic gymnastics physician Larry Nassar was accused of serial sexual abuse, well over 100 women have identified themselves as former victims of the doctor.

Some of Nassar’s victims were taken advantage of at his home, others at his offices and clinic. Five were former members of Team USA. All, along with support from Congress, have raised their voices at the sport’s highest governing body.

In March, USA Gymnastics’ chief executive resigned.

With Nassar’s trial proceeding and the evidence clearly stacked against him, some began to wonder whether the pedophile physician was really an isolated anomaly.

A November investigation, spearheaded by The Washington Post, shows the accusations against Dr. Nassar aren’t unique. Since 1982, almost 300 coaches and officials associated with Olympic sports organizations have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct.

Many were banned from working with teams again.

And of the 290 accused, 175 were eventually convicted of sex crimes and either incarcerated or otherwise punished. The rest, it seems, were either innocent or simply never taken to court.

Former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, seen in court in February, has been accused of sexually abusing well over 100 victims. (Robert Killips/AP)

The Post hypothesized that the culture of organized, Olympic-level sports in the United States has, in some instances, prioritized the chances of winning a gold medal over the safety of child athletes. Efforts to instate child protection measures common in other areas were oft-rebuked by the Olympic organizing committee, up until the Nassar case shook the nation.

“We’re hearing all about gymnastics, but the problems in gymnastics are equally as prevalent in every other sport,” said Katherine Starr, a former Olympic swimmer, abuse victim, and founder of Safe4Athletes. “I think people are starting to understand the complexity of this, and how this stays in the system. … It stays in the system because of governance, because of the people in charge.”

The multitude and depth of accusations against Nassar have forced the Olympic Committee to relent to the instatement of protective policies.

Some of Nassar’s purported victims include famed Olympic gymnasts McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman, the former of whom used the Twitter hashtag “#MeToo” to signal that she’d been assaulted by the physician.

The Post highlights portions of the Ted Stevens Act as paramount in keeping accused coaches working in their respective fields.

While the Act was intended to help children pursue their right to compete in competitions. But the Ted Stevens Act, in some respects, helped shield officials suspected of abuse.

Some in Congress, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), have proposed amending the Act to require all employees of Olympic sporting organizations to act as “mandatory reporters of abuse.” The bill passed last week, according to the Post, after integrating changes suggested by the Senate Commerce Committee.

Others have accused Olympic lawyers and sports attorneys of fostering a culture of abuse, saying the lengths to which lawyers sometimes go to avoid foisting negative publicity upon their clients can protect the rightfully accused.

Nassar, who purportedly abused about 130 underage female athletes, remains on trial. His attorneys have requested a change of venue, farther away from Michigan State University, due to the bad press attached to his name.


Gymnastics scandal reveals wider issue of Olympic sex abuse

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