There have now been countless reports on the cover-up of child sex abuse in the United States starting with the Catholic Church, broken down into its dioceses, like Boston; Philadelphia, which I discussed here; and most of the rest of Pennsylvania, which I discussed here. Once the paradigm of abuse in the Church had sunk in, other institutions emerged from the gloom, like Penn State, the report for which I discussed here. There was also the grand jury report about sex abuse in a private boarding school, the Solebury School, in Pennsylvania.
Enter the most recent report, which was commissioned by the United States Olympic Committee and addresses sex abuse in Olympic sports, with primary attention to the Dr. Larry Nassar scandal. This one does not include recommendations to prevent future abuse, but limits itself to a handful of elements: description of Nassar’s tactics; key individuals in the failure to protect hundreds of children from sex abuse from Nassar; an attempt to describe the gymnastics culture to explain why its athletes would be particularly at risk; and the organizational structure as between the USOC, the National Governing Bodies, and USA Gymnastics.
Here is the bottom line: important people in the USOC and USAG were maddeningly slow in responding to reports of girls feeling “uncomfortable” with Nassar, in reporting to the authorities, and in informing the world of the reports about Nassar. And their foot-dragging wasn’t in the 1970s or 80s. It was recent, as in since 2015. Here is what flummoxes me: how is it possible after the Spotlight report in 2002 for any institution not to honestly wonder whether it has a problem with employees or volunteers sexually abusing children? After all, that report was about a powerful Cardinal, who had ignored and covered up serial child abuse by dozens of priests in heavily Irish Catholic Boston. But let’s say that many thought that maybe that was a Boston Archdiocese problem and others that it was a Catholic problem, so no soul-searching needed.
All right, then there was the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal and suddenly we were all on notice that the Church wasn’t alone. Here was another example of powerful individuals who covered up serial sexual abuse of vulnerable children. The Freeh Report came out in 2012, ten years after Spotlight (and the many diocesan scandals that followed). By 2014, there had been reports of dozens of child sex abuse scandals, as you can see here, at pages 3–5.
Given the environment and the headlines, how is it possible that in 2015, Steve Penny at USAG and Scott Blackman at USOC, who heard reports that Nassar was inappropriate with female athletes and was making many feel “uncomfortable” during treatments and exams, didn’t run with their hair on fire to the local police station and take out an ad in the New York Times saying that everyone needs to steer clear of Larry Nassar? Instead, Blackman deleted an email with Nassar’s name on it, and Penny removed medical records from the Karolyi Ranch where Nassar “treated” many of his victims. They also let Nassar retire with dignity when they knew he was under investigation.
Penny went to the FBI but as all too often happens, its process was ridiculously slow and unproductive. While the FBI plodded along, Penny and Blackman sat tight. While they twiddled their thumbs, more girls were sexually abused by Nassar in his retirement mode.
The report points to organizational elements of the USOC and USAG, implying that they explain the failures. For example, the USOC became increasingly corporate and styled itself as a service organization for the NGBs. But I can tell you that a corporate structure does not require child sex abuse. Ignoring the children in your care leads to child sex abuse, but that is not innately tied to being corporate.
It also points to the drive for medals and money and how that led to failing these children. Again, this does not distinguish the USOC and USAG from the other institutions that have left children to pedophiles while protecting their reputations and wealth, from the churches and synagogues to the universities, schools, and sports teams.
The description of gymnastics does include many elements that had to contribute to empowering Nassar, but again, there are many sports where children have been sexually abused. Many.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of important information in this report and those concerned about child protection need to read it. To be clear, I am already on the record calling for the dissolution of both the USOC and USAG here.
But the most important takeaway from this most recent report is that the seriatim sexual abuse of children is happening in the United States in a Caddyshack way. It’s time to wake up and see that we have a systemic problem that is cultural. Adults prefer and protect adults, and kids suffer.
It’s time for that to change.