WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security, will convene a hearing entitled “Preventing Abuse in Olympic and Amateur Athletics: Ensuring a Safe and Secure Environment for Our Athletes,” at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 5, 2018 in Dirksen room G50. The hearing will focus on how past processes to protect our Olympic athletes from abuse have failed to keep athletes safe and explore current efforts to provide a safe environment for amateur athletes.
- Ms. Rhonda Faehn, former Women’s Program Director, USA Gymnastics
- Mr. Steve Penny, former President, USA Gymnastics
- Ms. Lou Anna Simon, former President, Michigan State University
*Witness list subject to change.
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security
This hearing will take place in Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room G50. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Chairman Jerry Moran
(As Prepared for Delivery)
Good afternoon, I call this hearing to order. Earlier this year, this subcommittee launched an investigation to examine cultural and systemic problems regarding abuse in the Olympic movement. This subcommittee, which exercises jurisdiction over the U.S. Olympic Committee and amateur sports, is fully committed to ensuring the health and safety of all American athletes, and today marks the second hearing in our ongoing investigation.
We began this process in January following disgusting revelations that former USA Gymnastics team Doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused hundreds of athletes over the span of two decades, even well after numerous survivors alerted authorities about his actions.
As we now know, many of our American Olympians who stood tall in representing our nation on the international stage were suffering behind the scenes. Their stories break our hearts and all of the athletes who have come forward to share them are to be commended for their courage.
I know I speak for both myself and Senator Blumenthal when I express my thanks to the many survivors who have personally met with us throughout this investigation. We were grateful to have four abuse survivors across different Olympic sports join our subcommittee hearing panel in April to share their experiences and recommendations on what Congress ought to do to make certain athletes are protected from predators. We are joined by several surviving athletes today, and I thank them for their continued interest and bravery demonstrated throughout our investigation.
Today’s hearing marks the next step in our investigation. In order to make recommendations that will be effective and meaningful in driving change in the Olympic movement so that athletes will be able to freely participate in their sports without fear of abuse, it is vital that we understand how this happened: Who knew about the abuse? When did they know? What did they do with that information? And, importantly, why?
To that end, this subcommittee has sought extensive documentation from the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, organizations represented on today’s panel. We have requested and received additional documentation from all National Governing Bodies on their policies and procedures in reporting, handling and combating abuse, as well as their use of athlete-organization nondisclosure agreements.
Unfortunately, now four years removed from the first Michigan State investigation into Nassar allegations and three years after a USA Gymnastics coach first heard of his abuse, there are a multitude of questions that remain unanswered. My hope is that the witnesses here today can help answer these outstanding questions, provide us their perspective on what went wrong and offer their advice on how it can be prevented from ever happening again.
Joining us today is Steve Penny, the former president of USA Gymnastics; Rhonda Faehn, USA Gymnastics’ former senior vice president and women’s program director; and Dr. Lou Anna Simon, the former president of Michigan State University. Two additional witnesses were invited to participate today but were unable to travel to Washington for medical reasons: Scott Blackmun, the former president of the U.S. Olympic Committee; and Martha Karolyi, the former national team coordinator for USA Gymnastics. Mr. Blackmun and Ms. Karolyi have each provided written testimony for today’s hearing and will respond to committee members’ written questions for the hearing record.
We are also honored today to welcome Senators Joni Ernst of Iowa and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire to the subcommittee to provide opening testimony. Senators Ernst and Shaheen have taken a sincere interest in preventing abuse in the Olympic movement, and their testimony today will be invaluable in helping this subcommittee further raise awareness and identify solutions that will make a difference. Thank you, senators, for the time you have taken to prepare and present your heartfelt testimony.
I will conclude my remarks by reminding my colleagues that in light of Mr. Penny and Dr. Simon declining the committee’s invitations to appear voluntarily, subpoenas were issued requiring their attendance today. Through their counsels, both Mr. Penny and Dr. Simon made clear that they would not appear voluntarily on June 5th or any other date going forward. I wish that were not the case, as issuing subpoenas is something this committee takes very seriously and pursues only as a last resort. Despite the circumstances, however, I appreciate their presence today and look forward to a productive hearing on this important matter.
With that, I will turn to the Ranking Member, Senator Blumenthal, for his opening statement.
Martha KarolyiNational Team CoordinatorUSA Gymnastics
Scott BlackmunFormer CEOUnited States Olympic Committee
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As I have repeatedly said to the brave women who came forward – both to me and before this committee – to tell their stories about the unspeakable abuse they endured because of their assailant: The system failed them. Responsible adults who should have intervened failed them.
The purpose of this hearing and this committee’s ongoing work on youth athletic safety is to find out what happened and who is accountable – with the ultimate goal of preventing such horrific crimes from occurring again.
We may not be able to douse the evil completely – there will always be sick people who will seek to harm our children. However, we can hold sports organizations accountable so that they create environments with appropriate checks and safety protocols that prevent such predators from taking advantage of vulnerable targets.
And we can hold accountable those individuals who do nothing; who do not prioritize the safety and wellbeing of our youth athletes.
As we sit here today, I am reminded of some of the awful things that reportedly happened at the Karolyi Ranch where our Olympic gymnasts were trained and much of Larry Nassar’s abuse took place.
Reports indicate that the environment there was anything but safe. Terrible physical, emotional and sexual abuse took place.
In addition to Nassar’s despicable crimes, the Karolyis would allegedly withhold food and made gymnasts train in terrible conditions that led to frequent injuries.
Furthermore, parents of the athletes were reportedly not welcome at the monthly training camps at the ranch and couldn't even stay in the same hotels with their children.
Let’s be clear here, we’re talking girls as young as ten years old being terribly abused.
How could this have happened to our young American heroes and our role models? They gave their all to pursue the dream of winning Olympic gold. For years, they placed their trust in the coaches, trainers, physicians and staff, and in return were forced to endure unspeakable abuse.
This is beyond tragic, as many of the victims’ emotional scars may never heal. It’s also downright shameful and a stain on USA Olympic sports that will take some time to shed.
That’s why we’re here today. We here to help the brave victims heal.
We’re here to change the culture of abuse that was widely accepted and supported by USA Gymnastics and other Olympic sports.
And, we’re here to ensure that those currently pursuing their dream of being an Olympic athlete and those that will follow them will never have to endure the unspeakable abuse the victims experienced.
Mr. Chairman, it is my hope that we will eventually hear open public testimony from the United States Olympic Committee.
I want to hear what the U.S.O.C. knew and how their officials responded. I would also like to hear how the U.S.O.C. is adopting reforms to protect current athletes and how the organization is conducting oversight over national governing bodies such as USA Gymnastics.
The U.S.O.C. can no longer play a passive role on such matters and their officials should also answer questions before this committee.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing.
Witness Panel 1
Ms. Lou Anna Simonformer PresidentMichigan State University
Ms. Rhonda Faehnformer Women’s Program DirectorUSA Gymnastics