By David Rieder.
Shortly before the Winter Olympics began in PyeongChang, a group called “The Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOC” sent a 14-page memo to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce demanding the resignation of USOC CEO Scott Blackmun. The memo cited a failure to protect athletes from being sexually abused despite knowledge that abuse was a “frequent and recurring problem” in Olympic sports.
Members of the committee that signed the memo include a collection of Olympians in swimming, including Donna DeVarona, Gary Hall Jr., Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Karen Moe Humphries, Lenny Krayzelburg and Ariana Kukors. Below is a quote from a press release announcing the memo:
“The memo states that Blackmun and the USOC knew going back nearly three decades that athlete sexual abuse was a frequent and reoccurring problem within the Olympic movement. According to the memo, Blackmun and the USOC refused to hold themselves or NGBs accountable for their failures to protect athletes in order to avoid civil liability. In the process, the Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOC states that Blackmun and the USOC created the underlying conditions for sexual abuse to thrive.”
The memo was issued Feb. 4, in direct response to the recent sentencing of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Even as victims came forward and told their stories about suffering abuse at Nassar’s hands, USOC supported USA Gymnastics, which in turn had supported the doctor up until the last minute. The entire leadership at USA Gymnastics recently resigned due to backlash of their handling of the case.
The memo was actually sent before the latest stories of sexual assault in swimming, which included Kukors claiming she was sexually abused by longtime coach Sean Hutchison and the Orange County Register releasing a story accusing USA Swimming of failing to properly investigate “hundreds” of claims of sexual abuse.
In an outline of instances over the past three decades when the USOC failed to prevent sexual abuse, multiple sports are cited. If an athlete had a complaint with how they were treated, they were on their own:
- The USOC is repeatedly criticized for ignoring evidence of sexual abuse within the ranks of USA Gymnastics beginning in the 1990s. Evidence included published investigative and athletes’ autobiographies.
- In 1993, when both USA Swimming and the USOC failed to discipline coach Mitch Ivey after he was fired from the University of Florida for misconduct.
- The USOC received complaints by both a male Olympic Speedskater and the USA National Team Wrestling coach that Andrew Gabel had sexually abused teenage girls at the U.S. Olympic Training Site in Marquette, Michigan. The USOC took no action against Gabel, who would thereafter go on to sexually abuse children at the Olympic Training Centers in New York and Michigan as well as on several USOC-sanctioned international trips, including the Olympics in Albertville, France and Lillehammer, Norway.
- The USOC did not act on a sworn declaration when a female Taekwondo Olympian alleged that she was sexually harassed by the CEO of USA Taekwando. Later on, the USOC did not act when USA Taekwando did not sanction a coach accused by three athletes of rape until the coach was criminally convicted.
- The USOC received a written complaint from U.S. Speedskater Eva Rodansky about USS National Team Coach. The Coach was having a sexual relationship with a female skater who he then helped place on the Olympic Team, while Rodansky was left off the team.
- In 2012, both USA Swimming and the USOC did not respond to Olympic medalist Deena Deardorf Schmidt when she accused her former coach of sexual assault.
Additionally, the memo states that Blackmun, while working for the Bryan Cave law firm, represented USA Swimming in 2008, when a member swimmer sued the organization for failing to protect her from a coach’s misconduct.
The USOC is currently conducting an investigation into the organization’s handling of sexual abuse. Shortly before the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics, USOC chairman Larry Probst said “that no decision on Mr. Blackmun’s future would be made until the completion of an independent investigation into how the organization handled the sexual abuse accusations,” according to the New York Times.
However, Probst did defend Blackmun, according to the Times, commenting that he had “served the USOC with distinction” and that “we think that he did what he was supposed to do and did the right thing at every turn.”
Probst also apologized to victims of Nassar, saying, “The Olympic system failed you and we are so incredibly sorry.” But the Times also points out that he did not blame the USOC for failing athletes.