Shaheen calls for a change of culture at USOC after executive’s resignation

  • On. Feb. 7, U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Joni Ernst announced a bipartisan resolution to create a congressional committee to investigate the U.S Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics following revelations of decades of sexual abuse of athletes.

For the Monitor
Saturday, March 03, 2018

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen says a culture within the U.S. Olympic Committee that’s allowed the sexual abuse of young female athletes “needs to change.”

New Hampshire’s senior U.S. senator said Friday the resignation of longtime USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun this week was long overdue. In a statement, the organization said Blackmun resigned because he has prostate cancer.

“Despite the announcement of why he left, I think he left because of the troubles at the U.S. Olympic Committee,” Shaheen said. “There is clearly a culture there that has allowed the kind of sex abuse that we all saw very publicly in the Larry Nassar case exist for decades and that culture needs to change,” she said.

Nassar’s the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University sports doctor who was sentenced in separate trials over the past two months to serve up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing more than 250 women and girls over 25 years. The judge in one of the cases called for a “massive investigation” into why no action was taken against Nassar for years despite accusations of abuse.

Shaheen agreed.

“Somebody needs to come in. We need to take a look at what’s going on there and there need to be recommendations for how to change it. And it goes beyond USA Gymnastics. Sadly we’ve heard reports from people in swimming, skiers, so this has been a long time culture that needs to change,” she added.

Shaheen, a Democrat, cited those concerns as the reason she teamed up with Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa last month to introduce a measure to establish a special Senate committee to investigate the USOC as well as USA Gymnastics to determine “the extent to which these organizations were complicit in the criminal or negligent behavior of their employees relative to sexual abuse.”

“We’re learning this was not a simple case of negligence or failed oversight on the part of the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, and other institutions,” Shaheen said. “There is ample evidence that many were alerted multiple times to Nassar’s behavior and they found excuses to look the other way.”

She added that the committee could compel the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics officials to testify.

The committee would be tasked with identifying and recommending actions and solutions “to the systemic failures” at the USOC and USA Gymnastics. It would report its findings by the end of 2019.

Shaheen said the resolution also requires that at least half the committee members be women.

While partisanship blocks much of the work on Capitol Hill, Shaheen said the effort has bipartisan support among its 18 sponsors.

Shaheen said the she hopes to attach the measure to a vast budget bill being assembled right now that would fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

“There has been a lot of support but also opposition from some of the entrenched committee chairs who don’t want this to infringe on what has normally been part of their portfolio,” she added. “But as Sen. Ernst and I have said, they have a lot on their plate. We need a separate investigation because the U.S. Olympic Committee is federally chartered so we have a responsibility to see what’s going on there and to try and make sure that change happens.”

Shaheen spoke with the Monitor hours after gymnastics champion Aly Raisman sued the USOC, arguing that the sports federation knew or should have known that Nassar was molesting her and other young athletes.

Six weeks ago, Raisman made headlines with a surprise appearance and fiery statement at one of Nassar’s sentencing hearings.

“Cleary she is also concerned about the culture at the U.S. Olympic Committee. She’s experienced it first-hand. She’s talked about that and has been a very vocal opponent of what’s going on there,” Shaheen said. “That’s why this kind of a public airing where we really investigate what’s happened there and get to the bottom of it, and the public gets to see what’s gone on there, is really important.”

Shaheen said she teamed up with Ernst because they’ve worked on other issues and sit together on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and knew that each has an interest in this issue.

“She was an athlete when she was in college. I was an athlete when I was in college and so we both agree that this is totally unacceptable, that our athletes should be subjected to the kind of culture that’s existed at the U.S. Olympic Committee,” Shaheen said. “We need to make sure that their safety and success is the most important goal of the U.S. Olympic Committee.”