Observations On The Senate Olympics Investigation Report

An 18-month Senate investigation resulted in a searing report that found the U.S. Olympic Committee—among others— failed to protect young female athletes from sexual abuse. On July 30, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) released the long report  detailing “widespread failure by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (the “Committee”) and other institutions to keep athletes safe.”

The effort was sparked by the ugly scandal surrounding Dr. Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics team doctor, who was sentenced to up to 175 years in a Michigan prison after it was revealed i 2016 that he had sexually abused and assaulted hundreds of female athletes.

The report and its contents have not received sufficient publicity in mainstream media sources, and one is left to speculate on why. The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection found that, from summer 2015 to September 2016,  Olympic organizations hid the extent of Nassar’s crimes from the public and athletic community “to the detriment of dozens of women and girls who were sexually abused during this period of concealment.”

Those “other institutions” impugned in the 235-page report included the FBI. “The FBI failed to pursue a course of action that would have immediately protected victims in harm’s way. Instead, the FBI’s investigation dragged on and was shuffled between field offices,” the report states. This was not, as many media reports misleadingly suggest, just a failure of sports organizations. “Hundreds of women and girls were sexually abused by Larry Nassar” when basic competence, concern and diligence in many organizations, including law enforcement, would have saved them.

Observations:

1. What good is a 235 page, extensively footnoted report like this? No one will read it, almost literally no one. The news media, which is supposed to summarize it competently, is incapable of doing so, so soaked with bias and incompetence are the reporters given the assignment. To edit a story on the report competently, editors would also have to read the report cover to cover.

Of course they don’t.

2. Senators and legislators undermine their own work and the credibility of such reports by giving them sensational, sentimental or pandering titles. This one, for example, is called, “The Courage of Survivors.” The report isn’t about the courage of survivors. It is about organizational and institutional corruption.

3. How many times does this basic story line have to play out before the lesson is learned? This is the Catholic Church molestation scandal; it is Hollywood’s rape and sexual assault scandal; it is thousands of similar coverups in corporations, government agencies, and institutions. This is what organizations do—not always, but frequently enough that there should never be an assumption that ethics will prevail of self-interest. Reports like this one, which reflect an attitude of shock, are really proof of unconscionable naivete.

4. There have been many, many documented cases of adults, often acclaimed adults, using their positions as the trainers, caretakers or coaches of juvenile athletes to sexually abuse them, often over many years, as their respective organizations practiced contrived ignorance. Why would anyone assume that the Olympics would be more trustworthy? I assume that the larger the stakes, the less trustworthy organizations and their leadership will be.

“USA Gymnastics was rotten to the core,” Senator Blumenthal said a press conference. I wonder how many other U.S. Olympics organizations are rotten to the core, but haven’t yet been exposed? I do not wonder if USA Gymnastics was unique. I am certain it was not and is not. The report even acknowledges that “there have been “serious allegations” of abuse in USA swimming, figure skating, taekwondo, and other sports.

5. It is unacceptably dangerous to place child athletes  at risk in such cultures. The report has recommendations, and here would be mine: end all child participation in high profile, big money sports.

6. The report has spawned the “Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2019,” and proposes,

1) Strengthening Legal Liability and Accountability Mechanisms

  • Imposing greater legal liability on both the Committee and its NGBs for bad acts including sexual abuse by coaches and employees.
  • Establishing mechanisms whereby Congress can dissolve the Board of the Committee and decertify NGBs.
  • Increasing the representation of amateur athletes on the Committee.
  • Requiring the Committee to provide greater oversight over NGBs.
  • Providing the Committee greater tools to discipline NGBs that fail to protect athletes.

2) Restoring a Culture of Putting Athletes First

  • Requiring the Committee to establish procedures and reporting requirements to protect athletes.
  • Imposing clear responsibilities to protect NGB athletes.
  • Bolstering the Office of the Ombudsman’s authority and independence to aid athletes who have been assaulted.

3) Fortifying the Independence of the Center for SafeSport

  • Requiring the Committee to pay the Center for SafeSport $20 million annually for operating costs.
  • Barring employees of the Committee or NGBs from serving the Center for SafeSport.
  • Requiring the Center for SafeSport to report to Congress within 72 hours any attempt by the Committee or NGBs to interfere with the Center’s work.

Focus your cynicism on #2. There has never been an “athletes first” culture in the Olympics, not since it stopped being an amateur event and started being worth mega-millions. This is propaganda and obfuscation. The analogy is child actors in Hollywood, who face similar perils, and are similarly exploited.

7. The most disturbing news in the report is the conduct of the FBI. The Senators  said they are still waiting for answers from the agency explaining why the bureau “sat on evidence” of Nassar’s sexual misconduct even after USA Gymnastics reported the doctor on July 27, 2015. The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General is  investigating the agency’s behavior. This part of the story is being buried by the press. Call me cynical, but a large part of the “resistance” case against President Trump depends on the demonstrably false theory that the FBI is competent, trustworthy, above reproach, and as pure as the driven snow.  The fact that it sat on evidence while young girls were being sexually molested doesn’t fit the narrative.

8. The Olympics itself is a festering boil of corruption in  too many respects to count, fix or address. This is just one of many. It is now just a spectacle for television, greed and propaganda, rife with bribery, cheating, exploitation and abuse. The ethical course would be to end it. Permanently.

______________________________________

Sources: Buzzfeed, The Compliance and Ethics Blog

 

10 thoughts on “Observations On The Senate Olympics Investigation Report

  1. 8. As with American football, both pro and college (and college and pro basketball, at least for me), all I can do is simply stop watching the Olympics and at least not feel complicit in the sleeze and worse. Ugh.

  2. Sports, by its very nature, is not about the athletes. The team comes first, the sport comes first. The athletes are supposed to sacrifice for the good of the sport and the team. Kerri Strug is probably the most memorable example. Was it in her best interest to have her vault on an injured ankle? Of course not! Would any physician have permitted it? No. A 19-year old was encouraged by a coach to vault on an injured ankle and the world cheered.

    I have been on the periphery of college athletics to know that college sports at all levels exploit the students. It is inherent in the nature of the beast. It may be convincing the athletes to spend so much time on their athletics that their grades suffer. It may be discouraging them to seek medical attention for injuries (and become ineligible). I am sure the higher the stakes, the more the exploitation.

    Athletics has grown dramatically in schools. In the early ’70’s, a Division I baseball team would play about 17 games in a season. Now, it is 56 games, plus possibly 10 additional games in playoffs. How can a college student be a student when they are gone for 56 games in a 70 day semester?

    • Michael, I’ve been watching a lot of MLB since getting back into the country a couple of years ago. I can’t watch either NFL or NBA. My question lately is why are colleges running A and AA minor league systems for MLB? All the players seem to come out of college baseball lately. Why are the schools doing this for the MLB owners? And needless to say, the NFL and NBA save billions on not having to run minor league systems because the NCAA does it for them. Bizarre. What does any of that have to do with post secondary undergraduate education? Nothing minus.

      • I don’t understand the question. If colleges have teams, then MLB might draft from them. They also draft from high schools. No college baseball teams are as active, expensive or overwhelming of studies as big time basketball and football. While those college players go directly into the NFL and NBA, almost no college player in baseball does—they go into the minor leagues (A and AA), and many of them never make it at all.

      • High schools have elevated sports well above academics. This then leads to the same thing in college. It would be very difficult to have a successful college today in the US without a prominent sports program. Unless you had a school with major prestige (like Harvard), you would be hard-pressed to attract enough students without sports. I talk to a lot of students who won’t go to a college if they can’t play college sports. There was a student whose parent was a med school faculty member who wasn’t allowed to go to college unless they were in sports. The parent told them if they dropped out of the sports team to concentrate on their classes and improve their grades, the parent would stop supporting them.

        In addition, the administrators would much rather go to games and rub shoulders with athletes than visit classes and talk to faculty. My guess is that the FBI fell into this trap, being wide-eyed at meeting famous gymnasts and coaches instead of focusing on the investigation.

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