Sen. Richard Blumenthal displeased with USA Gymnastics shirking legal responsibility
By EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer
Senators questioned the sincerity of reforms at the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University in the wake of sex-abuse scandals — using legal papers, emails and accounts of conversations to portray organizations that still don’t fully grasp the pain they inflicted.
At a hearing Tuesday in Washington, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut criticized leaders of the USOC and USA Gymnastics for court filings this month that seek to absolve the federations of legal responsibility for Larry Nassar’s sex-abuse crimes.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and others blistered Michigan State’s interim president, John Engler, for insensitive emails and comments he made during negotiations that produced a $500 million settlement with sex-abuse victims who attended the school.
“I think you have some repair work to do here today, to put it mildly,” Hassan said, prompting applause from the 80 or so victims who attended the hearing.
Nassar, a longtime sports doctor at Michigan State who also volunteered as the team physician for USA Gymnastics, is serving decades in prison for child pornography and other crimes after hundreds of women said he sexually abused them under the guise of medical care.
Last Friday, the USOC filed a motion to be removed as a defendant in lawsuits filed by gold-medal gymnasts Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla Maroney, arguing that it had no legal responsibility for Nassar’s actions.
“There are all kinds of defenses the parties can make, but there’s also a moral responsibility here,” Blumenthal said. “If you’re serious and sincere, you will withdraw (the court filings). You need to be part of the legal solution, not just come here and apologize.”
USA Gymnastics filed papers in a different lawsuit that also deny legal liability for Nassar’s actions, in part because he wasn’t on the payroll. Blumenthal seized on this wording in the USAG court filing: “USAG denies that Nassar was an employee or agent of USAG.”
When he pressed CEO Kerry Perry on that point, she said she was unaware of the court filing but that, indeed, “Larry Nassar was absolutely an agent of USA Gymnastics.”
Also weighing in was Han Xiao, a table tennis player who serves as the USOC’s athletes’ representative. He called the sex-abuse scandal part of a larger problem in Olympic sports, in which the USOC and the sports organizations hold an inordinate amount of power over the athletes.