How does the USOC value its Olympians? Gymnastics abuse scandal raises questions

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Last month, Aly Raisman stood at Larry Nassar’s sentencing hearing and delivered a 13-minute, tour-de-force victim-impact statement. She was one of over 150 women who came forward to help put the former USA Gymnastics doctor away for life for sexually assaulting them.

During her address, Raisman, who won six medals, including three golds in gymnastics across two Olympics, took time to focus on USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee for their failure to do even the bare minimum after she revealed she was among Nassar’s victims.

“Neither USA Gymnastics nor the USOC have reached out to express sympathy or even offer support,” Raisman said. “Not even to ask, ‘How did this happen? What do you think we can do to help?’

“Why have I and others here, probably, not heard anything from the leadership at the USOC? Why has the United States Olympic Committee been silent? Why isn’t the USOC here right now?”

The USOC’s criminal and civil exposure in the Nassar case is still to be determined. It is more of an organizing body than an operational one, allowing each sport’s governing body – in this case USA Gymnastics who used Nassar as a doctor – great autonomy to run daily business. That may change in the future if the USOC decides it can’t trust the national governing bodies to handle athlete safety.

Aly Raisman delivered a powerful victim-impact statement at the sentencing of former sports doctor Larry Nassar. (AP)
Aly Raisman delivered a powerful victim-impact statement at the sentencing of former sports doctor Larry Nassar. (AP)

That decision, and others, will come. An independent investigation into the USOC is underway. CEO Scott Blackmun retains support of the board of directors who believe his advice to have USA Gymnastics to go to the police in 2015 was proper. For now, he is employed, although he’s not here at the Winter Olympics as he recovers from a surgery.

Raisman’s criticism was poignant, though, because it spoke to a culture, or a way of thinking, that is perhaps at the root of how someone like Nassar could operate.

The USOC didn’t view even the most famous and successful of its athletes as people. If it had, USOC officials would have immediately called and rushed to offer assistance, help or sympathy. If it had, those same officials would have shown up to the hearing in Lansing to again offer support.

Even the USOC now acknowledges that.

“We took too long to reach out to the gymnasts after these revelations became public,” Larry Probst, USOC chairman of the board, acknowledged Friday at the organization’s Olympics-opening news conference. “We are in the process of doing that now.”

It’s the least they could do. As was righting the initial mistake and attending Nassar’s second sentencing hearing last week in Eaton County, Michigan.

What Probst and everyone else at the USOC can do as part of its review of what went wrong, is consider what caused them, as individuals, to not call Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and so many others who competed under their banner while being raped by Nassar.

Every victim is equally important. Each of Nassar’s crimes is equally tragic and devastating. That Nassar wrapped himself in Olympic red, white and blue to build trust with his victims has rightfully horrified everyone associated with Team USA.

Yet on the micro level, Raisman and the others were known, often personally, by the people in charge of the USOC. They competed for the United States for years and years. They weren’t strangers. Or, they shouldn’t have been.

If you discover someone you care about was the victim of a horrible crime, you go to them. You don’t go radio silent and consult your attorneys. Many of these abuses occurred not just at USA Gymnastics training camps, but at international competitions, including the 2012 London Olympics.

Nothing does more for the bottom line of the American Olympic machine than women’s gymnastics. It’s been the driver for the Summer Games for decades now. It delivers huge TV ratings and lucrative broadcast deals from NBC, as well as massive corporate partnerships from a host of companies.

USOC chairman Larry Probst admitted officials waited too long to reach out to Larry Nassar’s victims. (Getty)
USOC chairman Larry Probst admitted officials waited too long to reach out to Larry Nassar’s victims. (Getty)

No one at the USOC or USA Gymnastics ever hesitated to cash in on these women who won medals at unprecedented levels. They know full well that the machine of American gymnastics continues to hum because every four years a new generation of little girls watch and dream of becoming Olympic gymnasts themselves. The cycle of cash just spins.

Yet when tragedy hit? Nothing. Or not enough.

The USOC is trying to say the right things and trying to do the right things and trying to allow any and all investigations to run their course. That’s good. No one is suggesting that anyone at the USOC was OK with Larry Nassar abusing people. These aren’t monstrous people.

But Probst trotting out the same old lines such as, “We could have done more, but everyone could have done more,” certainly doesn’t get to the heart of the issue.

Some introspection might.

What does it say about Larry Probst and the others at the USOC that they didn’t reach out to Aly Raisman? Or Biles? Or Douglas? Or McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber and the others?

Deep down, did they view the gymnasts as only pawns to profit from? Are these girls just a commodity to be packaged and sold by the USAG and the USOC? Were they only among a faceless long line of Olympic athletes who keep those USOC officials employed and entertained?

Did those officials care at all?

The next Nassar gets stopped with new programs, new initiatives and new safe guards. He gets stopped by new awareness. Thankfully, all of that is happening.

He also gets stopped when USA Gymnastics, the USOC and many others take an honest look at how these girls, how any of these athletes in any of these sports, are valued in the first place.

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