USA Gymnastics Head Pressured To Resign Over Sexual Abuse Scandal

Mar 11, 2017
Originally published on March 11, 2017 8:32 am
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This week, U.S. Olympic Committee officials met to discuss the scandal in U.S. gymnastics. They reportedly are trying to pressure Steve Penny, the head of USA Gymnastics, which is the sport's governing body, to resign because of the sexual abuse scandal that centers on the team's doctor. Dr. Larry Nasser was arrested last year. He faces multiple charges of sex abuse and child pornography. Going to turn now to Marisa Kwiatkowski. She's one of the Indianapolis Star reporters who have been working this story. Thanks very much for being with us.

MARISA KWIATKOWSKI: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: So what responsibility would the head of USA Gymnastics bear in all this scandal?

KWIATKOWSKI: So the responsibility of USA Gymnastics officials is the same as really anyone who has any receipt of allegations of child sexual abuse. The responsibility, according to most state laws and child advocates, is if you have reason to believe a child is being abused or neglected, you should immediately report it to law enforcement or Child Protective Services.

SIMON: And did he know?

KWIATKOWSKI: According to USA Gymnastics' own timeline, he found out in June about allegations or athlete concerns about Dr. Larry Nassar. And at that point, the organization conducted an internal investigation for more than five weeks before they reported it to the FBI.

SIMON: I think a lot of people who followed this story just want to know - how can something this widespread go on for so long?

KWIATKOWSKI: Now, I should mention that Dr. Larry Nassar is facing criminal charges. He has denied wrongdoing and has not been convicted. But according to the people that we've interviewed who say that they were abused by him, they described an atmosphere in which they felt privileged to be treated by a prominent sports medicine doctor who was working with Olympians and elite gymnasts and elite athletes from other sports.

And in some other cases, those individuals, when they were concerned about the medical treatment that they were receiving, they approached a coach or they approached a parent or another trusted adult and reported it. And in some cases, we're told that they were misinterpreting medical treatment or that they were misunderstanding what had happened. And so those allegations, so far, based on police reports and our investigation, came over a decades-long period of time.

SIMON: I know you, Marisa Kwiatkowski, have been talking to a lot of parents. What's their react been like?

KWIATKOWSKI: Obviously, there are a number of survivors of sexual abuse and parents who are very concerned about it and concerned about how those allegations were handled. You do have other parents, though, who still stand behind and in support of, in some cases, accused individuals, sometimes even after they've been criminally convicted.

SIMON: Can you help us understand that attitude?

KWIATKOWSKI: What we've been told is that - and they've written this extensively in letters both to judges and to USA Gymnastics in arguing on behalf of those individuals, but - that they've interacted with this person for sometimes years and that, in their view, their child had never been abused or hurt in any way. And so they stood behind that person, and it was somebody that they liked. And in many cases, what our investigation found is that these individuals who have been accused of crimes involving children are people that are very charismatic and very well-liked.

SIMON: Yeah.

KWIATKOWSKI: And so it makes it very difficult to believe the things that have been said against them.

SIMON: Marisa Kwiatkowski of The Indianapolis Star, thanks so much for being with us.

KWIATKOWSKI: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.