|The 2016 Olympic Women's Gymnastics team.|
Top executives at one of America’s most prominent Olympic organizations failed to alert authorities to many allegations of sexual abuse by coaches — relying on a policy that enabled predators to abuse gymnasts long after USA Gymnastics had received warnings.
An IndyStar investigation uncovered multiple examples of children suffering the consequences, including a Georgia case in which a coach preyed on young female athletes for seven years after USA Gymnastics dismissed the first of four warnings about him.
In a 2013 lawsuit filed by one of that coach’s victims, two former USA Gymnastics officials admitted under oath that the organization routinely dismissed sexual abuse allegations as hearsay unless they came directly from a victim or victim’s parent.
Legal experts and child advocates expressed alarm about that approach, saying the best practice is to report every allegation to authorities. Laws in every state require people to report suspected child abuse.
“USAG failed at this,” said Lisa Ganser, whose daughter filed the Georgia lawsuit, which is still being argued. “USA Gymnastics had enough information, I think, to have done something about this. It didn't have to happen to my daughter, and it didn't have to happen to other little girls.”
I have to admit that I have only paid minimal attention to the Olympic this year, until recently when the Gymnasts started competing.
As some of you may or may not know I was a mediocre gymnast myself in high school and a gymnastics coach in my thirties.
I will still argue that pound for pound the strongest athletes in the world are gymnasts.
I mean sure power lifters can sometimes bench press over 800 pounds, but just ask them to press up to a handstand or pull their bodies up into an iron cross the rings. THAT takes real strength, and the use of muscles that many athletes will never be asked to develop.
One of the first things I learned was that as a gymnastics coach the most important thing you have to establish with your athletes is a sense of trust because they quite literally place their lives in your hands.
More than perhaps any other sport there is a great deal of physical contact between the coach and the athlete because you have to physically assist them through their rotations, catch them when they fall, and even pick them up and place them on the equipment in certain circumstances.
For that reason as a coach you must conduct yourself with unwavering professionalism.
But even then there are incidents where hands can end up in the wrong places.
While still in high school I was once asked by the female coach to come into the gymnastics room to help spot a girl who was attempting a release move on the uneven bars. (Part of the deal I made for access to the gymnastics equipment was to be on call during the girl's training sessions and I did spot the girls fairly often.)
This time the young woman missed her grab and plummeted face first to the mat.
I was standing there and I managed to catch her before she hit, but in doing so I grabbed her by one of her boobs and between her legs. NOT, by the way, the appropriate manner in which to spot somebody according to the coach's manual.
I was incredibly embarrassed, and apologized profusely.
But she told me not to worry about it and that if I had not caught her she would probably have broken her nose or been knocked unconscious.
The point is that coach's have to be paragons of virtue in order to gain a gymnast's trust, ESPECIALLY if you are a male coaching young girls.
So for these young women to have been subjected to this abuse, when they desperately needed to trust their coaches, is incredibly shameful.
And it needs to be dealt with quickly and the young women entering this highly competitive atmosphere need to know they are protected and that their voices will be heard if they feel unsafe. And that reporting something like this will not endanger their standing or interrupt their training.
This sport is unbelievably hard on the athlete's bodies and can result in lifelong injuries. No parent should need to worry about their children suffering an emotional trauma as well.