Can’t Blow the Whistle During the Routine
By: Ryan Murphy
When you hear “USA Gymnastics,” what do you think of?
There’s an off chance you thought of Simone Biles. Makes sense; she’s arguably the most dominant athlete in a given sport in the history of athletics. Perhaps the Fab Five – the best gymnastics team ever – sweeping gold at the 2012 London Olympics. There’s probably a much bigger chance, though, that you thought of Larry Nassar or sexual abuse or both.
Larry Nassar’s sexual assault scheme that ravaged USA Gymnastics finally came to a halt in late 2016, but only after two-plus decades of violating young girls. The scandal took over the nation as the #MeToo movement swept the country, with over 150 women testifying against Nassar in court. Ultimately, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. Hardly a just punishment for the pain and suffering he caused, but enough to ensure that he is locked in a cell for the rest of his life.
Several executives at both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State have lost their jobs for failing to act upon complaints regarding Nassar’s abuse, but no one else has been sentenced to jail time. So, is that really it? Life in jail and a few lost jobs and everyone can move on?
It has been well documented that several people tried to report complaints and problems with Nassar, but those complaints were shoved aside as if they didn’t exist. One of those people who raised concerns was Dr. William Moreau, a former vice president of medicine for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) who was fired in May 2019 after more than ten years with the organization.
He filed a lawsuit against the USOPC at the beginning of February claiming that he was fired as retaliation for whistleblowing and challenging Olympic officials for their treatment of athletes. Specifically, Moreau challenged the USOPC’s management of sexual assault abuse and mental health treatment. His lawsuit focuses on two particular instances in the past two years, involving a 15-year old Paralympian who claimed she was sexually assaulted and a 23-year old Olympic silver medal cyclist, Kelly Catlin, who struggled with mental health issues.
Moreau claimed that the 15-year old was statutorily raped by a 20-year old male at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa in April of 2018. Rather than reporting the case to police, as is required by Iowa and federal law, the USOPC Chief of Sport Performance Rick Adams conducted an internal investigation. Five days after the incident was reported, the USOPC filed a complaint with the U.S. Center for SafeSport – which is now required in every sexual assault allegation within the USOPC – but did not classify the complaint as a “reportable offense.” Ultimately, the offender was charged with “sexual misconduct involving a minor” and nothing more came from the case.
In Kelly Catlin’s case, Moreau warned the USOPC that “urgent action” needed to be taken after the 2016 silver medalist became “disengaged” from the team and abandoned her psychiatric care following a suicide attempt in February of 2019. Despite his pleas to have her seen by psychiatrists specializing in suicidal patients, the USOPC opted to treat the cyclist “by committee.” On March 7, Moreau again confronted the USOPC and said that if changes were not made quickly, “an athlete we are responsible for will again take their own life.” Kelly Catlin killed herself later that day.
Moreau’s lawsuit additionally spoke of an incident in January 2019 involving a male strength and conditioning coach being found naked in a public sauna at an official Team USA training facility in Colorado Springs, at which the under-18 gymnasts were training. So, here we are in the aftermath of one of the biggest sexual assault schemes in the history of humanity, let alone in sports, and the USOPC is allowing sexual assaults to go unreported and mentally struggling athletes to go untreated despite urgings for action from people around the situation. As if that’s not bad enough, they can’t even get a male coach to keep his clothes on in a facility where underaged female athletes – from the EXACT team that Larry Nassar assaulted for 22 years – were training.
Whether or not these reports turn out to be true will be determined by the courts. Maybe Moreau is dramatizing all of these stories because he’s upset he got let go. After all, despite his so-called efforts to stop Larry Nassar, a third-party investigation showed that Moreau, himself, ultimately deemed the space where Nassar was “treating” athletes to be safe.
I refuse to believe that all of these stories are fabricated, though. Nassar duped thousands of people along over two decades, and it’s very possible that Moreau was one of those, ultimately accepting that Nassar’s practices were safe. That, however, does not detract from the validity of his claims nor the concerning pattern we’re seeing from the USOPC.
In the wake of such a scandal, I would expect an organization like the USOPC to crack down harder than ever on athlete safety. Yet, here we are.
Nassar is in jail, so who cares, right? The USA wins gold at all the Olympics, so why tamper with what’s working? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
Unfortunately, that’s the attitude that has existed in the USOPC for decades, and despite unfathomable atrocities that have occurred under its supervision, things don’t seem to be changing. Just as a coach wouldn’t step in during a gymnast’s routine to adjust technique, the USOPC doesn’t want to adjust the routine that is producing gold every two years. There’s one problem with this routine, though…it never ends. So, if you can’t blow the whistle during the routine, when can you blow it at all?
We can only hope that the situation improves and that strong leadership overhauls the mentality that is proliferating within the USOPC. Winning is great, yes, but the costs are far greater under the current operation. No athlete, girl or boy, should have to fear for their safety to compete at the greatest sporting event that humanity has to offer. A sexual assault is not worth a gold. A medal is not worth a life.
Hopefully the Moreau lawsuit provides a wakeup call to those within the USOPC and fans who observe from afar. Apparently a 175-year jail sentence for a serial assaulter was not enough. When we start caring as much about the safety of young athletes as we do about an NFL player kneeling or Donald Trump’s next tweet, then we will begin to see change in the areas that need it most.
: Correa, C. (Jan. 25, 2018). The #MeToo Moment: For U.S. Gymnasts, Why Did Justice Take So Long? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/us/the-metoo-moment-for-us-gymnasts-olympics-nassar-justice.html
: Cacciola, S., & Mather, V. (2018, January 24). Larry Nassar Sentencing: 'I Just Signed Your Death Warrant'. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/24/sports/larry-nassar-sentencing.html
: Hauser, C., & Zraick, K. (2018, October 22). Larry Nassar Sexual Abuse Scandal: Dozens of Officials Have Been Ousted or Charged. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/22/sports/larry-nassar-case-scandal.html
: Couch, G. (2018, January 25). So many missed chances to stop Larry Nassar, so many people at fault. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/nation-now/2018/01/25/so-many-missed-chances-stop-larry-nassar-so-many-people-fault-graham-couch-column/1065181001/
: Hobson, W. (2020, February 6). Former top Olympics doctor sues, claims he was fired for standing up for athletes. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2020/02/06/usopc-lawsuit/
: Hart, T. (2020, February 10). Former USOPC Doctor Files Suit Alleging He Was Fired for Reporting Abuse. Retrieved from https://swimswam.com/former-usopc-doctor-files-suit-alleging-he-was-fired-for-reporting-abuse/
: Barr, J. (2020, February 6). Olympic doctor Bill Moreau says he was fired by USOPC for reporting abuses. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/olympics/story/_/id/28645700/olympic-doctor-bill-moreau-says-was-fired-usopc-reporting-abuses
: Hart, supra.
: Barr, supra.
: Armour, N., & Gleeson, S. (2020, February 10). Ex-Olympic doctor Bill Moreau says he was fired by USOPC for reporting abuse cases. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2020/02/06/former-olympic-doctor-bill-moreau-files-whistleblowers-suit/4677419002/
: Ingber, S. (2019, March 11). Olympic Cycling Medalist Kelly Catlin Dead At 23. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/03/11/702206945/olympic-cycling-medalist-kelly-catlin-dead-at-23
: Hobson, supra.