• Villanova Sports Law Blog

What is Athlete Safety Worth to USA Gymnastics?

By: Lili Flores


USA Gymnastics (USAG) has missed the mark again on supporting the health and safety of their gymnasts. Since the Larry Nassar scandal and trial beginning in 2016, USAG has been heavily criticized for how they have handled the situation, and they have now filed in federal bankruptcy court for the Southern District of Indiana. After filing for bankruptcy, all lawsuits against USAG were suspended. [1] USAG has proposed a reorganization plan that would limit the settlement for all civil claims that have been made against USAG regarding the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal to $215 million.[2] If the bankruptcy court approves and confirms the plan, USAG will emerge from bankruptcy.[3]

In a statement regarding the proposal, Li Li Leung, President of USAG, said they hope to reach an agreement with the survivors, as she emphasized that “athlete safety” remains the top priority of USAG. [4] Following the criticisms they faced during the scandal, USAG has attempted to create initiatives showing their commitment to their athletes. These have included appointing a Vice President of Athlete Health and Wellness, an updated Safe Sport Policy, and new educational courses focused on athlete safety.[5] However, USAG will not implement these initiatives until the bankruptcy court approves USAG’s proposed plan.

Under the proposed settlement, USAG offered options to the survivors to vote either to accept the $215 million in settlement money or to continue to pursue their lawsuits and work to collect from the insurance policies of USAG.[6] In making this decision, the survivors must decide on which option to take together, as it will apply to all of them. While it is estimated that each woman would get between $250,000 and $300,000 under this proposal, this is minimal compared even to the previous settlement of Michigan State and 300 Nassar survivors who settled for $500 million.[7] To move forward with the settlement, at least half of the women involved have to vote to approve it.[8]

Currently, more than 500 women currently have civil claims against USAG regarding the abuse of Larry Nassar. Over 200 of the Nassar survivors involved, who are represented by John C. Manly, however, will likely not welcome the proposal. Mr. Manly even described the proposal as “dead on arrival” when it was delivered and said that it is “not just unworkable, it is unconscionable.”[9] Mr. Manly also suggested that this proposal supports the USAG’s stance that allowed Larry Nassar to get away with this for so long, and said that the Olympic Committee, “doesn’t take the sexual abuse of athletes seriously.”[10]

Mr. Manly has harshly criticized not only the settlement itself, but also the reorganization plan and USAG, stating that it, “lacks any accountability” from USA Gymnastics, who continue to “[treat] this like a public relations problem, not the systemic rape of young women and girls.” [11] The plan not only tries to keep the costs of settling with the affected athletes low, but also fails to show real structural changes to USAG to ensure athlete safety as a top priority moving forward. USAG must do more to show their commitment. Mr. Manly has explained that the money is not what the survivors are worried about, instead, they want USAG to disclose documents that show how this happened and who is responsible.[12] They believe this transparency is the way to truly make changes in the sport and it’s governing structure.

There are other glaring issues with the potential settlement plan as well. For one, under the terms of the proposal, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) is not involved, although it has been named as a co-defendant in more than half of the lawsuits against USAG.[13] The proposed plan removes USOPC from responsibility for the crimes committed under their watch. Even worse, some of the lawsuits, such as that of McKayla Maroney, could be fully dismissed because she is only suing USOPC and not USAG.[14]

Although Larry Nassar was sentenced in 2018 to 40 to 125 years in prison for the abuse he caused, USAG still needs to take responsibility and support the many gymnasts who are still working through the trauma that Nassar caused. In order to show that USA Gymnastics stands in solidarity with the survivors, they need to do more than just make minimal plans for compensation and show that they genuinely care about their athlete’s safety with real changes. The current proposed settlement plan positively falls short.





[1] Cachero, P. (2020, January 31). USA Gymnastics offered to pay Larry Nassar survivors an estimated $250,000 each - their attorney says the settlement is 'DOA'. Retrieved from https://www.insider.com/larry-nassar-survivors-reject-usa-gymnastic-215-million-settlement-2020-1

[2] Larry Nassar survivors offered $215M settlement by USA Gymnastics. (2020, January 30). Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/olympics/gymnastics/story/_/id/28601421/larry-nassar-survivors-offered-215m-settlement-usa-gymnastics

[3] USA Gymnastics files plan to emerge from bankruptcy; provides $215 million for survivors of sexual abuse with alternative for survivors to pursue litigation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://usagym.org/pages/post.html?PostID=25141

[4] Larry Nassar survivors offered $215M settlement by USA Gymnastics. (2020, January 30). Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/olympics/gymnastics/story/_/id/28601421/larry-nassar-survivors-offered-215m-settlement-usa-gymnastics

[5] USA Gymnastics files plan to emerge from bankruptcy; provides $215 million for survivors of sexual abuse with alternative for survivors to pursue litigation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://usagym.org/pages/post.html?PostID=25141

[6] Levenson, M. (2020, January 31). U.S.A. Gymnastics Offers $215 Million to Larry Nassar Victims. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/30/sports/USA-gymnastics-nassar.html

[7] Id.

[8] Larry Nassar survivors offered $215M settlement by USA Gymnastics. (2020, January 30). Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/olympics/gymnastics/story/_/id/28601421/larry-nassar-survivors-offered-215m-settlement-usa-gymnastics

[9] Levenson, M. (2020, January 31). U.S.A. Gymnastics Offers $215 Million to Larry Nassar Victims. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/30/sports/USA-gymnastics-nassar.html

[10] Larry Nassar survivors offered $215M settlement by USA Gymnastics. (2020, January 30). Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/olympics/gymnastics/story/_/id/28601421/larry-nassar-survivors-offered-215m-settlement-usa-gymnastics

[11] Rapp, T. (2020, January 31). USA Gymnastics Proposes $215M Settlement to Larry Nassar Victims. Retrieved from https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2873934-usa-gymnastics-proposes-215m-settlement-to-larry-nassar-victims

[12] Larry Nassar survivors offered $215M settlement by USA Gymnastics. (2020, January 30). Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/olympics/gymnastics/story/_/id/28601421/larry-nassar-survivors-offered-215m-settlement-usa-gymnastics

[13] Id.

[14] Id.