USAG: The Consequences of a Cover-Up

The most frustrating thing about the Larry Nassar scandal is that it never seems to have an ending in sight. There is always a new development and every time the newly exposed revelation is even more reprehensible than the last reprehensible revelation. Things never seem to hit rock bottom.

The reason for this post has to do with an article that was recently published by the Wall Street Journal. The report states that USAG and Steve Penny did not disclose the status of Simone Biles as a potential sexual assault survivor of Larry Nassar. That was in spite of USAG having information suggesting Simone was likely abused by Nasaar.

In other words, USAG specifically kept Simone out of their internal investigation because they wanted zero possibility of the investigation revealing Simone was a survivor of Larry Nassar. Much of the commentary as to why USAG could do something so reprehensible was that they wanted to keep the medals flowing.

Personally I think the main motive was public relations. They didn’t want the public relations nightmare of having their most visible face and most iconic name being involved in a horrific scandal. A scandal USAG itself would be directly blamed for. They wanted to maintain the illusion that nothing bad ever happens in gymnastics. USAG was hoping to avoid a scandal that had the potential to disrupt the flow of parents signing up their kids for gymnastics classes at the local gym.

On a side note, there were even more disturbing revelations made in the report stating that when Simone decided to turn professional, Steve Penny called Ron Biles to “let him know he was furious at the decision.” It further stated that Penny tried to discourage Simone from hiring an agent.

I describe USAG’s reaction to the first indication that Larry Nassar was a sexual predator as a cover-up. Its objective was to always minimize the scale and scope of the scandal at every turn via a policy of containment:

1) Limit the number of people who know about the scandal.
2) Keep the number of known survivors as small as possible.
3) Limit the scandal to gymnasts who had the smallest amount of media presence (celebrity status).
4) Delay the scandal from being known to the public for as long as possible.
5) Delay the spread of points 1-4 for as long as possible.

Every cover-up has its consequences and the USAG scandal was no exception. As a result these actions:

1) Prevented additional victims of sexual assault by Larry Nassar from being identified.
2) Prevented those unidentified survivors from getting the help they need via therapeutic services.
3) Prevented other organizations/institutions from being informed about Nassar’s status as a sexual predator so that they could in turn ban Nassar from having access to those entrusted in their care.

In the end the consequences of a cover-up led to the creation of more survivors as Nassar maintained the ability to have patients in his care and continued his abuse. It caused sexual abuse survivors a delay in the time it took for them to obtain the vital services that could help them deal with the trauma they were subjected to. That is the end result of USAG’s response to the Nassar scandal.

At a time when Simone should be celebrating her athletic achievements, she is instead being ushered into the role of a mental warrior. She has to deal with the difficulty this scandal has inflicted on her while also enduring the workload of being the top gymnast in the world.

It was only four and a half months ago at the National Championships that Simone gave her famous “you had one job” speech as she spoke to the media while in tears. The way USAG and USOC have conducted themselves throughout this entire ordeal is like death by a thousand paper cuts. This should have been a time where Simone was moving forward while putting what she has suffered in the past. Instead, it’s only more revelations. Revelations that even in this sick and disgusting scandal, things still seem to get more horrifying.

The cruelty it takes for USAG and Steve Penny to have identified a potential survivor of sexual abuse, and to not inform said person of their beliefs is beyond cruel. For those who were abused by Nassar, it brought confusion, denial, and left them in limbo as they were told to trust a world class doctor. They tried to believe what he was doing was right even as their gut instincts told them something was wrong.

In any other situation to not inform a potential sexual abuse survivor of suspicions that he or she was abused would be atrocious. In the case of Larry Nassar where so many of his victims were in a state of limbo needing only an investigator to give them the self-confirmation they needed to come to the realization that their suspicions were correct, it was despicable.

The Nassar scandal in itself was bad enough. But the actions taken by USAG and USOC have made this process even more unbearable for those involved. Simone is hurting, just like she was hurting at the National Championships. Simone’s pain is not limited to herself, but to her fellow survivors, their friends, and their families. And it is a wound that gets reopened each time a new development about the scandal is learned. That is the consequence of a cover-up.

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