New documents released by a Georgia judge on Friday reveal that officials at USA Gymnastics, the country’s governing body for the sport, failed to ban many of the 54 coaches accused of sexual abuse nationwide until years after they were convicted, an investigation by IndyStar revealed.
IndyStar, which is investigating sexual abuse complaints at the organization, found that 368 athletes have alleged abuse in gymnastics over the past two decades. The court documents that were released following an IndyStar request reveal how USA Gymnastics handled sexual abuse allegations against coaches in the past 10 years. In many cases, responses by officials to those accusations are shockingly inadequate.
According to IndyStar:
The records, which include depositions of top USA Gymnastics officials and sexual abuse complaint files on 54 coaches, revealed that some coaches weren't banned from the sport until years after they were convicted of crimes against children.
One file included a letter that said a USA Gymnastics regional chairman spoke with the organization's former president, Robert Colarossi, in support of allowing a convicted sex offender to keep his membership. That coach was eventually banned.
In another case, USA Gymnastics ordered probation for a coach after determining he “exhibited a pattern of behavior with regards to inappropriate touching of students.” The coach went on to molest even more young athletes before he was arrested and banned from the organization.
According to the newspaper, USA Gymnastics fought the court documents’ release for nearly nine months.
The documents show that the Indianapolis-based national governing body long employed a policy of requiring sexual misconduct complaints to be signed by a victim, victim's parent or eyewitness to the alleged abuse. President Steve Penny testified that the organization has to move carefully on complaints ‘because the coach is as much a member as the athlete’ and the possibility of a witch hunt is ‘very real.’
USA Gymnastics said it had banned 34 of the 54 coaches in the files.
Dozens of current and former gymnasts are coming forward to denounce sexual abuse within the sport, including 80 women who said they were abused by famous sports physician Larry Nassar. Nassar, who once was at the top of his field treating generations of Olympic athletes, was arrested last December on child pornography and criminal sexual conduct charges.
On Thursday, a federal judge granted 19 motions from women or girls seeking to join a lawsuit against Nassar, Michigan State University, where Nassar also worked, and USA Gymnastics, the Detroit Free Press reported.
That federal lawsuit was filed earlier this year and now includes 49 women and girls who said Nassar sexually assaulted them.
From the newly released court documents, it appears that USA Gymnastics had ample evidence this type of criminal behavior had been ongoing for a long, long time.
“Some of the files USA Gymnastics compiled on member coaches were more than 300 pages long, spanning more than a decade, and others were as brief as five pages,” the IndyStar report noted.
In response, USA Gymnastics has hired a former federal prosecutor to review its policies.