U.S. Gymnastic Gold Tarnished by U.S.A.G.s’ Sex Abuse Scandal

The “Final Five” U.S. gymnastic team captured the gold medals in the Rio Olympics this week, proving again that the U.S. has the best women’s gymnastics team in the world. But the glory of the team’s victory has been tainted by recent stories of sex abuse and cover up inside USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for gymnastics in this country.

The Indianapolis Star broke the story:

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.

Like other groups accused of hiding child molesters in internal files, USA Gymnastics has files and reports about the abuse incidents but won’t publicly disclose them unless forced to do so by the courts.

A sexual abuse lawsuit has been filed in Georgia on behalf of one of the young gymnasts. “USAG failed at this,” said Lisa Ganser, whose daughter filed the Georgia lawsuit. “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.”

More from Indy Star:

USA Gymnastics would not disclose the total number of sexual misconduct allegations it receives each year. But records show the organization compiled complaint dossiers on more than 50 coaches and filed them in a drawer in its executive office in Indianapolis. The contents of those files remain secret, hidden under seal in the case filed by Ganser’s daughter. Indy Star, as part of the USA TODAY Network, filed a motion seeking to make the files public. The judge in that case has not yet ruled.

In spite of the sealed files, Indy Star tracked down four cases in which USA Gymnastics had notice of suspected abuse by coaches but did not report the abuse to the police or child protective services.  Here’s their summary of those cases:

  • In 2011, USA Gymnastics received a detailed complaint about Marvin Sharp, the 2010 national Women’s Coach of the Year. The complaint described Sharp inappropriate touching minors and warned that he shouldn’t be around children. Four years later, USA Gymnastics reported Sharp to police, but only after Sharp had been accused of new crimes involving a 12-year-old gymnast. Sharp was criminally charged in federal court in Indianapolis last year. He killed himself in jail.

 

  • USA Gymnastics had compiled a thick file of complaints about coach Mark Schiefelbein years before he finally was charged with molesting a Tennessee girl when she was 10 years old. The girl’s family contacted police in 2002. The girl’s family was shocked to discover the history of complaints against Schiefelbein, which came to light only after prosecutors subpoenaed records from USA Gymnastics. He is serving a 36-year prison sentence.

 

  • USA Gymnastics had a sexual misconduct complaint file on James Bell for at least five years before his 2003 arrest for molesting three young gymnasts in Rhode Island. It’s unclear what allegations were contained in that file, but IndyStar found prior police reports on Bell from Oregon, that apparently did not lead to criminal convictions. Following his 2003 arrest in Rhode Island, Bell went on the run and wasn’t rearrested until last year. He pleaded guilty in December 2015 in Newport County, Rhode Island, to three counts of child molestation and is serving eight years in prison.

 

  • As early as 1998, USA Gymnastics received at least four complaints about coach William McCabe. One gym owner warned the organization that McCabe “should be locked in a cage before someone is raped.” USA Gymnastics never reported the allegations to police and, according to federal authorities, McCabe began molesting an underage girl in 1999. McCabe continued to coach children for nearly seven more years, until Lisa Ganser went to the FBI with concerns about emails to her 11-year-old daughter. McCabe was charged with molesting gymnasts, secretly videotaping girls changing clothes, and posting their naked pictures on the internet. He pleaded guilty in 2006 in Savannah, Georgia, to federal charges of sexual exploitation of children and making false statements. He is serving a 30-year sentence.

USA Gymnastics responded to the Indy Star investigation in typical fashion. Instead of expressing concern for the children harmed, it justified its own actions in how it handled sex abuse complaints and defended its reputation.

It is sad that this scandal had to break right when U.S. gymnasts are bringing home the gold, but if gymnastic triumphs weren’t in the headlines, it is doubtful that anyone would pay attention to U.S.A. Gymnastics’ tragedies. And this is a story that needs attention.

 

 

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