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Armour: Raisman Criticizes USA Gymnastics, USOC for Scandal Response

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American gymnastics stars Simone Biles, left, and Aly Raisman celebrate during the Rio 2016 Olympics gymnastics competition. Photo: By Danilo Borges via Wikimedia Commons

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman criticized both USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee for their response to the sport’s sexual abuse crisis, saying she feels as if they’re more concerned about sweeping it under the rug or protecting themselves legally than making sure it never happens again.

In a joint interview with USA TODAY Sports and the Associated Press on Saturday, Raisman said revelations of widespread abuse by longtime team physician Larry Nassar and the reaction by the governing bodies has colored how she views her sport.

“The people at the very top, that work at the office every single day at USA Gymnastics, they need to do better,” Raisman said.

“It’s making me sad,” she added. “I’m here to support my teammates because we got inducted to the Hall of Fame and I’m here to support the girls who are competing. I love the Olympics, I love gymnastics, I love the sport.

“But I don’t support how USA Gymnastics is handling everything right now.”

Larry Nassar pleaded guilty last month to federal child pornography charges, and faces 22 to 27 years in prison when he’s sentenced Nov. 27. He still faces 33 charges of criminal sexual conduct in Michigan, and has been sued by more than 125 women and girls who said Nassar sexually abused them during medical appointments.

USA Gymnastics has been named in some of the lawsuits and the USOC is a party in at least one, accused of not doing enough to protect gymnasts from the abuse.

After a far-reaching review of the federation’s practices, former federal prosecutor Deborah Daniels said USA Gymnastics needed a “complete cultural change,” putting the priority on the safety and well-being of athletes rather than world and Olympic medals.

Nassar and USA Gymnastics came under scrutiny a year ago after an investigation by the Indianapolis Star.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re the Olympic champion or you’re an 8-year-old that goes to gymnastics in Ohio, or wherever you are in the United States,” Raisman said. “Every single kid is important, and I want USA Gymnastics to do a better job with that.”

Raisman declined to detail her interactions with Nassar, saying she preferred to focus on the scandal and its overall impact. The captain of both the 2012 team that won gold in London and the team that won gold last year in Rio, she said she waited until now to speak out in part because she’d been hoping to see substantive efforts to change by either USA Gymnastics or the USOC.

So far, though, what’s she’s seen and heard has left her disappointed.

“I just would like a little more accountability from USA Gymnastics and the USOC,” she said. “I feel like there’s a lot of articles about it, but nobody has said, ‘This is horrible. This is what we’re doing to to change.’ “

USA Gymnastics immediately adopted all 70 recommendations made by Daniels, and is in the process of implementing them. It also recently hired a director of SafeSport, who will be in charge of coordinating education efforts for the federation.

“We welcome (Raisman’s) passion on this critical issue,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement. “As we have said, we are appalled by the conduct of which Larry Nassar is accused. And, we are sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career.

“We are taking this issue head-on, and we want to work with Aly and all interested athletes to keep athletes safe.”

The U.S. Center for SafeSport, which the USOC created to investigate all sexual abuse complaints in the Olympic movement, opened in March.

“The tragedy of sexual abuse in sport, and society in general, is something that all of us have a duty to confront,” USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said. “Thanks to the courage of victims, everyone has come to better understand this very serious issue and over the course of the past seven-plus years the USOC has invested in the resources necessary to punish predators and protect athletes.

“The safety and security of our athletes and the staff that support them is our highest priority and we will continue to take all steps necessary to provide safe and secure training environments.”

Raisman said she was never contacted by Daniels, nor has she heard from anyone at SafeSport. Daniels said after her report was released that she did not review past cases to see where USA Gymnastics failed, a stance Raisman said baffles her.

“It can’t just be about we’re making sure the athletes feel safe now. It has to be going back and apologizing and going to these families and going to all these gymnasts and saying, `What made you feel unsafe? What can we do for the next generation?’” Raisman said. “They need to be calling up all of these people that have come forward and say, ‘Can you please help us and tell us what part of it was wrong? What part made you feel unsafe? What could we do differently?’

“You can’t really create change unless you ask the other gymnasts that have come before, what can they do to help?”

While Jamie Dantzscher, a bronze medalist at the Sydney Olympics who has said she was abused by Nassar, has spoken out publicly, Raisman is the highest-profile athlete to level criticism at USA Gymnastics and the USOC. She won three medals each at both the London and Rio Games and appeared on Dancing With the Stars after the 2012 Games.

She has been outspoken on social media in recent months on body positivity and cyberbullying, and said she feels a responsibility to lend her voice in hopes of both supporting victims and preventing future ones.

“It’s important to speak up for something and it’s right. It’s the right thing,” she said. “More people need to talk about it and I just feel that it’s not getting enough attention in the sport. That’s what bothers me. I want these young girls to know. It should have never ever happened and I think that needs to be discussed more.”

By Nancy Armour

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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