Senators from both parties turned the spotlight on USA Gymnastics and other sports organizations Thursday after a judge sentenced Larry Nassar, the former national team doctor who pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct, to up to 175 years in prison.
A bipartisan pair of senators sent letters to the national gymnastics governing body demanding information about whether it tried to keep an Olympic gold medalist from speaking publicly about Nassar, who has been accused of assaulting more than 150 women. Another lawmaker called for congressional hearings about sexual abuse in sports.
In a judiciary committee hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) urged the House of Representatives to take up a bill passed by the Senate that requires people affiliated with amateur sports organizations to report suspected sex abuse to authorities within 24 hours.
“I was visited in February of last year by a couple of gymnasts who brought this to my attention,” Feinstein said. “And what was interesting to me is one was 28 years old, married, with a child in her arms and her husband there, sobbing, and I realized the depth and breadth of this thing then.”
The bill passed in the Senate in November with bipartisan support. But it has not moved forward in the House. Mattie Larson, a former U.S. gymnast, spoke on Tuesday at Nassar’s sentencing and urged Speaker Paul Ryan to move forward on the bill, ESPN reported.
Feinstein said Thursday that she expected another group of gymnasts to speak at a committee hearing sometime next week.
Other senators want more information about USA Gymnastics’ and other sports organizations’ actions in the Nassar case. Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent letters to USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Michigan State University, where Nassar also worked, saying they failed to protect athletes from sexual abuse. Lou Anna Simon, Michigan State’s president, announced her resignation on Wednesday.
The senators also asked for more information about McKayla Maroney, a gold and silver medalist at the 2012 Olympics who filed a lawsuit last year accusing USA Gymnastics of covering up Nassar’s actions with a financial settlement that included a nondisclosure agreement.
“The despicable actions of the former USAG team doctor and sports medicine physician at MSU are well documented,” the letter states. “However, recent reports and revelations from Dr. Nassar’s sentencing hearings provide ample evidence that USAG and MSU were negligent in acting on reports of Nassar’s abuse of more than 140 young women.”
In a separate statement, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) called for congressional hearings and investigations into sexual abuse at the collegiate and amateur level.
“In order to make systemic changes in the way these cases are handled, we must understand why there have been multiple instances of major sexual abuse scandals involving young adult and child athletes, as well as neglectful indifference by officials who should have protected them,” Peters said.
He added that he will introduce legislation that will hold college and university administrators responsible for Title IX investigations linked to employees.