WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators from both parties are calling for the creation of a select committee to investigate the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics following the sentencing of a former sports doctor who admitted molesting female gymnasts for years under the guise of medical treatment.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said the Senate should investigate how Dr. Larry Nassar was given unsupervised access to the gymnasts, allowing him to sexually abuse them over decades. Nassar was sentenced Wednesday to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing girls. More than 150 girls, women and supports spoke during his seven-day sentencing hearing in Lansing.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, also backed the special committee, while Republican Rep. Mike Bishop of Michigan requested a separate investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
In a Thursday release, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said he had asked leaders of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation — on which he sits — to hold hearings on and conduct investigations into the sexual abuse of athletes.
“Larry Nassar will spend a lifetime in prison, but enormous disturbing questions remain as to how he was able to freely abuse young girls for decades,” Shaheen said in a statement.
Nassar’s victims “deserve answers to these questions,” Shaheen said, adding that lawmakers would be putting other young athletes at risk “without institutional accountability” if they don’t investigate the U.S. Olympic Committee and its member organizations.
“The USOC is a federally chartered institution and its athletes compete under the American flag, so the Senate has a clear responsibility to expand this investigation beyond the narrow criminal charges adjudicated in Michigan,” Shaheen said.
The investigation should include subpoena power for lawmakers to compel the amateur sports organizations to produce relevant documents and internal communications, she said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called on the House to immediately take up Senate-passed legislation to prevent predators from abusing young athletes. A bill sponsored by Feinstein was approved unanimously in November, six months after a similar bill was approved in the House.
Both bills require amateur sports groups recognized by USOC to promptly report claims of sexual abuse to police, but the legislative language is not identical.
Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., the lead sponsor of the House bill, said the Olympic community had clearly failed to protect its athletes and must do better. Legislation is important, “not only to provide victims with the justice denied to them for so long, but also to protect future generations of Olympic hopefuls,” she said.
Feinstein said her bill is supported by 270 individuals and organizations, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Advocacy Institute and dozens of former Olympic gymnasts and other athletes.