The Silent Shame Part 3: New Sexual Abuse Allegations for USA Gymnastics

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about the revelations by The Indianapolis Star of sexual abuse of teenagers and pre-teens by coaches and officials within and affiliated with USA Gymnastics.

At the time, IndyStar was aware of about 50 cases. Now they report they have uncovered through police files and court case documentation that hundreds of gymnasts have been abused in the past 20 years.

“At least 368 gymnasts have alleged some form of sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches, gym owners and other adults working in gymnastics. That’s a rate of one every 20 days. And it’s likely an undercount.”

The IndyStar’s most recent article on this travesty provides a fascinating analysis of a sports organization and its affiliated officials, coaches, and gym owners in denial. Here is a good chunk of that shocking analysis in full:

  • USA Gymnastics focuses its efforts to stop sexual abuse on educating members instead of setting strict ground rules and enforcing them. It says it can’t take aggressive action because member gyms are independent businesses and because of restrictions in federal law pertaining to Olympic organizations. Both are contentions others dispute.
  • Gym owners have a conflict of interest when it comes to reporting abuse. Some fear harm to their business. When confronted with evidence of abuse, many quietly have fired the suspected abusers and failed to warn future employers. Some of those dangerous coaches continued to work with children.
  • Some coaches are fired at gym after gym without being tracked or flagged by USA Gymnastics, or losing their membership with the organization. USA Gymnastics often has no idea when a coach is fired by a gym and no systematic way to keep track. Ray Adams was fired or forced to resign from six gyms in four states. Yet some gym owners hired Adams, believing his record was clean.
  • Though the vast majority of officials put children’s well-being ahead of business and competition, some officials at every level have not. Coaches suspected of abuse kept their jobs as long as they accepted special monitoring. Others were allowed to finish their season before being fired. In 2009, Doug Boger was named a USA Gymnastics Coach of the Year and was sent to international competition while under investigation for alleged sexual abuse.
  • Victims’ stories have been treated with skepticism by USA Gymnastics officials, gym owners, coaches and parents. Former gymnasts Charmaine Carnes and Jennifer Sey said they felt pressured by Penny not to pursue allegations of abuse by prominent coaches Don Peters and Boger. Carnes said she thought Penny tried to keep the claims about Boger quiet for as long as possible to protect the sport’s image and win championships, a characterization that USA Gymnastics disputes.

Women’s gymnastics have made tremendous strides, winning team gold at the 2012 London Olympics as well as the 2016 Rio Olympics. But I’m curious – I’ve seen or read no reaction from the coaches and athletes at the apex of the USA Gymnastics pyramid: the Karolyis, the members of the women’s Olympic gymnastics team, and their parents. Their silence may be the result of counsel provided to them by the advisors that surround them. But at some point, they need to lead in this pivotal moment, this crisis of confidence in women’s gymnastics.

The Silent Shame Part 1: USA Gymnastics Ignored Sexual Abuse Allegations

The Silent Shame Part 2: Why Would / How Could Leaders of USA Gymnastics Stay Silent in the Face of Sexual Abuse Allegations?