We were shocked to learn in 2002 of the cases of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, and that Church leaders dealt with the situation by rotating abusers to new parishes without explanation.

Many were outraged in 2011 by the fact that the president, the athletic director as well the football head coach at Penn State University were aware of allegations that the football team’s assistant head coach was molesting children, and did nothing.

And in 2016, we are again aghast about news that USA Gymnastics simply kept quiet despite case after case of sexual abuse allegations against coaches in its organization.

It is inconceivable to most parents that their child would be abused by people they know, and in whose care they entrust their child’s well-being. And yet, in the afterglow of the Rio Olympics, when the Final Five, the young American female gymnasts, dominated in the women’s gymnastics competition to easily take glory and gold in the team competition, we find USA Gymnastics in retreat.

The Indianapolis Star investigated these allegations and compiled over 50 accounts of sexual abuse of children under the care of USA Gymnastics’ coaches. And two lawsuits have been filed by ex-athletes against former USA Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, who is being accused of sexual abuse in over 20 cases since 1999. In one of the lawsuits, Bela and Martha Karolyi, team coordinators for the national team of USA Gymnastics, are cited as leaders who created a toxic culture of abuse and cover up.

According to The Indianapolis Star, officials of USA Gymnastics were aware of sexual abuse of female gymnasts, including pre-teens, for years, often doing nothing or acting only if asked.

  • USA Gymnastics were given a detailed complaint in 2011 about 2010 national Women’s Coach of the Year, Marvin Sharp, but only reported him to the police after a second allegation of abuse of a 12 year old, four years later.
  • USA Gymnastics apparently has a large dossier of complaints against a coach named Mark Shiefelbein, but the parents of a 10 year old abused by Shiefelbein, who went to the police, was surprised to learn that USA Gymnastics knew he was a serial sexual abuser and did nothing.
  • USA Gymnastics knew about a coach named James Bell and his cases of sexual abuse at least 5 years before being arrested for molesting three gymnasts in 2003.
  • USA Gymnastics was told by a gym owner in 1998 that a coach named William McCabe “should be locked in a cage before someone is raped”. Despite knowing of at least four complaints against McCabe, USA Gymnastics allowed him to coach for seven more years.

Kaylin Maddox Brietzke was a gymnast under the guidance of James Bell, and many years later in this interview, eloquently expresses the emotion of that vulnerability of her childhood and that betrayal by adults and authority she naturally trusted.

Any corporation that puts their reputation above safety, honestly is not something I want to be a part of at all. And I was a part of USA Gymnastics for a very long time. It doesn’t matter who you are protecting. It doesn’t matter that they are a part of your organization and you want to save face. How about saving me.


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

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