USA Gymnastics, which serves as the governing body for gymnastics in the United States and develops the U.S. Olympic team, reportedly failed to inform authorities of numerous allegations regarding sexual abuse by coaches, according to a story published Thursday by Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia, and Tim Evans of the Indianapolis Star.
After the three reporters reviewed court records, police reports, and newspaper articles, among other things, they found USA Gymnastics to have compiled “complaint dossiers on more than 50 coaches and filed them in a drawer in its executive office in Indianapolis.” After USA Gymnastics first received word of the allegations, those coaches proceeded to abuse “at least 14 underage gymnasts,” according to the report.
While testifying under oath in one court case, Steve Penny, the president of USA Gymnastics, and his predecessor, Robert Colarossi, acknowledged the organization rarely relayed abuse allegations to authorities. The executive office’s policy, Colarossi said, was to treat complaint “as ‘hearsay’ unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent,” according to the report.
In all 50 states, allegations of child abuse legally must be reported to authorities. USA Gymnastics, which is headquartered in Indiana, is subject to a state law that requires anyone—including coaches and organization officials—to report allegations of abuse. A legal expert told the Star that she believed USA Gymnastics violated Indiana state law by not reporting said allegations to police.
“There is no question that USAG is not interpreting the law of our state, but rather their own internal law and system,” she said.
Following the publication of the Star’s story Thursday, Penny responded with a statement on the USA Gymnastics website. It read in part:
“Contrary to the Indianapolis Star’s report, USA Gymnastics has not tried to cover-up these matters. Quite the opposite: We have cooperated with law enforcement at every turn and our investigations have never been filtered by coaching credentials. Our ability to share information publicly has been hindered by pending litigation on cases, one of which was included in the Star’s story, and while the media is not limited from identifying victims in these cases, USA Gymnastics has always strived to protect their identity.”
USA Gymnastics isn’t the only national youth-sports organization to deal with questionable handling of sexual-abuse allegations in recent years. In 2012, USA Swimming called for an emergency hearing after learning that the founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Curl-Burke Swim Club had been accused in 1989 of molesting a then-teenage swimmer. The organization implemented a background-check program in January 2011, requiring all coaches and officials to undergo a background check by the end of that calendar year even if they had already done so previously.
In the summer of 2014, the CEO of USA Swimming offered a formal apology for not doing more to prevent sexual abuse by coaches.
As the details continue to emerge about USA Gymnastics, one thing is clear: Youth-sports organizations should not take allegations of sexual abuse lightly. While some states’ laws aren’t clear about whether organizations are legally responsible to report such allegations—according to the Star, USA Gymnastics has argued Florida’s law only applies to individuals—failing to report allegations to the proper authorities could have damning consequences down the line.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.