The 2016 Summer Olympics have dominated news coverage the last few weeks and will continue to do so as athletes return home to celebrate their accomplishments. The sacrifices Olympians make to reach the ultimate goal of winning a gold medal is well-documented by the media. Rarely talked about is the sexual abuse these athletes sometimes face.
According to details of a report filed by Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia, and Tim Evans and posted on IndyStar.com, the USA Gymnastics federation failed to respond to sexual abuse allegations against some of its coaches. Those familiar with the report speculate this is indicative of a widespread problem with abuse within the Olympic community.
Sexual Abuse Scandals throughout the Sports Community
Recently, USA Swimming and Volleyball have dealt with similar sexual abuse scandals. Recently, New York Daily News updated a report of an incident concerning girls volleyball coach Rick Butler’s alleged sexual misconduct that had been originally reported in Sports Illustrated in 1997. According to the initial investigation, Butler allegedly raped two players who were 15 and 16 at the time. Butler has relocated, but according to the NYDN update, continues to coach.
According to the latest information from the IndyStar, female athletes (some alleged victims as young as 10 and 11), their families, and other potential whistle-blowers feel their complaints were ignored by USA Gymnastics. The report states reports were made on four male coaches who are now serving time in jail on molestation and child pornography charges. The IndyStar stated in its report that it has filed a court request for the unsealing of records related to abuse cases USA Gymnastics has, so far, refused to turn over because it is being sued by an alleged victim.
USA Gymnastics president, Steve Penny, is currently in Rio de Janeiro for the summer games, but according to the ABCNews, has declined to speak to reporters on the advice of counsel. He did release a short written statement saying USA Gymnastics is “…committed to promoting a safe environment for its athletes,” and explained how the federation has helped athletes over the years and explained that it is reviewing its policies to ensure safety.
Taking Action to Protect those Vulnerable to Sexual Abuse
USA Gymnastics could face tough scrutiny going forward. The federation includes more than 121,000 athletes training in 3000 gyms across the country. Policing sexual abuse in a group that large can be challenging, even if the federation truly stands behind its stated goal of keeping athletes safe. The IndyStar report exposed a potential problem and could make it easier for athletes to focus on their goals without concern for abuse, but there is still much work to be done.