Former prosecutor claims USA Gymnastics needs “complete cultural change”

UPDATE : Did USA Gymnastics put winning before the well-being of athletes?

That’s what a former federal prosecutor, Deborah Daniels spent months looking into after the organization hired her to conduct an independent review of it’s policies and practices.

It happened last fall, after USAG started receiving criticism for the way it handled complaints against former MSU and USA Gymnastics Doctor, Larry Nassar, and several other coaches who are accused of sexually abusing athletes.

The 146-page report says USA Gymnastics needs a “complete cultural change” in order to put athlete safety before success.

It lays out 70 recommendations in 10 different key areas that the organization needs to improve on including making changes to the culture and education..

Here are some of the findings:

-There was no written protocol for how to handle allegations of abuse

-Club members were historically not required to report sexual misconduct or other abuse to the organization or law enforcement

-Lack of accountability and training among coaches, especially when it comes to child abuse issues

-Members of the organization who were suspended for sexual misconduct–were able to continue their careers by getting new coaching jobs.

It created a culture of abuse and secrecy.

“USA Gymnastics is very sorry that anyone has been harmed during his or her gymnastics career and we offer our deepest regrets to any athlete who’s suffered abuse or mistreatment while participating in the sport,” USAG Board Chairman Paul Parilla said.

The organization has agreed to make changes to the way it’s organization responds to abuse and during a call with reporters Tuesday morning, made clear that it’s committed to protecting all athletes.

“The board has taken very seriously the work that Ms. Daniels and her team have done,” Parilla said. “We are using that as a blue print for continuing and strengthening our system. Even one incidence of child abuse is one too many.”

But the report says in order to do that, USA Gymnastics has to make changes from top to bottom.

The following recommendations were made:

-All USA Gymnastics members must immediately report suspected sexual misconduct to law enforcement…

-It must revamp it’s grievance process to make it easier for individuals to report inappropriate behavior

-Implement severe sanctions for those who fail to report…

-Create a database to track adults and coaches who have been dismissed from clubs or violated policies.

“Everything that they’ve recommended in large part are things that you would expect an agency that is working with youth and athletes to do, without hiring a consultant for hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Attorney Jamie White said.

White represents more than a dozen women and girls who are suing Larry Nassar, MSU, and USA Gymnastics, alleging that Nassar sexually abused young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.

“We’ve known for a significant period of time that USAG has a significant history of neglecting abuse complaints,” White said. “We know that over the last 20 years there were over 350 complaints of abuse against children and other gymnasts that were either under-reported or not reported at all.”

Christy Lemke-Akeo’s daughter is among the gymnasts White represents. Lemke-Akeo is optimistic about the changes.

“It’s good that they are doing something now to better the program,” she said. “Hopefully they will continue to update their new protocols and enforce them; making sure this will never happen to another child!”

“We hope that this is a legitimate step in the right direction,” White said. “I am very cautiously concerned that this is just an attempt to gloss over the unbelievable history this organization has.”

Some could argue that in order to change a culture, you have to change the leadership of those who created it, but when Parilla was asked by a reporter if he plans to resign over these findings, he said no.

Earlier this year, as the organization was put in the spotlight it’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations, it’s CEO, Steve Penny resigned.

“When you can strip away some of the selfish behavior that we’ve seen from leadership at USAG or Michigan State University, I think it’s the strength of these girls and these athletes that will pull this sport out of the doldrums,” White said.

 

(AP) – A former federal prosecutor says USA Gymnastics needs a “complete cultural change” to better protect athletes from sexual abuse.

The review released Tuesday by Deborah Daniels recommends that all USA Gymnastics members be required to immediately report suspected sexual misconduct to legal authorities and the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

Daniels also suggested that USA Gymnastics prohibit adults from being alone with minor gymnasts “at all times.”

She says unrelated adults should not share or be alone in a sleeping room with gymnasts. She also recommended preventing adult members from having “out of program” contact with gymnasts through email, text or social media.

USA Gymnastics ordered the review last fall following a series of civil lawsuits filed against the organization and a former team doctor by a pair of gymnasts who claim the physician sexually abused them during their time on the U.S. national team.

Daniels says USA Gymnastics “inadvertently suppressed” reporting of abuse because of several factors, including that athletes are taught to follow instructions and obey coaches and trainers.

6 News reporter Alexandra Ilitch will have more on this developing story online and on 6 News tonight.

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