by Irvin Muchnick
In a movie we’ve seen many times before, USA Gymnastics has “unanimously” — yea, enthusiastically — accepted “all 70 recommendations” in an “independent report” in the wake of revelations about the sexual abuse of gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and others.
But as with the introduction of USA Swimming’s Safe Sport program in 2010, with the more recent fits-and-starts rollout of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s self-styled National Center for Safe Sport, and with other reactive steps, the real story remains hidden, behind the vault platform and under the pool surface. The real story is that toothful federal action is needed to end the pernicious piece of American exceptionalism by which we still do not have a true national sports ministry to protect children participating in these television fantasy- and money-driven activities.
For the latest developments, it is appropriate to highlight the coverage of the Indianapolis Star: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/2017/06/27/usa-gymnastics-releases-report-its-handling-sex-abuse/431192001/.
A Star investigative team deserves all credit for exposing the atrocities of USA Gymnastics. This has led to the passage by the House of Representatives of a bill, HR 1973, that would require national sport governing bodies to report to law enforcement all allegations of sexual misconduct in their ranks — rather than hiding behind the non-pre-existence of a criminal complaint, behind the hairsplitting tactics of internal lawyers and PR minions, or behind a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California is spearheading parallel bipartisan legislation.
Unfortunately, according to sources at the Star who would know, the newspaper, part of the national Gannett chain anchored by USA Today, is resting on its laurels and not expanding its work on USA Gymnastics into other stories of sports sex abuse. Don’t let the swinging doors of the Pulitzer Prize offices hit you on the butt on the way out of submitting your self-nomination.
As for Feinstein’s bill, Concussion Inc. supports it — but mostly because it’s the only game in town, not because it solves the problem. The lopsided count of the successful vote on the House side, 415-3, is a clue as to how carefully it was crafted to be incremental and not step on the toes of the USOC, when what is needed is something comprehensive: federal oversight, once and for all, of willy-nilly 501(c)(3) nonprofits that the USOC alone right now anoints as “national sport governing bodies” (NGB’s) — which means that they are stocked with seven-figure CEO’s, more PR, marketing, and licensing specialists than you can throw a javelin at, and maybe, to boot, an offshore reinsurance and money-laundering affiliate modeled after the Catholic Church.
It’s a given that the current round of Congressional action is better than nothing. It is better to compel NGB’s to report to police instead of giving them the option of deciding whether and for how long they can sit on abuse allegations.
Then again, it was also a given that the work of Congressman George Miller on this issue, from 2012 to 2014, was better than nothing. How little better than nothing became clear at the conclusion. Miller, ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, messed around for more than two years with his “investigation,” which turned out mostly to be a request for a report from the Government Accountability Office, ultimately a bland review of the ineffective laws already on the books.
Miller held no field hearings or press conferences, promoted the stories of no victims, and did not even dip a small toe in the water in the summer of 2014, when a petition campaign forced the withdrawal of the International Swimming Hall of Fame induction of Chuck Wielgus, the late USA Swimming CEO and cover-upper-in-chief.
Just before retiring and ducking into a cushy double-dipping lobbying job in Washington, D.C., “This Town,” Miller publicized a weak letter to the FBI requesting further investigation. The FBI patted Miller on the head and told him they were all over it. Being all over it consists of having agents co-opted at USA Swimming educational conferences on abuse, where they call for vigilance against the possibility of bad-actor strangers in our midst — a factor with little or no relevance to the toxic dynamic of coaches who exploit their underage athletes.