Top executives at one of America’s most prominent Olympic organizations failed to alert authorities to many allegations of sexual abuse by coaches — relying on a policy that enabled predators to abuse gymnasts long after USA Gymnastics had received warnings.
An IndyStar investigation uncovered multiple examples of children suffering the consequences, including a Georgia case in which a coach preyed on young female athletes for seven years after USA Gymnastics dismissed the first of four warnings about him.
In a 2013 lawsuit filed by one of that coach’s victims, two former USA Gymnastics officials admitted under oath that the organization routinely dismissed sexual abuse allegations as hearsay unless they came directly from a victim or victim’s parent.
Legal experts and child advocates expressed alarm about that approach, saying the best practice is to report every allegation to authorities. Laws in every state require people to report suspected child abuse.
“USAG failed at this,” said Lisa Ganser, whose daughter filed the Georgia lawsuit, which is still being argued. “USA Gymnastics had enough information, I think, to have done something about this. It didn't have to happen to my daughter, and it didn't have to happen to other little girls.”
USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body, develops the U.S. Olympic team and promotes the industry at all levels. Its members include more than 121,000 athletes and 3,000 gyms. The organization touts itself as a “big time brand” with sponsors such as AT&T and Hershey’s. After the Rio Olympics, which start this week, its premier athletes will be showcased on a 36-city Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions, a one-two punch of publicity that typically prompts a membership surge at gyms.