Some of the most decorated and famous gymnasts in recent U.S. history spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, both Olympic gold medalists, gave testimony. So did Maggie Nichols, known as the Michael Jordan of collegiate gymnastics. And they were joined by Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast of all time, an athlete so thoroughly dominant and decorated that she can wear a goat, called Goldie, on her leotard and nobody can question it. They were there to speak, yet again, about the abuse they endured from the disgraced former national team doctor Larry Nassar, who abused hundreds of athletes under the guise of medical care and is currently serving more than 100 years in prison.
The main subject for the Wednesday hearing was the FBI’s repeated bungling of its investigation of Nassar. A report from the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice released in July detailed over 119 pages about how the FBI received multiple reports regarding abuse by Nassar and responded by doing very little for well over a year—all while then–Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott talked to then–USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny about a possible job. Nassar continued to abuse athletes while the “investigation” was ongoing; the OIG report estimated that about 70 or more athletes were abused during this time.
The women’s words are worth hearing.
Biles: “I believe without a doubt that the circumstances that led to my abuse and allowed it to continue, are directly the result of the fact that the organizations created by Congress to oversee and protect me as an athlete—USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee—failed to do their jobs.”
Maroney, who spoke with an FBI investigator (transcript provided by ABC News): “I remember sitting on my bedroom floor for nearly three hours as I told them what happened to me. I hadn’t even told my own mother about these facts, but I thought as uncomfortable and as hard as it was to tell my story, I was going to make a difference and hopefully protecting others from the same abuse.
“I answered all of their questions honestly and clearly, and I disclosed all of my molestations I had endured by Nassar to them in extreme detail.
“They told me to start from the beginning. I told them about the sport of gymnastics, how you make the national team and how I came to meet Larry Nassar when I was 13 at a Texas camp. I told them that the first thing Larry Nassar ever said to me was to change into shorts with no underwear because that would make it easier for him to work on me, and within minutes, he had his fingers in my vagina.
“The FBI then immediately asked, ‘Did he insert his fingers into your rectum?’
“I said, ‘No, he never did.’
“They asked if he used gloves.
“I said, ‘No, he never did.’
“They asked if this treatment ever helped me.
“I said, ‘No, it never did. This treatment was 100 percent abuse and never gave me any relief.’
“I then told the FBI about Tokyo, the day he gave me a sleeping pill for the plane ride to then work on me later that night. That evening, I was naked, completely alone, with him on top of me molesting me for hours. I told them I thought I was going to die that night because there was no way that he would let me go. But he did. I told them I walked the halls of Tokyo hotel at 2 a.m., at only 15 years old.
“I began crying at the memory over the phone, and there was just dead silence. I was so shocked at the agent’s silence and disregard for my trauma.
“After that minute of silence he asked, ‘Is that all?'”
Nichols: “I reported my abuse to USA Gymnastics over six years ago, and still, my family and I have received few answers, and have even more questions, about how this was allowed to occur and why dozens of other little girls and women at Michigan State had to be abused after I reported. In sacrificing my childhood for the chance to compete for the United States, I am haunted by the fact that even after I reported my abuse, so many women and girls had to needlessly suffer at the hands of Larry Nassar. USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the FBI have all betrayed me and those who were abused by Larry Nassar after I reported.
“The cover-up of my abuse, and the FBI’s failure to interview me for more than a year
after my complaint, are well documented in the OIG report. After I reported my abuse to USA Gymnastics, my family and I were told by their former President Steve Penny, to keep quiet and not say anything that could hurt the FBI investigation. We now know there was no real FBI investigation occurring. While my complaints languished with the FBI, Larry Nassar continued to abuse women and girls. During this time, the FBI issued no search warrants, and made no arrests. From the day I reported my molestation by Nassar, I was treated differently by USAG.”
Raisman: “My reports of abuse were not only buried by USAG and USOPC but they were also mishandled by federal Law enforcement officers who failed to follow their most basic duties. The FBI and others within both USAG and USOPC knew that Nassar molested children and did nothing to restrict his access. Steve Penny and any USAG employee could have walked a few steps to file a report with Indiana Child Protective Services, since they shared the same building.
“Instead they quietly allowed Nassar to slip out the side door, knowingly allowing him to continue his ‘work’ at MSU, Sparrow Hospital, a USAG club, and even to run for school board. Nassar found more than 100 new victims to molest. It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter.”
It is probably not a coincidence that the most significant upshot to come from all this failure happened two days before the hearing. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that Michael Langeman, the supervisory special agent who interviewed Maroney, had been fired by the FBI. During the hearing, when Abbott’s name came up, the response was that no actions could be taken because he had already retired. No criminal charges have been brought against any of the FBI agents involved.
Perhaps that’s why it was impossible to ignore the feeling of a morbid familiarity on Wednesday as, once again, women went to Capitol Hill to share their pain and in response they got apologies. Current FBI director Christopher Wray apologized. Senator after senator expressed outrage. But none seemed to connect the obvious dots: The USOPC and the many layers of administration within it are a creation of Congress. Congress made the organization that failed Biles, Maroney, Nichols, and Raisman. Congress funds the organizations that failed Biles, Maroney, Nichols, and Raisman. The failures of the USOPC and of USAG and the system itself, so bemoaned by lawmakers today as before, are their own failures. These women are owed far more than words.
Biles, Maroney, Nichols, and Raisman did not come to Washington for apologies or to be reminded of the many problems within the FBI or for a press conference. They came to demand action. As Maroney told the senators, “I am tired of waiting for people to do the right thing.”