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Athletes demand change by Olympic leaders to stop sexual abuse

By Anna Kook, Medill News
Athletes demand change by Olympic leaders to stop sexual abuse
Olympic athletes testify Wednesday about sexual abuse at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Photo by Heekyung Anna Kook/Medill News

WASHINGTON, April 19 (UPI) -- Olympic athletes told lawmakers Congress needs to hold governing sports bodies accountable for ignoring sexual abuse -- as the problem goes beyond USA Gymnastics and the conviction of former doctor Larry Nassar.

While Nassar's case revealed a system that neglected cases of abuse, athletes of winter sports said they also have been victimized by coaches and similar systemic flaws within their sport's governing body.

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"Olympic medalists including Jamie Dantzscher and Jordyn Wieber revealed a pattern of disbelief and disrespect by USA Gymnastics that was so similar to what I experienced from U.S. Figure Skating that it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck," U.S. skater Craig Maurizi told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee at a hearing Wednesday.

Maurizi said he was abused by his coach, Richard Callahan, almost 40 years ago when he was 13. Maurizi said when he finally gathered the courage to report it, the U.S. Figure Skating Association took no action -- because the abuse had happened too long ago.

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Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Jordyn Wieber, one of Nassar's victims, said Congress needs to ensure all Olympic committees no longer tolerate the sexual abuse of athletes.

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"I respectfully ask you to find out why the U.S. Olympic Committee did nothing for decades while reports of child sexual abuse in many Olympic sports were ignored," Wieber said.

Though Scott Blackmun has stepped down as USOC chief -- a result of the Nassar case -- athletes said the change of leadership should not stop there.

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"With USA Gymnastics, the ones that have the most interaction with the athletes are still there. It's the same people in charge." Wieber said. "I don't think they're innocent at all. There needs to be an entirely new staff in order for this to stop."

For instance, the athletes noted, "advocates" and "psychologists" that existed within the governing bodies were all funded by the USOC.

"I was provided a psychologist by USA Gymnastics and later she turned out to be one of the people advocating for Nassar," Dantzscher said. "This is someone who makes a lot of money from our sport."

RELATED Scott Blackmun resigns as CEO of U.S. Olympic Committee

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Speed skater Bridie Farrell said Safe Sport should not act as the disciplinary board to investigate allegations.

"Safe Sport is a byproduct of the United States Olympic Committee ... and that creates a trickle-down effect," Farrell said.

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The athletes told the panel another reason for so many of the ignored claims is the culture of silence and fear their respective sports has created.

RELATED Father who tried attacking Larry Nassar in court won't be charged

"With gymnastics, there's this culture of silence -- if we speak out, we're scared that it'll affect our chances of getting on the Olympic team," Wieber said.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who convened the hearing, urged greater involvement by law enforcement because "the system that surrounds athletes currently is insufficient."

Another hearing on the matter May 22 will feature more athletes, members of the USOC and officials at Michigan State University, where Nassar worked.

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