Sadly, the beautiful sport of gymnastics has been tarnished by a problem that is pervasive when it comes to adults coaching young athletes. Incidents of unforgivable sexual abuse of young gymnasts often went unreported and action wasn't taken, USA-Gymnastics admits. They issued an open letter of apology for the many incidents that were ignored and the subsequent abuse that is simply unacceptable.
"60 Minutes" aired an expose on the role of USA-Gymnastics in silently facilitating years of abuse back in February of this year, based on the work of a few investigative journalists from the "Indy Star." They discovered that there were cases of abuse that were, like most sex abuse, unreported and buried under the mat. USA-Gymnastics, in a break from its past behavior of ignoring much of these incidents, has taken steps to adopt the standards of SafeSport.org.
Thanks to the courage of former elite artistic and rhythmic gymnasts who testified about their own horrific experiences in front of a Senate Judicial Committee, USA-Gymnastics has admitted culpability. USAG has taken measures to educate and protect its members from this type of trauma.
To a person with a perverted perspective, the salacious allure of the physical proximity of coaches to gymnasts, warrants stricter guidelines and preventative measures to minimize the risk and occurrence of abuse, and the gymnastics governing body has them published here.
The hearing led by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), took place against the backdrop of the worst sexual abuse scandal in American sports history in which more than 100 women allege that (Dr.) Nassar sexually abused them as young athletes. USA Gymnastics is the subject of a series of civil lawsuits nationwide for allegedly enabling the culture in which Nassar and others were able to prey on young athletes.
The hearing on legislation on stricter reporting requirements on sexual abuse within amateur sports also came a week after USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny was forced to resign amid mounting pressure from former U.S. Olympic and national team members, safe sport advocates and the USOC.
The PR nightmare aside, the big issue of the unreported abuse is the unforgivable transgression. Obviously, USA-Gymnastics had no choice but to make big changes right away. They hired a former federal prosecutor to comb through the cultures of America's gymnastics schools and set strict guidelines for proper conduct for adults working with minors in close proximity. Deborah Daniels and her legal team's report can be found on USA-gymnastics.org.
The letter was released to the public and the almost 150,000 members of USAG, the sanctioning body of gymnastics in America. Of course, it's not going to erase the damaging experiences of its athletes, but it will hopefully discourage predators from selecting gymnastics for the wrong reasons while educating and empowering potential victims of abuse.
A few excerpts from the letter:
We have heard and understand your concerns. What has come through loud and clear is the desire and need for our culture to confirm that it embraces athlete safety and a safe and positive environment as a top priority, and empowers young women and men to speak up if they are uncomfortable – and we couldn’t agree more. Even one instance of child abuse is one too many. 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 suffered abuse or mistreatment while participating in the sport. By working together, we can move the sport forward to better prevent the opportunity for abuse to occur.
The Safe Sport Policy, which aligns with the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s requirements, provides more information regarding abuse, expands definitions of misconduct, strengthens procedures for reporting and processing allegations of misconduct, clarifies member expectations and obligations, and identifies unacceptable behavior, including prohibiting failure to report suspected abuse, making a false report and retaliating against someone who files a report.
*Introduction of proactive policies for members and member clubs to establish professional boundaries, decreasing opportunities for grooming and other inappropriate interactions. The policies include the following.
*Adult members are prohibited from being alone with minor gymnasts at all times.
Unrelated adults are prohibited from sharing or being alone in a sleeping room with gymnasts.
*Adult members are prohibited from having out-of-program contact with gymnasts via email, text or social media.
*New requirements are in place regarding physical contact between adults and gymnasts.
In my own city, I am certain that any gymnastics school with integrity has adopted these measures to prevent this nightmare from happening to any young gymnast. It is important to note that the likelihood of sexual abuse in gymnastics is much, much lower than in society as a whole, but nonetheless it is abuse that no one should tolerate. Also noteworthy, these studies have been conducted over an unusually long time period (2 decades), and most other studies are shorter term. Perhaps this enlightenment will usher in an era of more scrutiny.
The IndyStar and USA Today jointly reported that 368 gymnasts in the last 20 years have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse by coaches, gym owners and other adults working in gymnastics.
Wouldn't it be great if there were organizations looking out for all young girls and boys around the world, to protect them from sexual predators? The least we can do is police our own sports community and prevent this trauma from ruining the lives of young athletes. Heaven knows, the guy in the White House is not terribly concerned about this problem, so it's up to us to protect our youth.