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USA Gymnastics: Olympics team failed to report sexual abuse cases

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We are less than twenty-four hours away from the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio; there is still more controversial matter coming out that is making the cloud that is hovering to be darker. The newest bit of controversy puts the USA Gymnastics team under a bad light. According to an article that was published in the New York Times, the governing body is now coming under scrutiny for failing to notify law enforcement officials about allegations of sexual abuse by its coaches. The investigation was initially done by the Indianapolis Star.

In the report that was published online on Thursday, the Indianapolis Star ended up uncovering four instances where gymnastics officials were warned about the possible abuse that was being done by the coaches, but no one would alert the authorities. The four coaches went on to abuse at least fourteen underage gymnasts.

The findings raise a very disturbing reason for authorities not being told about the alleged sexual abuse that was being done. According to the findings, the organization’s reliance was on a firsthand account that came from either a gymnast or a parent. This was done before even alerting the authorities may have violated laws that require people to report suspected abuse. While each state makes its laws, Indiana, which is headquarters to the USA Gymnastics, requires “any person who has reason to believe that a child is a victim of abuse or neglect” to report it.

According to the Department of Justice, approximately 30% of all sexual assault cases are reported to authorities. If you look more on the sports side, sexual abuse cases have haunted every level of sports for years. It seems that alleged sexual abuse cases have haunted every sport from American football to soccer to baseball. Unfortunately, due to the concept that our athletes are seen on a higher level, there seems to be a less amount of sexual abuse cases that are reported. It has even hit the college scene as there have been many Division 1 schools that tend to brush these allegations under the rug.

Going back to the USA Gymnastics team, there was one case cited in the report of one of the coaches. William McCabe, a coach in Georgia, continued to work with underage athletes for six years after the USA Gymnastics organization dismissed the first of four complaints about him in 1998. Less than ten years later in 2006, he would plead guilty to charges of sexual exploitation of children and for the making of false statements. He is now serving a 30-year sentence. What I want to find out with this person is how is it possible that an organization would hire someone who would plead guilty to sexual abuse charges. This shows a major loophole in our society.

Steve Penny, the president of the US Gymnastics, said in a statement on the matter through the website that “addressing issues of sexual misconduct have  been important to the USA Gymnastics for many years, and the organization is committed to promoting a safe environment for its athletes.” If that happens to be the case, then they would not have hired these monsters to supervise its younger athletes.

The statement continued, “ USA Gymnastics has, in the strongest terms, encouraged anyone who believes abuse has occurred to contact law enforcement and frequently works with law enforcement on these matters.” Steve Penny added on that “We feel The Star left out significant facts that would have painted a more accurate picture of our efforts.”

There is a page dedicated to how it combats sexual misconduct, the US gymnastics organization advises parents who suspect sexual abuse to contact the authorities directly. “If they require or request assistance, USA Gymnastics will provide it and support them every step of the way.” the organization said. I find this to be an excuse, if these sexual abuse cases were going on under the watch of these coaches, then it should be someone in the building to report the sexual abuse. You hear numerous amount of incidents where these cases go unreported. People who are sexually abused, they tend not to want to say anything because they feel people will view them as less of a person.

Also on this site, they offer a defense of relying on firsthand accounts. “ As a membership organization, this is the most reliable source to initiate a fact-based investigation, avoiding rumors and potential defamation.” In a 2014 deposition, Robert Colarossi, who happens to be a former president of USA Gymnastics, explained why the organization avoided “hearsay.”

“One of the most important reasons that you substantiate a claim is because the potential for, if you will find the expression, a witch hunt, becomes very real,” he said. “So it’s that they may  make a claim like this because they don’t like someone or because they heard a rumor or because they received information through other third parties.” This sounds incredibly ridiculous, if it were me who was running this organization, I would take every claim seriously and not pick and chose.

From 1996 to 2006, the USA Gymnastics created written records on 54 coaches who were suspected of abuse. At this point, it is unclear on how many of those coaches were reported to law enforcement agencies or how many have been looked into since. The Indianapolis Star said that the newspaper tried to file a motion in court to gain access to the files, but there has not been a ruling in that case. What I find ridiculous is that they had these coaches on the radar, but mainly chose not to do anything with them. Being that these gymnasts bring in money for the organization, nothing is done to fix the situation.

In addition to Mr. McCabe, The Indianapolis Star was able to name three coaches who were convicted of abusing athletes after the USA Gymnastics was warned about them. The three coaches were Marvin Sharp, Mark Schiefelbein, and James Bell who were all arrested over the last ten years of sexual abuse charges.

The first one to be looked at is Marvin Sharp. He was the 2010 national Women’s Coach of the Year and had a complaint about him in 2011, but officials did not report him to the authroties until four years later when they got another complaint. According to the Indianapolis Star, Mr. Sharp ended up killing himself in jail in 2015 after being charged with child molestation and sexual misconduct with a minor.

The next coach who had a complaint about him was Mark Schiefelbein. He is currently serving a 36- year sentence for molesting a 10-year-old girl in Tennessee, which was reported by the victims family in 2002. The USA Gymnastics had compiled “ a thick file of complaints” about him.

The final coach being mentioned in the findings from the Indianapolis Star was James Bell. He was arrested in 2003 on charges that he molested three girls in Rhode Island. However, gymnastics officials had a sexual misconduct file on him that was around for five years before his arrest. In 2004, he went on the run and was arrested again last year. Currently, he is serving eight years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of molestation.

After reading the sexual allegations against the USA gymnastics team is sickening and disturbing. I will never understand this concept that if sexual abuse goes on regarding a sports organization or a league, there seems to be little done. The big reason why these tend not to be reported is general that money is brought in and they don’t want to lose money. Personally, this is sick and something that should be stopped. I am a huge sports fans, but I feel that and know that federations only care about money. They can give a crap about the well-being of its athletes because if they did care then these cases would not be occurring as often as they are being done.

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