Less than five months after the Tokyo Olympics, the gymnastics governing body in the United States has proposed a multi-million dollar legal deal to close a dark and painful chapter in which hundreds of gymnasts have been sexually assaulted by a former team doctor.
Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast in this sport, can’t do it.
Neither Aly Raisman, another Olympic gold medalist and other victims who in the past few days have publicly asked for answers once again about how the doctor, Lawrence G. Nassar, could harass hundreds of girls and women under U.S. surveillance. Gymnastics, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and so many coaches have accused, in part, of keeping them safe.
“They’re just trying to push it under the carpet and hoping people will forget about it when they watch this summer’s Olympics,” Raisman said on Monday about the “Today” show on NBC, which will broadcast the Tokyo Games.
Raisman also accused the Olympic organizations of a cover-up, although he didn’t say what exactly was covered because he said he didn’t have enough information.
And that lack of information is the crux of the problem.
Details of the US Gymnastics $ 217 million settlement offer were made public last month and include an offer that releases various entities and individuals involved in the case from liability, including the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny, as well as former national team coordinators Marta and Bela Karolyi. Payments offered to over 500 victims of Nassar range from $ 82.550 to $ 1.25 million, with the highest payments going to harassed gymnasts at the Olympics or world championships.
However, the offer does not appear to require Olympic or gymnastic officials to reveal additional information that could shed light on how Nassar could assault so many people without the kind of oversight that could have stopped him. John Manly, a lawyer who represents Biles, Raisman and other victims, called it unacceptable.
Manly said the A $ 500 million deal that the state of Michigan paid to the victims of Nassar, who was a university employee, was very different in that it spurred investigations that led to the layoffs or resignations of university officials, including Lou Anna Simon, president of the university, who now faces criminal charges of lying to the police in Nassar’s investigation. Kathie Klages, a former university gymnastics coach, was found guilty last month of lying to investigators and could face up to four years in prison.
“Typically, U.S.A.G has managed to offend everyone with a settlement plan that won’t answer any of our questions,” said Manly. “We want to understand who at the highest levels of the Olympic sports has allowed this totally corrupt culture to continue.”
There have been numerous investigations into who knew about Nassar, when they knew and what they did about it.
A congressional subcommittee carried out an investigation e the Ropes & Gray law firm, maintained by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, pursued another. Yet survivors say they still don’t know how Nassar was able to act with such impunity when he attacked them in the form of medical treatment. The Justice Department is also conducting an investigation into sexual abuse in Olympic sports, but no information on the investigation has been made public.
The lack of information has been so worrying for the victims that Biles, who is training for the Tokyo Olympics, has a hard time keeping it out of his head.
On the way to the national team’s training ground, he sent a tweet stating that he still wanted answers from the United States Gymnastics and the United States.
“I wish they both wanted an independent investigation as much as the survivors and I. High anxiety. Hard not to think of everything I DON’T WANT TO THINK !!! “said the tweet.
In another post, he said: “AND they don’t even want to know HOW it was allowed to happen and WHO let it happen so it NEVER happens again? Shouldn’t people be held accountable? Who am I asking ??? torn at this point … “
These strong reactions could indicate the distance between the athletes and the referees in the resolution of the case and their very different objectives.
Gymnasts are struggling for the maximum amount of information to be released in order to maintain public pressure on the Olympic committee and gymnastics federation to make the types of radical changes that could curb future abuse. Government officials, however, would prefer to expedite the end of the case so that the focus on it disappears before the Olympics and to avoid a process that could impose tougher financial penalties if the victims prevail.
U.S. gymnastics filed for bankruptcy in December 2018, claiming that the move would speed up payments to Nassar’s victims. The filing stopped the dozens of lawsuits that US gymnastics was facing, interrupting any exchange of information in those cases.
But the path from filing for bankruptcy to offering to pay for those women has been tortuous, and probably expected to be.
Jonathan Lipson, a bankruptcy law expert and professor at Temple University Beasley School of Law, said the US gymnastics case is complicated because it goes deeper than just a “money only” and “business only” case.
He said it was similar to the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy case resulting from the avalanche of lawsuits that the company faced in connection with the drug at the heart of the opiate crisis or the recent Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy in light of their sex abuse scandal and the hundreds of lawsuits from it.
“They all involve underlying damage that is more difficult to deal with than usual failure to pay a debt,” said Lipson. “This was also the problem with the Catholic church. They had problems that cannot be cashed out and the bankruptcy system was designed to cash out people. “
The next step towards the bankruptcy case will be negotiations. There will be auditions, modified offers and a lot of skill, as Lipson called it.
Another option is for the judge to close the case, and that’s exactly what Nassar’s victims want.
In January, they filed a request with the court to close the case because they see the bankruptcy filing as the effort of US gymnastics to hide from public scrutiny and delay the litigation in the hundreds of cases it faces across the country.
Rachael Denhollander, a lawyer and former gymnast who was the first person to publicly accuse Nassar of molesting her, said she and the other victims were nearly done with American gymnastics. Four long and frustrating years have passed since she came to the Indianapolis Star with her charges against Nassar.
“If they hadn’t prioritized money over child safety, we would have ended up with this three years ago,” he said.
It’s not about money, he said, although the funds are important for medical care for survivors who need therapy. It’s about forcing the system to change, he said, and to do it, American gymnastics and U.S.O.P.C. you need to provide the public with more information – all text messages, email exchanges, everything – to show who has allowed Nassar to thrive and injure so many girls and women.
“We are talking about the largest case of sexual violence in the history of sport,” said Denhollander. “The bottom line is that the survivors won’t let him go.”