Former Gymnast Rachael Denhollander on USOC's Nassar Cover-Up: 'It Is Time for Congress to Act'

Denhollander called for Congress intervention after an independent report released Monday detailed the USOC's Larry Nassar cover-up.
Publish date:

Lawyer and former gymnast Rachael Denhollander called for Congress to step in and take action in the investigation into the U.S. Olympic Committee's and USA Gymnastic's lack of action against Larry Nassar in a press conference Tuesday.

Denhollander's statements come in light of the U.S. Olympic committee's 233-page report published Monday in which a 10-month independent investigation found that the U.S. Olympic Committee's chief of sports performance Alan Ashley and several other individuals took no action to protect athletes after being told of abuse allegations against former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics doctor Nassar.

"I have been asked many times over the last two years, 'What the worst part about this journey you've been on, about coming forward publicly?' And I can unequivocally say that one of the worst parts are reports like this," Denhollander said at the press conference. "Because when I read this report I remember the little 15-year-old girl sitting on the exam room table with just an inkling of what had happened to her, with her mind racing with the words, 'No one will ever believe me. I remember the 17-year-old shaking after I told my parents what Larry had done two years earlier, and I remember telling them, 'If I speak up, someone will bury this. There is nothing I can do. USOC, USAG and MSU will bury this.' And I remember coming home from Kentucky to my three young children after filing the police report and opening the internet to read my story and finding a statement by the USAG and USOC saying that they had terminated Larry in 2015 because of reports of sexual misconduct. And I felt like I had been kicked in the gut.

"When I read this report, I wished more than anything I could go back and tell that little 15-year-old, 'You were wrong, and somebody would have protected you,' but this report makes it abundantly clear if it was not so already that little girls were not worth anything to USOC and USAG," Denhollander continued. "I was not worth enough... The hundreds of little girls that were abused by Larry, the dozens that were molested after 2015 when USAG and USOC knew he was a serial pedophile were not worth enough to them. What we have seen in this report is the tip of the iceberg. It is betrayal upon betrayal. Not only did they betray us when we needed them desperately to protect us, but when Jamie [Dantzscher] and I came forward, they betrayed us again, because they knew what Larry was. They had evidence of his sexual abuse. It is time for Congress to act. We cannot trust that what is in this report is the full scope of the investigation... Congress needs to step in, and they need to find out what really happened. Because what we are seeing in the gymnastics world is the tip of the iceberg and there are hundreds of children still dependent for protection and for safety on these people and that is unacceptable."

The report found that the former USA Gymnastics CEO, Steve Penny, informed the leaders of the Olympic Committee in 2015 that team members had shared allegations that Nassar had sexually abused them.

Ashley and then-Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun did not share that information with others nor did the organization take action prior to allegations against Nassar being made public in the media in 2017 by Denhollander. Ashley was fired on Monday, a spokesman told The Hill

The report also determined that individuals at Michigan State University, where Nassar previously worked, enabled the doctor's abuse of athletes.

Denhollander was the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault. She filed a federal lawsuit against Nassar at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan that was later combined with 251 other former gymnasts, along with 23 husbands of gymnasts, who also brought up claims related to her suit.

Following Denhollander's lead, more than 300 women in total have said they were sexually assaulted by Nassar, who was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison in January for sexually abusing women while he was a doctor for Michigan State University and for USA Gymnastics. More than 150 women testified against Nassar, describing instances where he had abused them during their time at Michigan State or on the Olympic team.

In a statement, the USOC said it must learn from the report.

“The U.S. Olympic community failed the victims, survivors and their families, and we apologize again to everyone who has been harmed,” incoming chairwoman of the USOC board of directors Susanne Lyons said in a statement. “The USOC board commissioned this independent investigation because we knew we had an obligation to find out how this happened and to take important steps to prevent and detect abuse."

Denhollander was recently named Sports Illustrated'sInspiration of the Year due to her courageous stand against Nassar that sparked the investigation.