Today, four elite American gymnasts testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Congress about the FBI’s mishandling of the Larry Nassar sex abuse case, one of the biggest sexual abuse cases in the history of American sports.
Simone Biles (24), Aly Raisman (27), McKayla Maroney (25), and Maggie Nichols (24) – all teammates of Team USA Gymnastics – bravely spoke out about the abuse and trauma they’ve suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar, the former national team doctor, and demanded answers and justice.
Nassar was sentenced in 2018, and is serving up to 175 years in prison for multiple sex crimes.
Simone Biles’ Testimony
Simone Biles testified, saying, “To be clear. I blame Larry Nassar, but I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.”
In her closing comments, Biles also shared how the trauma continues to affect her and her performance: “The scars of this horrific abuse continue to live with all of us. As the lone competitor at the recent Tokyo Games who was a survivor of this horror, I can assure you that the impacts of this man's abuse are not ever over or forgotten."
"The announcement in the spring of 2020 that the Tokyo Games were to be postponed for a year meant that I would be going to the gym, to training, to therapy, living daily, among the reminders of this story for another 365 days. As I have stated in the past, one thing that helped me push each and every day was the goal of not allowing this crisis to be ignored. I worked incredibly hard to make sure that my presence could maintain a connection between the failures and the competition at Tokyo 2020."
Biles continued, "That has proven to be an exceptionally difficult burden for me to carry, particularly when required to travel to Tokyo without the support of any of my family. I am a strong individual and I will persevere, but I never should have been left alone to suffer the abuse of Larry Nassar. And the only reason I did was because of the failures that lie at the heart of the abuse that you are now asked to investigate."
McKayla Maroney’s Testimony
McKayla Maroney, a 2012 Olympic medalist, also testified about how she had shared the graphic details of Larry Nassar repeatedly molesting her (beginning when she was 13) with the FBI in the summer of 2015, and was met with callousness and inaction.
Maroney testified, “In the summer of 2015, like I said, I was scheduled to speak to the FBI about my abuse with Larry Nassar over the phone. I was too sick to go meet with anyone in person, and talking about this abuse would give me PTSD for days, but I chose to try to speak about it to try to make a difference and protect others.”
“I remember sitting on my bedroom floor for nearly three hours as I told them what happened to me. I hadn't even told my own mother about these facts, but I thought as uncomfortable and as hard as it was to tell my story, I was going to make a difference and hopefully protecting others from the same abuse.”
“I answered all of their questions honestly and clearly, and I disclosed all of my molestations I had endured by Nassar to them in extreme detail...I began crying at the memory over the phone, and there was just dead silence. I was so shocked at the agent's silence and disregard for my trauma. After that minute of silence he asked, ‘Is that all?’”
Maroney’s disclosures to the FBI produced no results for 17 months. At which time, the agent documented false statements.
“Not only did the F.B.I. not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said,” Maroney testified. “They chose to lie about what I said and protect a serial child molester rather than protect not only me but countless others.”
Maggie Nichols’ Testimony
Maggie Nichols also gave testimony. She is known as “Athlete A” in the Nassar case because she was the first elite gymnast to report the abuse to USA Gymnastics, in July 2015. Her dream of going to the 2016 Olympics ended when she reported Larry Nassar.
Nichols said, “I reported my abuse to USA Gymnastics over six years ago, and still, my family and I have received few answers, and have even more questions, about how this was allowed to occur and why dozens of other little girls and women at Michigan State had to be abused after I reported. In sacrificing my childhood for the chance to compete for the United States, I am haunted by the fact that even after I reported my abuse, so many women and girls had to needlessly suffer at the hands of Larry Nassar. USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and the FBI have all betrayed me and those who were abused by Larry Nassar after I reported.”
Nichols ended, saying, “Despite these findings of serious and criminal misconduct throughout the FBI, USAG, and USOPC, no accountability has occurred. An important question remains, perhaps the most important question: why?...The survivors of Larry Nassar have a right to know why their well-being was placed in jeopardy by these individuals who chose not to do their jobs. To date, no one from the FBI, the USOPC, or USAG has faced federal charges, other than Larry Nassar. For many hundreds of survivors of Larry Nassar, this hearing is one of our last opportunities to get justice. We ask that you do what is in your power to ensure those that engaged in wrongdoing are held accountable under the law.”
Aly Raisman’s Testimony
Aly Raisman, 2016 Olympic medalist, also testified about how the FBI failed to interview her for 14 months, despite her repeated requests.
“My reports of abuse were not only buried by USAG and USOPC but they were also mishandled by Federal Law enforcement ofﬁcers who failed to follow their most basic duties,” Raisman said.
“Instead they quietly allowed Nassar to slip out the side door, knowingly allowing him to continue his 'work' at MSU, Sparrow Hospital, a USAG club, and even to run for school board. Nassar found more than 100 new victims to molest. It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter.”
“All we needed was one adult to do the right thing,” said Raisman.
Raisman also described how difficult it is for her to meet young girls – aspiring gymnasts – who found a way to go to Larry Nassar as their doctor, simply because he had also been Raisman’s doctor, and these girls thought it was cool and special to have that connection to her.
While the FBI was made aware of Larry Nassar’s abuse in the summer of 2015, the Lansing, MI office of the FBI didn’t open its official investigation until October 2016. In those months, Nassar was able to continue molesting girls and women, with some estimates around 40 and others as much as 100, at Michigan State University and in Lansing, MI at a local gymnastics center and a high school.
The FBI’s Response
After the gymnasts spoke, Christopher Wray, FBI director since 2017, also testified about the agency’s mishandling of the Nassar case. He also apologized to the victims and said, “We need to remember the pain that occurred when our folks failed to do their job.”
This hearing comes two months after the Justice Department’s inspector general released a report that criticized the FBI’s handling of the case, pointing out crucial errors and failure to follow policy. This hearing also closely follows the FBI firing one agent who initially worked on the case, Michael Langeman, according to the New York Times.
The inspector general’s report said Langeman “should have known that Nassar’s abuse was probably widespread, yet he did not investigate the case with any urgency.”
It also faulted Langeman for interviewing only one of the three elite gymnasts (McKayla Maroney) who reported being abused by Nassar to USA Gymnastics, as well as failing to properly document the interview, open an investigation, or even alert state and local officials of Nassar’s alleged abuse. As Maroney testified, the interview report wasn’t filed with the FBI for 17 months.
Another agent initially involved was special agent W. Jay Abbott, who retired in 2018. According to the inspector general’s report, Abbott lied to Justice Department investigators and “violated FBI policy and exercised extremely poor judgment under federal ethics rules.” Abbott also had a conflict of interest as he was trying to get a job United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, which he discussed with Steve Penny, then president of USA Gymnastics.
It’s clear from today’s testimonies that several agencies and organizations have inexcusably failed the people in their care. Let us hope that justice and truth will prevail, and that Larry Nassar’s many victims can find peace and healing.
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