A nine-month long investigation by the Indianapolis Star found 368 gymnasts across the country who were allegedly sexually abused at the hands of coaches, mentors or other adults in positions of authority.
In some cases, the reports says, predatory coaches went undetected, moving from gym to gym.
Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who is now the CEO of Champion Women, a legal advocacy group for girls and women in sports, said the abuse doesn’t only happen in gymnastics.
“As a world-class swimmer for 10 years, I saw a lot of it and one of the major problems was that coaches thought that as long as it wasn't illegal, then it was perfectly OK,” Hogshead-Makar said.
According to Hogshead-Makar, what makes the case of abuse in club sports different is that the athletes don’t have the same amount of legal protection.
USA Gymnastics has member gyms across the country, including 14 in Northeast Florida.
The member gyms are considered independent businesses and according to the report, USA Gymnastics said that because of that, it can’t take action against them.
But Hogshead-Makar said there is more the gyms can do to protect children.
“They didn't make any of these policy changes because they don't have to. It’s expensive to investigate sexually abusing coaches. Most HR departments would love to not have to do it,” Hogshead-Makar said. “If you're not willing to actually get the molester out, then it's just a lot of talk.”
The report doesn’t detail any local cases.
Former gymnast Jason Span tells me he was shocked to read the report.
“Growing up in gymnastics, I didn't experience anything like that personally. Working with my coach, we developed a bond like family so of course we grow very close to our coaches,” Span said.
Span said parents should be more involved as well.
“Not only support their child as an athlete but also be a witness to say that if an emergency were to happen they're right there on the scene,” said Hogshead-Makar.
Ultimately, Hogshead-Makar said, in order to protect children from abuse, Congress should step in.
“There has to be some kind of consequence. We need to tell the Olympic committee that by act of statute we want them to take this on."
Hogshead-Makar said victims in these cases don’t only suffer from emotional and physical abuse but it could have repercussions for years to come, and even affect their health in the long run.
In a lengthy statement, the chairman of the USA Gymnastics board of directors Paul Parilla said, “Addressing instances of sexual misconduct has been a top priority for USA Gymnastics for years, and we are wholly committed to promoting a safe environment for athletes.”
To read his full statement, click here.
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