Four elite gymnasts have testified before congress about how the FBI mishandled its investigation into abuse allegations against Larry Nassar, the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University who abused an estimated 300 young athletes under the guise of medical treatment and was sentenced to 100 years in prison in 2018.
In July, the Justice Department’s Inspector General released a scathing report on the FBI’s botching of the major child abuse case. The agency had failed to respond to the claims “with the utmost seriousness and urgency that the allegations deserved and required,” the report said. Agents had failed to document meetings with athletes, it found, failed to move forward with the case for more than a year, and then lied to the Inspector General to cover up their errors. Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced it would hold a hearing about what it described as the FBI’s “dereliction of duty” in its handling of the investigation into Nassar. (On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that Michael Langeman, a supervisory special agent in the Indianapolis office, had been fired for allegedly failing to properly investigate the allegations, and later lying about it to the Inspector General to cover it up.)
On Wednesday, gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, and Aly Raisman addressed the committee to condemn the system that had allowed Larry Nassar’s abuse to go unchecked and to call on the Department of Justice for to prosecute FBI agents who failed to properly investigate the allegations and then lied to cover it up.
Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the world’s most decorated and most famous gymnasts, demanded accountability and for athletic organizations to be held accountable. “USA gymnastics and the US [Olympic and] Paralympic Committee knew I was abused by their official team doctor long before I was made aware of their knowledge,” she said, adding that she didn’t understand the scope of Nassar’s abuse until she read about it in the Indianapolis Star. “I had been left to wonder why I was not told until after the Rio Games [in 2016].”
“How much is a little girl worth?” she said. “I suffered and continue to suffer because no one at the FBI, USAG or USOPC did what was necessary to protect us. We have been failed and we deserve answers. Nassar is where he belongs, but those who enabled him deserve to be held accountable. If they are not, I am convinced that this will continue to happen to others across Olympic sports.”
Biles recently made headlines when she pulled out of some competitions in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — held in the summer of 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic — over concerns for her mental wellbeing. Speaking to congress, she addressed the mental strain of continuing to train through the yearlong delay. “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,” she said.
She also said she had intentionally showed up to represent survivors of Nassar’s abuse at the competition. “I worked incredibly hard to make sure that my presence could maintain a connection between the failures and the competition at Tokyo 2020,” she said. “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.”
When McKayla Maroney testified, she spoke in detail about how Nassar had molested her repeatedly and how FBI agents had treated her dismissively when she told them about it. She described a time when she and Nassar were in Tokyo for a competition and he molested her for hours. “I told them I thought I was going to die that night because there was no way that he would let me go.”
When she finished telling the FBI about the abuse, she said the agents answered, “Is that all?” She was crushed. “Those words in itself was one of the worst moments of this entire process for me to have my abuse be minimized and disregarded by the people who were supposed to protect me,” she said.
Nichols, who is known as “Athlete A” in the Nassar case because she was the first elite gymnast to report the abuse to USA Gymnastics, said the abuse didn’t happen to some anonymous athlete, it happened to her, a little girl at the time, and many others like her. “I am haunted by the fact that even after I reported my abuse, so many women and girls had to suffer at the hands of Larry Nassar,” she said. “USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the FBI have all betrayed me and those who were abused by Larry Nassar.”
Raisman offered encouragement to fellow survivors. “Be patient to yourself, be kind to yourself,” she said. “Healing is a roller coaster. There are some days I feel better, some days I feel like i’m taking a bunch of steps backwards and that’s OK….I would encourage whoever’s out there that’s listening to tell someone when they feel comfortable.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray also testified, and apologized for the agency’s failings. He told the gymnasts he was “deeply and profoundly sorry that so many people let you down over and over again,” and added, “On no planet is what happened in this case acceptable.”