Senate asks Justice Dept., FBI to investigate former Olympic CEO Scott Blackmun for lying to Congress
The Senate subcommittee investigating sexual abuse in the Olympic movement has sent a referral letter to the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI asking them to investigate former U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun for lying to Congress.
The letter, sent Friday, said that Blackmun made “materially false statements” when he told the subcommittee in written testimony that he spoke with the USOC’s safe sport staff about a conversation he had with then USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny in July 2015. It also recommended Blackmun be investigated for obstruction.
“The Subcommittee takes its oversight role seriously, and it appears that Mr. Blackmun has made false claims and misled our Subcommittee – harming the investigation and our ability to develop policy,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), the chair of the subcommittee, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the ranking member, said in a statement.
“Just as importantly, survivors of abuse have had to wait longer for the truth and longer for systemic changes to help prevent others from similar injury.”
The USOC did not immediately respond to an email from USA TODAY.
The written testimony Blackmun submitted for the subcommittee’s June 5 hearing conflicted with what he told investigators from Boston-based law firm Ropes & Gray, which on Monday released a report that was largely critical of Blackmun.
On July 25, 2015, Penny called Blackmun to inform him about Larry Nassar – although neither remembers the USA Gymnastics team doctor’s name coming up – and concerns athletes had about treatments. Penny notified Blackmun that he would be reporting Nassar to law enforcement.
Ropes & Gray investigators found “no evidence” that Blackmun “ever told anyone at the USOC about the information” he learned from Penny.
Citing health reasons as he was being treated for prostate cancer, Blackmun did not testify before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security.
Blackmun, who resigned in February after eight years as CEO, received some of the harshest criticism in an independent investigation of how sexual abuse complaints against Nassar were handled. More than 350 girls and women – including Olympic champions Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian – have said they were abused by Nassar under the guise of medical treatments.
Ropes & Gray investigators found that, “When the … allegations of sexual assault were squarely presented to USAG and the USOC, the two organizations, at the direction of their respective CEOs, engaged in affirmative efforts to protect and preserve their institutional interests.”
Blackmun’s testimony to the Senate is rebutted by the Ropes & Gray report. Though he said he notified the USOC’s safe sport staff, neither then-director of Ethics and SafeSport Malia Arrington nor anyone else at the USOC knew about the allegations until Rachael Denhollander and an Olympic gymnast went public in a September 2016 story by The Indianapolis Star
Not only had Blackmun not informed anyone else at the USOC about the complaints against Nassar, Ropes & Gray said, he did not investigate whether Nassar had access to athletes at other USOC facilities. He also did not follow up to see if Penny did, indeed, report Nassar to law enforcement or ask for an update on the investigation.
Blackmun initially told Ropes & Gray investigators that he had convened a meeting of high-level USOC officials in September 2015 to “talk about making sure we do the right follow-up on our side,” even going so far as to provide names of the people who would have attended. But investigators could find no evidence of such a meeting.
When investigators informed Blackmun that they could not corroborate his account, he said “he was mistaken in his recollection about having undertaken such an effort,” according to the report.
Nassar’s abuse was not the first time sexual misconduct was an issue during Blackmun’s tenure. The revelation in 2010 that USA Swimming had quietly banned more than 35 coaches led the USOC to require background checks for all coaches and NGB officials and, ultimately, the creation of the U.S. Center for SafeSport.
But Blackmun was often criticized for not doing enough to protect athletes – USA Taekwondo and U.S. Speedskating also have had high-profile sexual misconduct cases — and he acknowledged to Ropes & Gray investigators that sexual abuse was “not on my radar” when he took over as CEO.
“When I started in 2010 if someone said what are the top 15 priorities for the USOC, I wouldn’t have had sex abuse on the list,” Blackmun told investigators.
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