USA Gymnastics allegedly kept Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles in the dark about its investigation into sexual abuse by Larry Nassar after becoming aware of her concerns about the sports doctor.
Biles was one of the three gymnasts who were flagged to USA Gymnastics (USAG) officials as being uncomfortable with Nassar in June of 2015 – sparking a secret five-week internal investigation into the national team’s longtime physician.
A new report published in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday claims that the investigator leading that probe never spoke to Biles, and when the concerns were passed to the FBI in late July 2015, her name was not mentioned.
The report, based on interviews with people with knowledge of USAG’s response to Nassar allegations and a documents submitted to Congress, suggests that then-chief executive Steve Penny specifically left the star gymnast out of the probe and ignored the possibility that she may have been abused by the doctor – just as the organization ramped up its efforts to solidify her as the face of the sport.
Biles didn’t learn that Nassar was under investigation until more than a year after her concerns were brought to the attention of USAG, after the 2016 Rio Olympics.
And no one at USA Gymnastics approached her about the doctor, who was given an effective life sentence in 2018, until after she publicly revealed that she was one of his victims in January of that year.
Biles, now 22, declined to be interviewed for the WSJ report but retweeted a link to it hours after it went live, writing: ‘Can’t tell you how hard this is to read and process. The pain is real and doesn’t just go away…especially when new facts are still coming out.
‘What’s it going to take for a complete and independent investigation of both USOPC and USAG???’
Testifying before a Congressional committee last year, Rhonda Faehn, then the director of the women’s program for USAG, claimed that she was made aware in June 2015 that Biles, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman had ‘concerns’ about Nassar’s treatments.
Faehn said she relayed that information to Penny, as evidenced by a handwritten note she submitted to Congress with both Biles’ and Raisman’s names.
Speaking to WSJ through his lawyers, Penny said that Biles name was not mentioned when Faehn approached him. However, he admitted that he became aware that Biles ‘might want to talk about Nassar’ a few weeks later.
The WSJ report cited an email from July 13, 2015, in which Penny and Faehn discussed scheduling a time for Biles to be interviewed by the investigator leading USAG’s probe.
Penny suggested leaving Biles’ parents and coach out of the loop because she was 18, but Faehn refused. Penny then said he would schedule the interview himself – but it never actually happened.
On July 27, 2015, USAG contacted the FBI’s Indianapolis branch about its Nassar investigation, and Penny spoke to agents the following day. He reportedly told the agents about Raisman, Nichols and fellow Olympian McKayla Maroney, but not Biles.
The subsequent FBI investigation stalled for almost a year after USAG reported its concerns.
Biles wasn’t interviewed by investigators until the fall of 2016, at which point she realized that she had been victimized by Nassar, according to the WSJ report.
The allegations against Nassar were finally brought into the public spotlight in September 2016 when Rachael Denhollander and another athlete, later identified as 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher, aired their accounts in The Indianapolis Star.
More than 350 girls and young women would later come forward to accuse Nassar of sexually abusing them, often under the guise of medical treatment.
Biles added her name to the sprawling list of victims by releasing a statement on Twitter in January 2018.
‘For too long I’ve asked myself, “Was I too naive? Was it my fault?” I now know the answer to those questions. No. No, it was not my fault. No, I will not and should not carry the guilt that belongs to Larry Nassar, USAG, and others,’ the gymnast wrote.
Penny claimed that he didn’t know Biles was abused until that point.
When asked about USAG’s apparent efforts to conceal the Nassar investigation from Biles, the gymnast’s parents, Ron and Nellie, told WSJ in a statement: ‘We continue to struggle with how and why this happened, and every time we hear something new like this, it feels like the harshest of betrayals and it is just too painful for our family to talk about openly.’
USAG’s current chief executive, Li Li Leung, told WSJ she was ‘surprised, deeply saddened and outraged’ to learn about how the investigation was handled in regards to Biles.
‘Simone is the heart and soul of women’s gymnastics, and it is heartbreaking that she and her family were not contacted at the time the concerns were first reported,’ Leung said.
‘Our former leadership exhibited poor judgment and unacceptable behavior.’
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Megan Sheets