U.S. sports leaders face angry questions at congressional hearing

In testimony that at times grew heated, the head of USA Gymnastics offered a long-awaited public apology on Wednesday, telling a congressional panel she was “appalled and sickened” by the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

Kerry Perry appeared before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee alongside other U.S. sports leaders to answer questions about Nassar and additional incidents of abuse in sports including swimming, volleyball and taekwondo.

Perry’s statements marked the first time she had publicly addressed the issue since taking over USA Gymnastics six months ago.

“Let there be no mistake, those days are over,” she said of the conditions that allowed Nassar to abuse young victims for years. “USA Gymnastics is on a new path, with new leadership and a commitment to ensure this never happens again.”


Hundreds of girls, women and parents have come forward with allegations against Nassar, a former sports doctor for Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and U.S. Olympic teams. He is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison after pleading guilty to sexual molestation and child pornography charges.

Much of Wednesday’s hearing focused on the role of the U.S. Olympic Committee, which is tasked with overseeing the national governing bodies that handle each sport.

“There appears to be a history of the USOC knowing about allegations of sexual abuse and doing nothing,” said Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon. “One of the concerns that the committee has heard repeatedly from survivors is that the USOC is more concerned about its own reputation, about medals and money, than it is about athlete safety.”

Some of the most powerful leaders in American Olympic sports — including USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun and gymnastics head Steve Penny — have stepped down amid widespread criticism from victims of abuse.


Kerry Perry, Susanne Lyons
USA Gymnastics head Kerry Perry, right, and U.S. Olympic Committee acting chief executive Susanne Lyons testified before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press )

“The Olympic community failed the people it was supposed to protect and I would like to apologize once again to those individuals and their families,” said Susanne Lyons, the USOC’s acting chief executive. “I know we can do better.”

At one point, Rep. Buddy Carter of Georgia lashed out at Perry, telling her: “How can you work for an organization like this that let this happen? … You should resign your position now.”

Perry and her colleagues spoke about recent efforts that have included the launch of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and funding for victim assistance. Gymnastics removed its national training site from famed Karolyi Ranch, where numerous incidents of molestation took place.

Still, sports leaders were criticized for their failure to address past allegations.

“These horrific events occured for years without repercussions,” Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida said. “Unacceptable.”

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