After a $380 million settlement, the legal battle between USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar (ex-national team doctor) and hundreds of victims of sexual abuse is over.
Only the beginning of the fight for meaningful change in the sport’s national governance body is possible.
On Monday, a federal bankruptcy court in Indianapolis approved an agreement between USA Gymnastics (and the U.S. Olympic & Parampic Committee) and more than 500 victims. This ends one aspect of the fallout from the biggest sexual abuse scandal in American Olympic history.
The tentative settlement reached in September was approved by more than 90% of victims. The court conditionally approved a $380 million modification to the $425 million settlement. Over 300 victims were abused and neglected by Nassar. The remaining victims were abused in some way by USA Gymnastics employees.
Financial accounting is only one aspect of the equation. The victims will be part of USA Gymnastics’ future through a series of non-monetary provisions. These provisions include a seat on USA Gymnastics’ Safe Sport Committee, Athlete Health and Wellness Council, and board of directors. They also provide a detailed look into the culture and practices that allowed Nassar and others to continue operating unchecked for many years. After the settlement was approved, USA Gymnastics president Li Li Leung stated that survivors had stepped forward with courage to advocate for lasting change in the sport. We are committed to working together with them and the whole gymnastics community to ensure that safety, health, and wellness continue to be our top priority.
Many women and girls have claimed that Nassar sexually assaulted them while they were receiving medical treatment at Michigan State University. He also worked for USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians and a Michigan gym who is a USA Gymnastics member.
After pleading guilty to child pornography offenses in federal court, he pleaded guilty to assaulting female gymnasts in state court. In 2018, he was sentenced to between 40 and 175 years imprisonment.
Rachael denhollander was the first woman to report on sexual abuse at the hands Nassar in fall 2016.
Denhollander said in a telephone interview that “it’s not about money, but it’s about changing.” It’s about a precise assessment of what went wrong to make it safer for the next generation.
Since the beginning of the scandal, Denhollander was one of the most vocal Nassar victims. She stated that it was crucial to get past the legal proceedings so that women can continue with their lives and receive the help they need.
She stated, “The truth is that survivors will have a harder time surviving this.” “So many of them can’t get medical care without a settlement. This reality had to be balanced with the time it took. We believed it was in everyone’s best interests to accept the settlement… so survivors could receive some form of justice.”
Denhollander noted that not all medical expenses are covered by insurance. Part of the financial burden will be relieved by the settlement.
Nearly four years have passed since a Michigan emotional sentencing hearing, in which hundreds of women described their experiences with Nassar as well as the impact it had on their lives.
Sarah Hirshland, CEO of USOPC, stated that the organization is paying $34m of its own money and $73m from insurers towards the settlement. She said that the organization recognizes its responsibility for “failing these athletes to protect them” and was sorry for the deep hurt they have suffered.
Denhollander called the five-plus years that elapsed between Monday and Tuesday when she first approached reporters at The Indianapolis Star, “hellish.”
She said, “It’s been hellish” for everyone. “To have had to push so hard for the right things, to have to push so long to see justice happen… it shouldn’t have taken five years.”
USA Gymnastics filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in December 2018 to consolidate various lawsuits against it. This move forced the USOPC, which had begun decertification proceedings against USA Gymnastics, to stop the process.
In the interim, the organization underwent a major leadership overhaul and restructured its safety and health policies. Although the settlement will allow the organization to continue its role as the sport’s national body of governing, Denhollander stated that USA Gymnastics has not done enough. This is why the involvement and support of the victims is so important.
She stated, “We must see for ourselves the reforms taking place.” “Having the ability to do so provides a level accountability that was not possible up until now.”