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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Survivors of Nassar abuse have reached a $380 million settlement

U.S.A. Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee have reached an agreement on a $380 million settlement with hundreds of female gymnasts who were sexually abused by Lawrence G. Nassar, a former team doctor for the national gymnastics team. The settlement brings an end to the latest chapter in one of the largest child sexual abuse cases in history.

The settlement, which was disclosed on Monday during the bankruptcy proceedings of U.S.A. Gymnastics in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana, is one of the biggest ever reached in a sexual assault lawsuit. More than 500 abuse victims, including Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, and Aly Raisman, would be compensated via the money, which would be raised through donations. A tiny percentage of those victims were subjected to abuse by their coaches or other members of the sporting community.

As a result of Nassar’s abuse, many of the girls and women who were subjected to it have suffered from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and some have attempted suicide as a result of it. The abuse was carried out under the pretence of medical treatment. Denhollander, an attorney, stated that it was unclear how much money each survivor would receive from the settlement because an independent mediator would consider many factors, including the length of time the abuse occurred and the severity of the abuse, when determining a dollar amount for each individual survivor.

Officials from the United States of America Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee applauded the settlement, which, along with the gymnastics federation’s reorganisation plan, was approved on Monday by Judge Robyn L. Moberly of the United States Bankruptcy Court. Because of this decision, United States Gymnastics should be able to emerge from bankruptcy before the end of the year.

Sarah Hirshland, the chief executive of the United States Olympic Body, said in a statement that the committee has implemented a number of adjustments to better safeguard competitors in future competitions.

The Nassar case, which shone a light on the vulnerability of young athletes in gymnastics and other sports, revealed how organisations such as the United States Gymnastics Association and the United States Olympic Committee had failed to protect their athletes and appeared to place a higher value on medals than on the safety of athletes. The topic has been the subject of multiple Congressional hearings, with one outcome being that legislators enhanced safeguards for athletes competing in Olympic-level sports.

In one session, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher A. Wray, expressed regret for the agency’s handling of the case. Biles, Maroney, Raisman, and former national team member Maggie Nichols gave heartbreaking evidence in September about how the FBI turned a blind eye to Nassar’s abuse as the investigation dragged on and children were harmed as a result of the failure of the investigation.

In particular, the case will be remembered for empowering victims to speak out about sexual assault and confront those who accused them. Over 100 girls and women who had been molested by Nassar, including some of his patients at Michigan State University, appeared in front of him and delivered witness statements about how he had harmed them during his sentencing hearings in early 2018. Their remarks were often rebellious, and they described how they had endured in the face of abuse.

Because of the Nassar case, sports organisations have become more conscious of their responsibility when athletes are harmed while under their supervision. Steve Penny, the former president and chief executive of the United States Gymnastics Federation, was removed from his position and is now facing a criminal charge of evidence tampering in connection with the case. Scott Blackmun resigned from his position as chief executive of the United States Olympic Committee under criticism.

Manly went on to say that Nassar is the only person involved in the case who is now doing time in jail, and that Nassar’s enablers, including the sports, university, and law enforcement authorities who received complaints about him but did nothing about them, should be imprisoned as well. Manly expressed ambivalence about the settlement, stating that it “stings” him that it has been five years since he initially filed his lawsuit in the matter.

U.S.A. Gymnastics was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in late 2018 as a result of an avalanche of Nassar lawsuits filed against the organisation, which had lost all of its major sponsors after Nassar was sentenced to what amounted to life in prison for various sexual offences. After years of uncertainty, the $380 million settlement will now assist the federation in its efforts to emerge from bankruptcy. Another advantage for the federation is that it will prevent the United States Olympic Committee from decertifying the United States of America Gymnastics as an Olympic organisation, a threat that has hovered over it since it was put on administrative probation in 2018.

One of the provisions would be that at least one Nassar victim would serve on the board of directors of the federation’s executive committee. Another stipulation, according to Denhollander, would be the creation of an independent investigation into what went wrong in the Nassar case and how it went wrong.

We must ensure that this never occurs again, whether it’s on the Olympic team or at the most basic of gymnastics facilities, she added, adding that just a tiny number of the 500 victims in the lawsuit were top gymnasts – maybe fewer than 10 percent of those who were harmed in the settlement. “I believe that we owe it not only to the survivors, but also to the future gymnasts, to do all in our power to keep them safe.”

Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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