Former gymnasts demand removal of USA Gymnastics leaders, saying they didn’t do enough to stop sexual abuse
ANAHEIM — Gymnast Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, continued her quest for change in the wake of the biggest sexual abuse scandal in American sports history on Thursday, the opening day of USA Gymnastics’ marquee event, the P&G Championships.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday morning, Dantzscher called for the removal of several members of USA Gymnastics senior leadership, which has been criticized since Dantzscher’s civil lawsuit nearly a year ago sparked a series of 125 women coming forward to accuse former U.S. national team physician Larry Nassar of sexual abuse.
Dantzscher specifically targeted Chairman of USA Gymnastics Paul Parilla, Vice Chairman Jay Binder and Treasurer Bitsy Kelley, whose photos appeared on a poster next to the table where she sat at the Ayres Hotel in Anaheim under the headline “New Leadership Needed.”
“It’s not that they just did nothing, they went even further and they protected, they protect sexual abusers and they know about it,” Dantzscher said. “And they try to conduct business as usual like everything is going to be fine. In my mind, they think they’re invincible because they’ve been getting away with it for so long.”
Dantzscher called on Procter & Gamble, chief sponsor for the event this week at Honda Center that determines the U.S. national champions and qualifiers for the World Championships, to effect change. Longtime USA Gymnastics sponsor Kellogg’s has publicly expressed concern regarding the sexual abuse allegations.
On Thursday Dantzscher was joined by former Michigan gymnast Rachael Denhollander and lawyer John Manly, who represents more than 100 women who have filed civil lawsuits against USA Gymnastics. Manly directed strong statements specifically toward Procter & Gamble CEO David Taylor.
“Here we sit across the street from the venue where Proctor & Gamble, one of the largest corporations in the world, is sponsoring an event, giving money to an organization that has utterly failed children and has participated actively in the concealment of child molestation,” Manly said. “My message to David Taylor, chairman of Procter & Gamble, is ‘What’s wrong with you? Even Kellogg’s spoke up and said this is wrong. What’s Procter & Gamble doing? Mr. Taylor, do the right thing. Call them out. Make this change.’”
Parilla, an Orange County attorney himself, signed a letter of support for former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny along with Binder and Kelley before Penny resigned in March, days after the U.S. Olympic Committee’s board of directors called for his job amid the flood of sexual abuse accusations under his leadership.
A USA Gymnastics-commissioned report released earlier this year created hope for an overhaul of its leadership considering it cited that the governing body has had a “largely ineffective approach” to preventing sexual abuse within the sport.
A series of reforms were recommended in the 146-page report, that found “over time, the practices of USA Gymnastics have not kept up with best practices in the field of child abuse protection, allowing for significant gaps and exposures regarding the prevention and reporting of child sexual abuse within the sport.”
On Wednesday, the Southern California News Group reported that USA Gymnastics reached a confidential out-of-court settlement in California prior to this year with a former U.S. national team gymnast who alleges Nassar sexually abused her.
The settlement is not only a potential violation of California law, it’s one of the clearest indications to date that top USA Gymnastics officials knew of Nassar’s alleged abuse and the measures the organization took to keep those allegations from becoming public knowledge.
Nassar, in prison after pleading guilty on July 11 to three charges involving receiving and possessing child pornography, will be formally sentenced on Nov. 27 in U.S. District Court. He faces 22 to 27 years on those charges.
Overhauling the leadership of USA Gymnastics is the only way to inspire genuine hope that the culture of sexual abuse within the organization will change, according to Dantzscher, Manly and Denhollander.
“For every predator watching this unfold and hoping to still remain in power, sending the message USAG is sending is inexcusable,” said Denhollander, an Olympic gymnast and the first to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse. “For every innocent child whose safety is in the hands of any authority figure, this response is unjustifiable. It is time for a complete Board change at USAG It is time to send the message that sexual assault matters, creating a culture of abuse matters, and it won’t be tolerated any longer.”
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