Thu, Jun 07, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Gymnastics executive says was told to keep quiet

AP, WASHINGTON

Former USA Gymnastics senior vice president Rhonda Faehn testifies before the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee in Washington on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

The former president of USA Gymnastics on Tuesday refused to answer questions from a US Senate subcommittee about how he handled allegations of sexual abuse by former team doctor Larry Nassar, and another former executive sat next to him and asserted that her former boss had instructed her and others to keep quiet about athletes’ claims.

Former USA Gymnastics senior vice president Rhonda Faehn said she first reported an allegation against Nassar to Steve Penny, her then-boss, on June 17, 2015.

Nassar was not arrested until more than a year later. He is now serving decades in prison for sexual assault and possession of child pornography, and hundreds of athletes have said that they were abused by him, including Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Simone Biles.

The revelations about Nassar’s conduct over two decades and the way that it was handled by Penny and others have led the US Congress to call for drastic reforms of the US Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and other sports’ governing bodies.

Faehn said Penny warned her and others not to discuss the allegations against Nassar, and that she wrongly assumed he had taken the allegations to law enforcement.

“He told me not to say anything or do anything because he was going to handle everything going forward,” Faehn said in her written testimony. “He told me he was going to report the concerns to proper authorities, which I assumed included law enforcement.”

Faehn reiterated those claims as Penny, who was forced out as president of USA Gymnastics last year, sat silently next to her.

When it was his turn to speak, he did not say much.

Penny invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination six times before he was excused by the panel. As he slowly limped out of the hearing room, former gymnast Amy Moran shouted “Shame!” in his direction.

Moran has said that she was allegedly abused by her former coach and had reported it to Penny, and that she was unsatisfied with Penny’s response to the allegations, which she now sees as a precursor to how he handled the Nassar case.

Penny was subpoenaed to appear before the committee. US senators questioned him on when he found out about the abuse allegations and why he waited to inform law enforcement or Nassar’s employer, Michigan State University.

Asked why he waited to contact law enforcement about Nassar, Penny said: “I would like to answer your question. However, I have been instructed by my attorney to assert my rights under the Fifth Amendment. ... I respectfully decline to answer your question.”

Penny has been named as a defendant in a number of lawsuits by athletes who were victimized by Nassar.

“He is repulsed by Larry Nassar’s crimes, and he feels nothing but compassion for the victims of those crimes,” Penny’s attorney, Robert Bittman, said in a statement. “Mr Penny declined to testify before the subcommittee while the matters that attempt to wrongly shift blame for Nassar’s crimes remain open.”

Faehn broke into tears as she described the actions that she took in an effort to protect Nassar’s victims, but victims who attended the hearing said they were disappointed that she did not do more.

“You just see all these little people thinking they did their thing, but no one took the one step that should have been taken, which is go to the police, or the authorities. The one thing one person could have done is do that. No one did that,” said former gymnast Emily Stebbins, who has said that she was allegedly abused by Nassar the first time that he examined her as a teenager.

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