WASHINGTON — As ex-USA Gymnastics president and CEO Steve Penny was escorted out of Tuesday’s Senate hearing on preventing abuse of Olympic and amateur athletes, one woman in the audience stood up and exclaimed loudly, “shame!”
Penny did not have an opening statement prepared. He declined to answer questions on six occasions and instead invoked his Fifth Amendment rights before he was dismissed.
Before Penny was dismissed, Senator Richard Blumenthal told him that he had a responsibility after his organization had put money and medals ahead of athlete safety and welfare.
“In the absence of your testimony, documents will speak for you,” Blumenthal said. “We have documents that indicated as early as 2013 you had questions about Larry Nassar. In fact, in one of those memos you wrote to Alan Ashley of the United States Olympic Committee, you said ‘if Larry Nassar is the gatekeeper, we have a real issue.’”
When asked why he had written that statement, the ex-CEO pleaded the Fifth once again.
For 18-year-old Hannah Morrow, Penny’s refusal to answer questions was disappointing.
“I was very disappointed that I didn’t get to hear from Steve Penny what he had to say today,” Morrow said. “I get that it’s his right to plead the Fifth, but I just really think that we deserve some answers and I deserve to hear more from him than what he provided.”
Morrow was sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar between June 2015 and June 2016. She came forward publicly during Nassar’s sentencing hearing earlier this year.
Penny and other USA Gymnastics officials were made aware of concerns related to the so-called treatment in June 2015 but waited nearly six weeks before notifying law enforcement.
Former USA Gymnastics senior vice president Rhonda Faehn was one of the officials who became aware of Nassar’s conduct after coach Sarah Jantzi overheard a conversation between gymnasts Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman pertaining to Nassar’s conduct. Faehn, who appeared at the hearing without the need for a subpoena, immediately notified Penny of the concerns. She had been in her position as the head of the women’s program for just over a month.
According to documents that Faehn provided with her testimony, Penny told her that he would take care of contacting law enforcement as well as the athletes’ parents. She testified that she was unaware of the delay in reporting to the FBI field office in Indianapolis. Jantzi, who coached Nichols, also contacted Penny and asked if she needed to report the concerns about Nassar to any other authorities. Penny “reassured [Jantzi] that no, he would take care of it.”
Faehn also revealed that she received two additional reports and reported each of those to Penny. She testified that she was told time and time again that Penny was taking care of it and that she should not speak about the case, even among other USA Gymnastics employees. Penny requested that she approach two athletes to be interviewed and, because neither were minors, to not inform their parents or coaches. Faehn refused.
Faehn was fired on May 17 in the middle of a national team training camp, less than a week before current USA Gymnastics president Kerry Perry was slated to speak in front of a House subcommittee.
An email exchange previously reported by the Indianapolis Star revealed that legal counsel for USA Gymnastics had notified Nassar that he was under investigation and that he was not to attend the Secret U.S. Classic that summer. Faehn’s testimony showed that there was a second email sent out on July 21, 2015 to six other USA Gymnastics employees—including chairman Paul Parilla, executive committee member Jay Binder and COO Ron Galimore—that said, among other things, not to speak about the investigation and that Nassar would be contacted for his perspective “at the appropriate time.”
Attorney John Manly, who represents over 140 survivors in the civil lawsuits, was unimpressed by Faehn’s testimony.
“I think the disclosure that Nassar was notified before law enforcement tells you what they were really interested in,” Manly said. “…The idea that my boss told me to be quiet so I’m not going to tell anyone is repugnant. She didn’t tell any of those other girls, she never asked any of those other young women who were on that team if they had been hurt even though he had abused two Olympic gold medalists and a world champion and he was treating all of them.”
While Penny notified the FBI in July 2015, agents did not interview Nichols, Raisman or McKayla Maroney until nearly a year later. Manly believed this was deliberate.
“Many of us believe and I believe that the FBI slow-walked that investigation,” Manly said. “… In my opinion it was influenced by USAG or the USOC or both. There’s no explanation why they didn’t call Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols for a year after this report.”
Both Faehn and former Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon testified that they have yet to be interviewed by the FBI. Faehn said the only law enforcement officials that she has spoken to were the Texas Rangers, and even then, only in the last three-to-four weeks.
Morrow would not have even met Nassar had the investigation moved swiftly. Now, it’s about protecting future athletes and making sure that this does not happen again.
“For me, being a victim who was abused long past the time I should have been abused, if the people who knew about it had spoken up they could have stopped the abuse. I think it’s really important that something like this never happens again.”