WASHINGTON — Kerry Perry, the new chief executive of U.S.A. Gymnastics, said what so many of Larry Nassar’s sex abuse victims would like to hear: I’m sorry.
In her opening statement to Wednesday’s congressional hearing about sexual abuse in Olympic sports, Ms. Perry apologized “to all who were harmed by the horrific acts” of Mr. Nassar, the former gymnastics national team doctor who is in prison for molesting girls and women who came to him for treatment.
The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations heard much more from Ms. Perry on Wednesday when she and several other leaders of American Olympic entities, including Susanne Lyons, the acting chief executive of the United States Olympic Committee, answered questions about how they protect their athletes from sexual abuse.
As part of Congress’s examination of what went wrong in the Nassar case, Ms. Perry, who started her job at U.S.A. Gymnastics in December, engaged in her first public discussion about the case and the gymnastics’ organization’s missteps. The executives in charge of U.S.A. Swimming and U.S.A. Taekwondo — national governing bodies (N.G.B.s) of sports with a history of sexual abuse cases — also testified.
“Athlete safety must be the top priority of the U.S.O.C.,” said Rep. Gregg Harper, Republican of Mississippi, the subcommittee chairman, in his opening remarks. “Too often, the U.S.O.C. and N.G.B.s haven’t acted until they were publicly pressured to do so.”
“It is time to change the culture once and for all,” he said.
Ms. Lyons said, “I know we can do better; we will do better.”
Last March, U.S.A. Gymnastics declined to send any of its officials to Congress for a hearing about the problem of sexual abuse in sports like gymnastics, even though its practices were specifically under scrutiny, post-Nassar.
In the days before that hearing, Steve Penny, the longtime chief executive of U.S.A. Gymnastics, resigned from his position. Before Wednesday’s hearing here, the gymnastics organization has made similar bold changes to clean house — but not because it wanted to make changes, even though Mr. Nassar’s case was very likely the biggest sexual abuse case in the history of sports. Because it had to.
Feeling pressure from current and former athletes, as well as from Congress and the United States Olympic Committee, U.S.A. Gymnastics has been forced to restructure and rethink its plans to keep its athletes safe.
Just last week, in the middle of a national team training camp in Tennessee, Perry fired Rhonda Faehn, who had been running the women’s program, and announced that a restructuring and layoffs were underway. In 2015, gymnasts told Ms. Faehn that Mr. Nassar had abused them and she reported that information to Mr. Penny, the organization’s president at the time.
The reorganization is just another step U.S.A. Gymnastics has taken as a spotlight has focused on the organization’s glaring inability to keep so many of its athletes safe – including its own Olympic team members. After Simone Biles, the Olympic champion and current face of the sport, complained on social media that she didn’t want to attend training camp at the national team training center in Texas, where Mr. Nassar abused countless women, U.S.A. Gymnastics closed the camp there. After the U.S.O.C. asked the organization to dismantle its board of directors, the organization shooed its entire board out the door.
Last week, Ms. Perry also spent time in Los Angeles discussing settlements with gymnasts in the wake of the sex abuse claims involving Mr. Nassar. He is accused of molesting more than 200 girls and women.
In her opening statement, Ms. Perry said, “We have many responsibilities to the gymnastics community – none are more important than the safety and well-being of our athletes.”