WASHINGTON – After last week’s sentencing of Michigan State University sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar for sexually abusing young female athletes, the U.S. Senate passed legislation Tuesday creating an organization to investigate abuse and require officials to report suspected incidents as soon as possible.
The legislation now goes to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.
The bill grew out of earlier reports that Nassar — a well-known sports medicine practitioner who worked with the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics — had sexually abused young women and other instances of amateur athletes being abused. At Nassar’s sentencing, more than 150 testified they had been abused by the doctor.
Michigan State University, which had employed Nassar, has been hit with allegations that it did not adequately respond to complaints made about the doctor or may not have done so in other sexual assault or harassment cases in recent years. MSU President Lou Anna Simon stepped down amid the controversy, as did athletic director Mark Hollis.
Reporting by the Indianapolis Star revealed the depth of the allegations involving Nassar and USA Gymnastics and led to his conviction and sentencing.
The legislation approved Tuesday afternoon on a voice vote by the Senate concurred in House changes to the bill, resolving any differences without a roll call. It creates the U.S. Center for Safe Sport Authorization to investigate suspected instances of sexual abuse involving amateur athletes and to create oversight mechanisms to prevent the “emotional, physical and sexual abuse” of athletes.
Adults who take part in amateur sports or otherwise interact with minors as part of athletic organizations would be required to report to law enforcement or a designated child welfare agency, within a 24-hour period, any “facts that give reason to suspect that a child has suffered” abuse.
The legislation also would allow a victim to sue in civil court for up to $150,000 in actual damages — and punitive damages as a court deems appropriate — in cases where he or she was abused.
“Horrific sexual abuse and tepid responses from organizations that exist to support the careers of U.S. Olympic athletes, are nothing short of a betrayal,” said U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Science and Transportation Committee, which oversees polices involving amateur sports. “Today’s Senate vote sends the president legislation putting necessary new safeguards in place.”
The committee’s top Democrat, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, added that the current system “failed these young women horribly.”
“USA Gymnastics failed them. The USOC failed them. Michigan State failed them,” said Nelson. “By putting new safeguards into law to protect athletes from abuse we’re sending a message that this cannot and must not happen again.”
Last week, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who is also a member of the committee, and U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, called for continuing investigations into the situation at Michigan State and elsewhere. The chairman and ranking Democrat of the Commerce Committee’s subcommittee with jurisdiction over sports also directed questions to USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Michigan State.
Contact Todd Spangler: 703-854-8947 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tsspangler.