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Those with power to protect amateur athletes from sexual abuse just flat failed. Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran wants to make sure that failure does not recur.
Moran, a Republican, joined with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, in introducing legislation on Tuesday to hold individuals and institutions legally accountable for such wrongdoing.
The measure more broadly expands congressional oversight of the federally chartered U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. It comes in the aftermath of an 18-month investigation by a Moran-led subcommittee looking into deficiencies in safeguarding young athletes.
“Too many people and too many organizations looked the other way,” Moran said Tuesday on MSNBC. “This is just one of those things that remind all of us of the responsibilities that we have to try to protect those who are more vulnerable, try to protect every person from this kind of heinous behavior.”
The Kansas lawmaker commenced the investigation as chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the health and safety of amateur athletes.
Stories had arisen about Larry Nassar, the national team doctor of USA Gymnastics, and the sexual abuses he committed against as many as 150 gymnasts, some of them minors. He is now serving what amounts to a life sentence for a variety of crimes.
Moran said Tuesday that the proposed law emerged because of the athletes who came forward to painfully share their stories, not only about the assaults but the disregard they met when reporting them to the governing bodies of their sports.
“Their courage is what then requires, enables, insists that we respond by making certain that there is a result from their courageous actions,” the Kansan said.
“The athletes said they were failed by those they expected to protect them, institutions and people. The request from them to us was to please make certain that we are not failed by the U.S. Congress.”
The Manufacturing, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee held four hearings, interviewed Olympic athletes and assault survivors and sifted through 70,000 pages of documents in leading the way toward the eventual Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act.
“Our legislation would produce a seismic change in culture,” Blumenthal said on MSNBC. “No more medals and money above morals.”
The Connecticut senator said offenders like Nassar must be ferreted out but the institutions that shield them should also be held to account.
“They turned a blind eye,” the Democrat said. “The athletes are a profile in courage. These institutions and their officials are profiles in cowardice.”
Along with the proposed legislation, the investigators uncovered specific possible crimes. For example, they referred findings about Scott Blackmun, the former chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee, to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.
Moran voiced optimism the investigation will result in a measure that surfaces from committee to full debate in the Senate and will eventually get to the president’s desk.
“I don’t see how it can not become law,” he said.
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