In Wake of Olympic Abuse Scandal, Ernst Fights to Safeguard Resources for Investigations

The legislation, which advanced in the Senate Wednesday, improves transparency and accountability over U.S. Olympics’ abuse review arm

WASHINGTON – Building on her efforts to tackle the heartbreaking abuses seen within the U.S. Olympic system, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) has partnered with her fellow Iowan, Senator Chuck Grassley, in putting forward a bill to ensure the resources designated for investigating abuses of Olympic and amateur athletes are safeguarded and put to proper use.

Their bill, called the SAFESPORT Act—or the Stopping Abuse from Entering Sports, Promoting Oversight, Responsibility and Transparency Act—was included as amendments to a larger bill, the Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act, that was approved Wednesday by the Senate Commerce Committee.

“Like so many Americans, I remain appalled by the crimes committed by Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics doctor who abused hundreds of young athletes. The U.S. Olympic Committee has shown a willingness to make necessary reforms to prevent these abuses in the future and this legislation supports that effort. Our bill will increase oversight and accountability, begin necessary steps to prevent all forms of abuse, and will help in moving us down the long road to rebuilding trust within our country’s Olympic community,” said Senator Ernst.

“Nobody should ever face abuses like those perpetrated by Olympic physician Larry Nassar, someone entrusted to support and care for young athletes. The U.S. Center for SafeSport was established to respond to claims of abuse and exploitation of athletes in amateur sports, including those who train and compete under the supervision of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and its associated organizations. Our legislation applies the same safeguards used for federal grant oversight to ensure resources are going to support SafeSport’s mission to protect athletes,” said Senator Grassley.

Background:

Congress formally designated the U.S. Center for SafeSport to protect amateur athletes from abuse. The center receives millions of dollars annually from the Olympic community for this purpose. To ensure those resources are best used to further this important mission, the SAFESPORT Act establishes safeguards such as annual audits and funding allocation requirements that are standard for many federal grant recipients. The bill also provides for enhanced child abuse reporting and prohibitions on retaliation against certain individuals who report instances of abuse or harassment.

Highlights of Senator Ernst’s work on this issue:

Senator Ernst has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of the survivors of abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar. Senator Ernst is a proud bipartisan supporter of the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017, which was signed into law by President Trump in February 2018.

Following the heartbreaking reports of sexual abuse, Senator Ernst called for a special Senate committee to investigate the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and USA Gymnastics regarding how team doctor Larry Nassar was allowed to sexually abuse female gymnasts over decades. She pressed her colleagues on this issue at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, in part saying, “Many children grow up admiring Olympic athletes, dreaming that one day they, too, could be on the winner’s podium to accept a gold medal for their country. I want that dream to live on for generations to come, but there is much work to be done first.”

When reports indicated that Scott Blackmun, CEO of the USOC, was aware of the sexual abuse allegations of Nassar, Ernst immediately called for him to step down, saying in part, “If these reports are true, this goes far beyond negligence and raises serious questions of culpability at USOC, in which the most appropriate action would be for Scott Blackmun to resign.”

After Sarah Hirshland took the helm as CEO of the USOC, Hirshland essentially “shut down” USA Gymnastics following the way the organization botched the scandal. After that decision, Ernst stated, “I am glad to see that USOC’s current CEO, Sarah Hirshland, is taking action to start rebuilding trust with our country’s athletes and the American people. I also want to applaud the young women who have – and continue – to make their voices heard, calling for change and a new vision for the sport.”

###