By Lenn Robbins
In my first job at Greenwich Time, I had the bright idea of climbing up on a balance beam after a meet featuring the Greenwich High girls’ gymnastics team, a state power at the time.
Upon getting to my feet I looked down and froze.
“How the hell does one get down, no less attempt to walk?”
That was the day I gained a full appreciation for the courage of gymnasts. And last Friday was the day I grew to fully despise the organization known as USA Gymnastics.
The organization released its proposed settlement in one of the most despicable sexual predator cases of all time.
Former Michigan State and national team doctor Larry Nassar, who is accused of having molested at least 250 young women, girls and one young man, pled guilty to seven counts of sexual assault of minors, three counts of sexual assault and possession of child pornography.
Nassar is now locked away for the rest of his life, which is not nearly a harsh enough punishment. He should be subjected to the Ludovic technique on a weekly basis for the remainder of his days.
One would think that the governing body of USA Gymnastics, which allegedly knew about the monster in its midst but dragged its elephant feet for years in a heinous attempt to protect its now sullied name, would realize upon being outed that there was only one course of action to take: Do everything (everything!), to help every athlete whose body and soul was desecrated by Nassar.
Instead USA Gymnastics offered the following proposal:
Women who were assaulted at the Olympics, world championships, national team training camps and national team events would receive over $1.25 million in compensation.
But for those women who were considered “non-elite” athletes, yet were still sexually abused at USA Gymnastics-sanctioned events, they would receive $508,670, less than half the “elite” athletes.
But wait, it gets worse, much worse. Athletes abused at non-USA gymnastics locations would get less than $175,000, while victims’ whose claims were brought by a shareholder, often on behalf of a corporation, would receive only $82,550.
Of course the proposal would also release the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committees, former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny, and former national team directors Bela and Martha Karolyi from all claims, according to ESPN. Penny was arrested on a separate charge for tampering with evidence.
Let us boil this settlement down to its most pathetic base.
A non-elite athlete is valued as a human being far less, and therefore could not have been as horrifically violated, as an elite athlete. Thus, they should receive less compensation. If your daughter happens to be one of the millions of gymnasts participating in the sport at non-USA Gymnastics locations, the governing body of the sport is telling her she holds some tertiary rank as a human being.
There is a lot of legal wrangling and financial shenanigans that go on in these types of mass tort cases. For example, when USA Gymnastics filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December of 2018, one of its explanations for doing so was that the action would, “expedite resolution of claims,” according to a statement from the organization.
Here we are, a year and one-half later, and there is no resolution. The proposed settlement is lacking in empathy, decency and remorse. It’s as if USA Gymnastics refuses to accept the enormity of this nightmare and its failure to protect its athletes.
Truth be told, the filing was a defense against the U.S. Olympic Committee, which is seeking to decertify USA Gymnastics, which has taken “Public Relations 101” steps such as seating a new board.
As for the victims, here’s their choice: accept the reprehensible offer and try as best as possible to move forward and heal. Or, reject the offer and sue, which could take years to work its way through the legal system.
Maybe we need to consider tiers for those in charge of USA Gymnastics: Those at the top are Tier 1 lowlifes. Those in middle management are Tier 2 creeps.
Of course, USA Gymnastics can change all that by having the courage and concentration it takes to do a backflip on a balance beam by coming up with a sincere and empathic settlement. Something tells me they won’t.