Last week, NBC News’ Dateline aired an hour-long special on the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, which featured the first interview on the topic with former coordinators and coaches of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, Bela and Martha Karolyi.
The interview with the Karolyis was mostly bland, as Savannah Guthrie allowed the two coaches the opportunity to talk without much resistance — their ignorance regarding Nassar’s crimes, and their innocence when it comes to enabling his abuse went largely ignored. But there was one moment that stood out: When Marta Karolyi said that she and her husband still have not been interviewed by the FBI.
Let me repeat that: Two and a half years after the FBI was first notified about allegations of Nassar’s abuse, it still has not conducted interviews with Bela and Martha Karolyi, perhaps the two adults most closely associated with USA Gymnastics.
This is hard to comprehend. After all, Martha wasn’t just the head coordinator of the U.S. national team through 2016; she and Bela own and operate the Karolyi Ranch, an isolated compound in Texas where monthly camps for the national team, sanctioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee, were held from 2001 until this January.
And despite the fact that Nassar wasn’t even licensed to practice medicine in Texas, and adults were not supposed to go into the athlete’s bedrooms unaccompanied, Nassar regularly groomed and sexually abused gymnasts at the ranch.
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) January 15, 2018
So you would think, even if agency officials believe the Karolyis when they insist they had no idea that Nassar was sexually abusing gymnasts on their property for years, the FBI might at least want to sit down with them for an interview?
Of course, this isn’t the first questionable decision by the FBI in this case; in fact, it’s just one of many.
Here’s what we know: In late spring of 2015 at the Karolyi ranch, gymnast Maggie Nichols’ coach overheard Nichols talking to Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman about her discomfort with Nassar’s “treatments,” which involved him digitally penetrating patients, typically without gloves and without warning. Nichols’ coach was alarmed, and immediately shared the information with the parents of Nichols and Raisman. On June 17, 2015, the coach reported Nassar to USAG.
Instead of going straight to law enforcement officials, USAG hired their own person to investigate the allegations, and after finding out about a third victim — Raisman’s 2012 Olympic teammate, McKayla Maroney — USAG reported Nassar to the FBI office in Indianapolis on July 27, 2015.
Two days later, USAG cut ties with Nassar; on his Facebook page that September, Nassar portrayed his departure as a retirement, and USAG did not dispute it. Neither USAG or the FBI contacted Michigan State, Nassar’s other employer, about the investigation. Nassar continued to work at MSU, and sexually abuse patients, for the next 13 months.
According to the New York Times, the FBI in Indianapolis conducted its first interview with a Nassar victim around the beginning of August 2015, when it had a phone interview with Maroney. The FBI initially asked Maroney to fly from California to Indianapolis for the interview but she declined, and the agency did not fly someone out to meet her, for unknown reasons. The following month, the Times reported that the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis passed the case on to the FBI in Detroit for jurisdictional reasons, and told Maroney to call the office there. However, Maroney’s lawyer says Maroney called multiple times, and never heard back.
Throughout this time, the Raismans and Nichols heard nothing from the FBI. They kept asking USAG about the investigation, and every time USAG assured them the FBI would be getting in touch with them soon, and encouraged them to stay silent about the allegations, because otherwise they would interfere with the FBI’s investigation.
Finally, in April 2016, concerned by the lack of updates from the FBI, two USA Gymnastics officials visited the FBI’s Los Angeles bureau to talk to agents. This time, the agents showed more urgency, and finally opened an official probe into the crimes. On May 17, roughly nine months after their initial conversation, the FBI sat down in person with Maroney — it was the first face-to-face interview with a victim of Nassar’s, and it took place a mere 294 days after the FBI was first notified of the allegations.
In the next couple of months, FBI officials finally got in touch with the Raismans and the Nichols, although they didn’t sit down with Raisman until after the 2016 Olympics in Rio — a fact that is hard to view as coincidental.
In fact, on the Dateline special, Raisman says the FBI told her that they explicitly waited until the Olympics were over to reach out.
“I said, ‘Why did you wait so long?’ And they said, ‘Oh, we wanted to wait until the Olympics were over,'” Raisman told Guthrie.
In March, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI opened an internal review of its handling of the Nassar case, specifically to investigate why it took so long for the investigation to begin.
But with the revelation that the FBI still hasn’t interviewed the Karolyis, it seems the organization still isn’t treating this investigation with the urgency it demands. Resources are always tight, but considering the tenacity with which the FBI is investigating which amateur athletes were given lunch money, it seems they could spare some agents to get to the bottom of the worst sex abuse case in the history of U.S. sports.
After all, putting Nassar behind bars for the rest of his life is only one part of this equation; the negligent (or worse) people at Michigan State, USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and elsewhere need to be held accountable for their failure to protect Nassar’s patients, too.
Many individuals and institutions are responsible for allowing Nassar’s crimes to continue in plain sight for decades. Including, it seems, the FBI itself.