WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, gymnast and activist Aly Raisman spoke in front of members of Congress at a press conference along with 80 other survivors of sexual abuse by former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, and then attended a Senate subcomittee hearing about sexual abuse within the Olympic and amateur sport movement.
After the hearing, all Raisman wanted to do was talk with Sarah Hirshland, the newly-announced CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), who is expected to take over the position from interim CEO Susanne Lyons on August 20.
But, when Raisman approached Hirshland — who attended the hearing to listen to Lyons and others implicated in the scandal, such as USAG President Kerry Perry and Michigan State University interim president John Engler, provide testimony to congress — she was spurned.
“Excuse me,” Raisman told Hirshland multiple times, according to her interview with reporters a few minutes later. “I’d really like to introduce myself to you,” she added.
“I’ve been instructed I can’t talk to you,” Hirshland said, according to Raisman, before rushing out of the hearing room.
Raisman’s mother, Lynn Faber, approached Lyons and asked for clarification: Had Hirshland been instructed by the USOC not to talk to all survivors present, or just Raisman? But, according to Faber, Lyons said Hirshland hadn’t been given any instructions not to talk with survivors. Lyons told Faber that perhaps Hirshland had merely mistaken Raisman — a two-time Olympic champion who was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a turquoise ribbon and the phrase: “We are here, we have our voices and are not going anywhere” — as a member of the media, which is why she refused to talk.
The USOC told ThinkProgress that this was not the case, but that the incident was indeed a misunderstanding, and that Hirshland has already sent an email reaching out to Raisman and apologizing.
But for Raisman, it was another sign that the USOC doesn’t care as much as they like to tell Congress and the media that they do.
“How can you believe that they really care when the new CEO won’t even say hi?”
In the past year, Raisman has become the leader and the face of the quest for justice for survivors of sexual abuse in athletics. In the past week alone, she graced the cover of ESPN the Magazine, and accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs along with 140 other Nassar survivors. Her relationship with the USOC has been strained throughout this time. It took 31 months for the former USOC CEO Scott Blackmun, who resigned in February amid health concerns, to reach out to her after she first reported Nassar’s abuse, and this really upset her.
And USAG president Kerry Perry, who was hired last December, still hasn’t reached out to talk with Raisman personally.
“She says she’s met with survivors, but I haven’t met one that’s met with her,” Raisman said.
Therefore, Raisman was hoping she could get her relationship with Hirshland off to a better start. Even though she understands that ongoing lawsuits might prevent them from having an in-depth conversation about USOC’s specific actions or inactions, she was hopping at least for a handshake. She was disappointed by the rebuff.
“It’s frightening,” she told reporters. “But it’s honestly, sadly, not shocking. Nothing really shocks me anymore. Look at the world right now. There aren’t enough leaders in the world right now.”
Lyons, who will return to her prior position on the USOC board of trustees after Hirshland takes over as CEO next month, did stop and talk with Raisman for a while after the hearing.
“She was very respectful when she was talking with me,” Raisman said. “It’s just hard to believe when you don’t see a lot of action.”