Larry Nassar, the once-highly esteemed doctor who sexually abused over 250 women, and at least one man, under the guise of medical treatment while working for Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and the U.S. Olympic Committee, will spend the rest of his life in prison. Unfortunately, he didn’t take all the problems with sexual abuse in sports with him.
In fact, it turns out that Nassar was only the tip of the iceberg.
On Friday, another popular U.S. Olympic sport was put under the microscope for its mishandling of sexual abuse complaints, when U.S. Figure Skating suspended coach Richard Callaghan following a suspension from the U.S. Center for SafeSport for allegations of sexual misconduct.
Callaghan — who is best known for coaching Tara Lipinski when she won the gold medal at the 1998 Olympics, and Todd Eldredge, a six-time national champion and three-time U.S. Olympian — was accused of sexual misconduct 19 years ago by his former pupil, Craig Maurizi. In 1999, Maurizi told the New York Times that when he was only 15 years old, Callaghan engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with him. Later, when Maurizi was 18, Callaghan reportedly abused his authority as a coach to manipulate Maurizi into a long-term sexual relationship, which lasted full-time until Maurizi was 18, and on-and-off until he was 30.
According to the same New York Times report, two additional former students of Callaghan alleged that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with them as well. Eddy Zeidler, then 28 years old, said that “Callaghan exposed himself to him in a hotel room in 1992.” Another, Roman Fraden, then age 24, told the paper that Callaghan had “made inappropriate sexual remarks to him in 1994,” over which his parents had “confronted” the coach. (In addition, the Times reported that a coaching colleague of Callaghan’s, Diane Nagle, had been approached by “three different male skaters” in 1986, who said “they had witnessed or been subjected to sexual advances by Callaghan.”)
Maurizi didn’t just go to the press in 1999; he also filed a formal sexual misconduct complaint against Callaghan to the U.S. Figure Skating Association. However, the USFS dismissed the grievance just three months after it was filed because Maurizi did not report his grievance within 60 days of the misconduct, which was the rule at the time. Callaghan continued to coach until his suspension this week.
Justice was finally served, in a small way at least, because Maurizi brought the decades-old allegations to SafeSport’s attention earlier this year. Until recently, that hadn’t been an option.
The U.S. Center for SafeSport, a non-profit established to examine the safety policies of, and investigate allegations of abuse within, the various Olympic organizations operating under the auspices of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) just opened its doors last year. It was a long overdue move from the USOC, made only after sexual abuse scandals in USA Swimming, USA Taekwando, and U.S. Speedskating made it abundantly clear that the governing bodies of each sport were not doing nearly enough on their own to combat sexual abuse. According to the Washington Post, the organization only has a full-time staff of nine people and four contract investigators to handle all reported allegations of abuse in Olympic sports. Their purview covers the 12 million athletes, coaches, and officials who work within the USOC system.
That seems like a nearly impossible task, but if there’s good news, it’s that the suspension of Callaghan shows that the organization is taking its role seriously, and is willing to right past wrongs. That’s certainly progress.
Still, there are many more painful steps to come if the USOC truly wants to change its culture. In the wake of the avoidable Nassar tragedy, there are currently three congressional investigations into the USOC and the various governing bodies that it oversees. Earlier this week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced that it has expanded its probe into sexual abuse within U.S. Olympic sports to include all 48 national governing bodies, with congressional hearings in the offing.
Last month, the Orange County Register published an investigation into widespread sexual abuse in USA Swimming which revealed that hundreds of USA swimmers had been sexually abused for decades, and that those in power in the organization both knew about it and allowed it to continue. Amid the fall-out from that investigation, the director of USA Swimming’s own SafeSport program was forced out because of her relationship with a coach who was under investigation.
Also last month? A class-action lawsuit in Illinois revealed that even though USA Volleyball had banned prominent coach Rick Butler for life in 1995 because of numerous documented incidents of inappropriate sexual relationships with underage girls, who believed he was their ticket to achieving their athletic dreams, that ban was partially lifted just a few years later — after which Butler went on to coach more than 20,000 teenage girls.
Scott Blackmun, the USOC CEO who has been leading the organization since 2010, resigned just last week, citing health problems. At the PyeongChang Olympics, USOC chairman Larry Probst, along with the rest of the USOC board of directors, staunchly defended Blackmun’s handling of the Nassar case.
“He has served the USOC with distinction,” Probst said of Blackmun during a news conference in Pyeongchang. “We think that he did what he was supposed to do and did the right thing at every turn.”
Only time and thorough investigations will reveal what Blackmun knew, and when. But the suspension of Callaghan shows the accountability part of this process has only just begun.