Yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security assembled to question the progress made by Michigan State University, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and USA Gymnastics in regard to the sexual assault scandals.
The third hearing, entitled, “Strengthening and Empowering U.S. Amateur Athletes: Moving Forward with Solutions,” had Congressional members berating John Engler (standing president of MSU), Kerry Perry (President and CEO of USA Gymnastics), and Susanne Lyons (acting CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee). Additionally, Han Xiao, chair of the U.S. Olympic Committee Athlete Advisory Council testified.
Each organization spoke of the reforms they were enacting. Engler mentioned improvements to MSU’s medical facilities and clinics, Lyons spoke about the creation of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, and Perry of a new educational training software for employees, among other structural repairs.
However, the changes mentioned did not seem to satisfy the Senators, the room of about 100 sexual assault survivors and supporters, or Xiao who spoke candidly, “The presence of SafeSport has pushed governing bodies to do more for athletes. But I don’t think the relationship between athletes and the U.S. Olympic Committee and the National Governing Bodies have changed.”
Time and time again, the Senators emphasized the need for USA Gymnastics, MSU, and the U.S. Olympic Committee to prioritize the health and safety of athletes over their bottom line of medals and money. Following her questioning of Engler, Senator Hassan said, "I think you have some repair work to do here today, to put it mildly,” followed by an uproar of applause from the survivors who were in attendance.
The survivors demand reforms and thoughtful decisions to be made for governance and oversight of their sport. Xiao closed his statements by stating, “I think we've done independent commissions, we've done sweeping governance changes, and here we are today. I think that it's not a failing of the organization, but the system and how it's set up."