Less than a week after filing for Chapter 11 protection, USA Gymnastics is facing renewed scrutiny after a report released by Ropes & Gray on Monday found that the organization failed to protect athletes from sexual abuse.
The 233-page report follows a 10-month independent investigation by the law firm to determine what USA Gymnastics (USAG) and U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) officials knew about the sexual abuse of hundreds of elite and Olympic gymnasts by former national team doctor and convicted molester Dr. Larry Nassar.
“Our aim was to get to the bottom of what went wrong,” Ropes & Gray partners Joan McPhee and James Dowden, who led the investigation, said in a joint statement.
“It remains our sincere hope that our factual findings will inform efforts going forward to protect young athletes, and will help to ensure that a predator like Nassar can never again find so accommodating a home in sport,” they said.
A special committee of the USOC’s board of directors commissioned Ropes & Gray in February to conduct an investigation into the decades-long abuse and determine when USAG officials or the USOC first became aware of Nassar’s conduct and what they did with the information.
McPhee, a partner in New York, joined Ropes & Gray in 1990 after serving as an assistant U.S. attorney and deputy chief of the Appeals Unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Dowden, a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, first joined Ropes & Gray in 2001 as an associate. In 2007, he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts in Boston in the economic crimes and public corruptions units before rejoining the firm in 2012.
In interviews with 100 current and former USAG and USOC employees and after reviewing over 1.3 million documents, the lawyers found that top officials at the institutions ignored red flags, and in some extreme circumstances dismissed “clear calls for help” from Nassar’s victims.
“Nassar’s sexual abuse of hundreds of girls and young women was a manifestation of a broader set of factors and conditions in elite gymnastics and Olympic sport that allowed the abuse to occur and then to continue uninterrupted for almost 30 years,” McPhee and Dowden said in their statement.
“The fact that so many different institutions and individuals failed to stop him does not excuse any of them, but instead reflects the collective failure to protect young athletes,” they said.
Last Wednesday, the USAG filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Southern District of Indiana. For its bankruptcy filing, USAG turned to Jenner & Block partner Catherine Steege, who co-chairs the firm’s restructuring and bankruptcy and bankruptcy litigation practices, and to partners Dean Panos and Melissa Root.
The organization listed estimated assets and liabilities of $50 to $100 million in its filing.
In a statement, USAG’s newly appointed board chair, Kathryn Carson, said the Chapter 11 filing would allow the sport governing body to “expedite resolution of claims” by survivors abused by Nassar.
Carson, former chief legal officer for the U.S. Golf Association and general counsel of Pepsi-Cola North America, took over as chair in late November, replacing retired Ernst & Young executive Karen Golz, who stepped down in June.
In addition to handling the claims of Nassar survivors, the USAG’s bankruptcy filing notes that the organization is on the hunt for a new president and CEO.
After just four days as interim CEO of the USAG, former Congresswoman Mary Bono resigned from the organization in early October after she posted a photo of herself blacking out a Nike logo on her golf shoes, apparently in response to the brand’s Colin Kaepernick ad campaign.
Bono, the widow of musician Sonny Bono, served as senior vice president for Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, an affiliate of the Am Law 100 firm Faegre Baker Daniels, whose former partner Scott Himsel represented USAG as the Nassar scandal unfolded.