DeGette unveils new legislation aimed at reforming U.S. Olympic Committee
DENVER, CO – The chair of the U.S. House subcommittee investigating the U.S. Olympic Committee’s handling of sexual abuse cases in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal unveiled new legislation today to create an independent, blue-ribbon commission to begin the process of reforming the USOC.
“No amount of gold medals are worth putting the health and safety of our athletes at risk,” U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations panel, said at a press conference in Denver Monday. “When the very body that Congress created to care for our athletes becomes more concerned about winning, and protecting a brand, than the athletes themselves - it’s time for change.”
The legislation comes on the heels of a bipartisan congressional report released in December 2018 that found at least two senior-level USOC officials knew about the allegations against Nassar for more than a year before they were made public but failed to act because they were worried more about the committee’s reputation and finances than they were about athletes’ safety.
If approved, DeGette’s legislation would require Congress to appoint a 16-member commission – that includes at least eight Olympic or Paralympic athletes – to study how the U.S. Olympic Committee currently operates and provide Congress a list of recommendations aimed at reforming its governing structure to better protect the nation’s top athletes.
Under the terms of DeGette’s bill, the top Democratic and Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate, would each appoint four members to serve on the commission. Each commission member would be required to have extensive experience as a coach, athlete or sports-related advocate.
Once established, the panel would be given nine months to review how the USOC operates and provide Congress a written report detailing specific changes that it believes should be made to better protect athletes going forward.
Specifically, the panel would be asked to evaluate, among other things, how responsive the national governing bodies of each Olympic sports are to its athletes, and whether the U.S. Center for SafeSport has the funding and staff it needs to effectively respond to any future reports of harassment and sexual assault. It would also be asked to review the diversity of the USOC’s board members, its finances and whether it’s achieving its own stated goals.
The commission would be given the power to subpoena witnesses and information from federal agencies as part of its review.
Congress gave the USOC exclusive power to govern all Olympic-related athletic activity in the U.S. in 1978. Since the Nassar scandal first broke, and in light of the more recent revelations that USOC officials knew about the allegations but failed to act, dozens of former Olympic athletes and USOC officials have been calling on Congress to step in and take action to reform the organization.
Some of the most outspoken proponents of reforming the USOC, including three-time Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Olympic gold medalist BJ Bedford, and Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who sentenced former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar to up to 175 years in prison, support DeGette’s proposal to create an independent commission.
“This commission brings the voices who have been ignored to the table,” Aquilina told a group of reporters in Denver today. “Athletes cannot thrive in a broken system that values money and medals over the safety of athletes.”
To watch DeGette’s remarks announcing the legislation at today’s press conference in Denver, click here.
Video of the full press conference, including remarks by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, Nancy Hogshead-Makar and BJ Bedford, is available here.
Text of the legislation – which DeGette will introduce in the U.S House of Representatives tomorrow – is available here.
Click here for a list of athletes supporting the legislation.