In 2013, a lawsuit was filed against USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for U.S. gymnastics that is responsible for selecting teams for the Olympics and World Championships. The lawsuit accused the organization of neglecting to adequately report the abuse allegations coming from its gyms, leading to the continued sexual abuse by coaches on young gymnasts.
The IndyStar’s comprehensive investigation makes a great case for how USA Gymnastics internal rules on allegations conflict with most state rules for obligatory reporting of suspected child abuse. USA Gymnastics has had a policy in place since the ‘90s that all complaints against coaches would be dismissed as “hearsay” unless they were signed by a victim or a victim’s parent. IndyStar found four coaches who were suspected of abuse, but never reported to authorities by USA Gymnastics. They went on to abuse at least 14 other gymnasts, and were eventually convicted for their crimes.
A coach who is currently serving 30 years in prison for child abuse, William McCabe, was suspected of abusing girls as early as 1996. He was fired from Gymnastic World in Cape Coral, Florida and then hired by USA Gymnastics at a gym in Tallahassee. Gymnastic World’s owner Daniel Hickey heard about the hire and wrote a letter to USA Gymnastics, explaining that he believed McCabe was unfit to work with children. Hickey admitted in the case against McCabe that he fired the coach after hearing him brag about getting a 15-year-old in her underwear and that he would “f—- her very soon.”
“To allow this scum bag to continue working within the gymnastic community would be a terrible insult to all of the gym owners and coaches who have worked so hard to build up the reputation of gymnastics,” Dickey wrote in his letter to USA Gymnastics.
USA Gymnastics sent Dickey a short letter four days later, saying it was “awaiting an official letter of complaint from a parent and athlete. I will add your letter to the file in the event we receive the letter and an investigation is commenced.”
MCabe resigned from the Tallahassee gym, but continued coaching. That gym’s owner, Jan Giunipero, also contacted USA Gymnastics, as early as October 1998:
“I literally felt sick to my stomach to think he would even be touching these girls,” she wrote. “Is this the kind of organization you wish to run? If there is any other incident similar in nature, who is to blame? The gym who unknowingly hires someone like Mr. McCabe or USA Gymnastics who knew about him and did nothing?”
All these allegations were dismissed as “hearsay” under USA Gymnastic’s definition, and his membership was renewed in 1999. During this, McCabe began abusing another underage girl, and the abuse continued for several years. He continued to coach until 2006.
The President of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, stated in a deposition in 2015 that though the organization would follow state guidelines on reporting, he doesn’t believe it’s is their obligation to report allegations of sexual abuse to authorities, saying, “To the best of my knowledge, there’s no duty to report if you are — if you are a third-party to some allegation... You know, that lies with the person who has firsthand knowledge.”
IndyStar interviewed a legal expert, who said that they believe USA Gymnastics violated state law by failing to report allegations of abuse to police or welfare agencies, and were led by their internal law system. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristina Korobov essentially agreed, though she was not allowed to comment on the USA Gymnastic case. Korobov said, “When an agency receives information, first they need to ask themselves: ‘Do I have reason to believe that a child is being abused or neglected based on this information that I’ve received?’... And if so, you make a report. And you make an immediate report. End of story.”
USA Gymnastics did keep files on abuse allegations, even if they were never reported outside the organization. Between 1996 and 2006, court records show sexual misconduct files were accrued for 54 different coaches. It’s unknown how many have been filed since, though in 2012, USA Gymnastics launched a child abuse awareness campaign. In 2013, the organization stated that “it’s always best to err on the side of the child.”
In January 2006, McCabe began emailing an 11-year-old gymnast, pretending to be an Olympic gold medalist. The child’s mother, Lisa Ganser, discovered the correspondence and went to the FBI. The content of the emails included nude pictures of women and was sexual in nature. Ganser had received an anonymous packet of accusations warning her about McCabe, but was reassured by the coach and the organization that it was at the hand of disgruntled competitors. She had thought her daughter was safe.
Now she says, “I know there’s always going to be little girls and people who have bad things happen to them, but this did not have to go on... It did not have to happen. Bill McCabe could have been stopped close to 10 years before he got these girls. He should’ve been stopped before he ever got to our town.”
You can read the entire piece here.