Gymnasts Simone Biles, Maggie Nichols, McKayla Maroney, and Aly Raisman testified on Wednesday in a Senate hearing about the FBI’s mishandling of the sexual-abuse investigation against former national gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. The four athletes, who have all come forward about being abused by Nassar, outlined years of cover-ups by the FBI, USA Gymnastics, and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee to protect Nassar and his reputation.
It’s been estimated that Nassar abused at least 265 victims. After being quietly dismissed from the USAG in 2016, Nassar continued to work as a doctor at Michigan State University until he was arrested and eventually charged for child pornography, tampering with evidence, and sexual assault of minors. But according to the athletes’ testimonies, the FBI, USAG, and USOPC all knew about the allegations against Nassar long before any action was taken, and allowed him to continue molesting young athletes under his alleged care for more than a year after his abuse was reported.
“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” Biles said through tears. She continued, “I believe without a doubt that the circumstances that led to my abuse and allowed it to continue are directly the result of the fact that the organizations created by Congress to oversee and protect me as an athlete … failed to do their jobs. It truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us and went out of its way to help protect the USAG and USOPC.”
The hearing follows a Justice Department investigation released in July, which found that the FBI agents investigating Nassar’s case violated the bureau’s policies, covering up the allegations against Nassar for months before opening an investigation. It estimated that between July 2015, when USAG first reported the allegations to the FBI, and October 2016, when the Lansing, Michigan, branch officially opened its investigation, Nassar abused upwards of 70 athletes.
At the center of the report’s findings is W. Jay Abbott, an FBI supervisor who was in talks with Steve Penny, the USAG president at the time, about a job opportunity at the organization. According to Raisman, Penny supervised her interview with the FBI, which came after 14 months of repeatedly requesting to be interviewed and being told that the case was being handled. Raisman was also told by the USAG to keep the case confidential and was discouraged from speaking with Maroney, who had also made a report. Nichols also recalled Penny telling her family to keep quiet about the abuse when she reported it in 2015 so as not to interfere with the FBI investigation — which she later found out did not yet exist.
What did exist, at the very least, was a three-hour phone call Maroney says she had with the FBI in the summer of 2015, around the time the USAG first alerted the FBI. According to her testimony, Maroney told FBI agents on the line about all the times Nassar had molested her in “extreme detail,” including the first thing Nassar said to her when she met him at the age of 13: to change into shorts without underwear. “Within minutes, he had his fingers in my vagina,” she said. She also told the agents that Nassar gave her a sleeping pill on a plane trip to Tokyo. “That evening, I was naked, completely alone, with him on top of me molesting me for hours,” she said. “I told them I thought I was going to die that night.” After she was done, she said, the agents were silent for a minute and then asked, “Is that all?” The interview, she says, was not documented until 17 months later, and filled with lies about what she had alleged.
The FBI wasn’t the only organization which sat on the allegations. Biles testified that the USAG knew she was a suspected victim of Nassar’s abuse as far back as May 2015, when Nichols (her teammate at the time) said as much to the head of the organization’s Women’s Program. Throughout the summer of 2016, during which she competed at the Rio Olympic Games as part of Team USA, Biles said she had no idea there were even reports of Nassar’s abuse out there. Only in the fall of that year did she hear about the case through an Indianapolis Star report, which was also the first time the allegations reached the public.
In her testimony, Biles also recalled this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, where she dropped out of the women’s team finals due to mental-health challenges. “The announcement in the spring of 2020 that the Tokyo Games were to be postponed by a year meant that I would be going to the gym, to training, to therapy, living daily among the reminders of this story for another 365 days,” Biles said. She continued, “I never should have been left alone to suffer the abuse of Larry Nassar.”
FBI director Christopher A. Wray acknowledged during the trial that the bureau had mishandled Nassar’s case and apologized to the victims who testified. He promised that the FBI had cracked down on enforcing its policies because of the Nassar case and said that investigations would be “quadruple-checked” in the future. “I’m sorry that so many people let you down again and again,” he said. “I am especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed, and that is inexcusable.”
This post has been updated.