USA Gymnastics is still hoping to reach a settlement with sexual abuse survivors before exiting bankruptcy, which it expects will happen “sometime this summer.”
COVID-19 has delayed the process because mediation normally involves in-person meetings, USA Gymnastics CEO Li Li Leung said Friday. Instead, there have been “side conversations,” which make for slower progress.
“We are putting pressure on every single organization and entity that is involved at the mediation table to try and bring closure,” Leung said.
More than 500 women, including Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, have sued USA Gymnastics, saying they were sexually abused by Larry Nassar, their coach or someone else affiliated with the sport. The lawsuits were put on hold when USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy in December 2018.
USA Gymnastics could emerge from bankruptcy without a settlement with survivors, allowing proceedings in the lawsuits to resume. But Leung said it is still the federation’s plan to reach a settlement as part of the bankruptcy resolution.
“When the board made a decision to file for bankruptcy, it was always that that was the vehicle to be able to come to a conclusion of an equitable settlement for the survivors,” said Leung, who was hired as CEO four months after USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy. “So our goal is to exit bankruptcy with a fair settlement with the survivors.”
Survivors have criticized a $215 million settlement that USA Gymnastics offered in January 2020, saying it allowed third parties like the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to be released from the lawsuit without making a substantial contribution – financially or otherwise. The judge in the case, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robyn Moberly, has agreed, saying in February 2020 that the USOPC needed to be “actively participating, particularly with their pocketbook.”
While survivors have questioned the contention by both USA Gymnastics and the USOPC that they have little, if any, money to offer beyond that provided by their insurers, they also have repeatedly asked for a full accounting of what the organizations knew about Nassar, and why neither organization did more to protect young athletes from abuse.
“Why is there still no independent investigation? How many more children have to suffer?” Raisman asked on Twitter on Thursday night following the death by suicide of John Geddert.
Geddert, who coached Raisman and the rest of the Fierce Five at the London Olympics, was charged earlier Thursday in Michigan with 24 counts including human trafficking through forced labor and sexual assault. Geddert also was a party to the lawsuits against USA Gymnastics, and his insurers have agreed to contribute $2.125 million to a settlement.
More:Opinion: In death, former Olympic coach John Geddert once again causes harm to the gymnasts he abused
Leung said USA Gymnastics has been the subject of at least six independent investigations, including two by Congress, one by the Indiana Attorney General and others she cannot discuss because they’re ongoing. The federation has cooperated with all of them and will continue to do so, she said.
“We’re very committed to learning from the past, and are hoping for these investigations to be able to wrap up, to be able to provide some closure for those who have been affected,” Leung said.
Leung also noted that former federal prosecutor Deborah Daniels recently completed an audit of the progress USA Gymnastics has made in implementing 70 recommendations the former federal prosecutor made in 2017. Daniels made the recommendations following a scathing review in which she said USA Gymnastics needed a “complete cultural change.”
Daniels found USA Gymnastics has made “tremendous strides,” particularly since Leung was hired, and praised the cultural shift to focus on athlete safety. But Daniels cited five areas where work is still needed, including more effective oversight of anyone with access to children, including volunteers; and better tracking of abusive coaches by both USA Gymnastics and its members to prevent them from going to another gym.
Daniels also pointed out that mistrust remains, saying USA Gymnastics needs to continue improving its support of athletes until there is “universal perception by athletes that they are in fact supported and protected by the organization.”
“We still have more work to do. We are committed to continue that work and to make a more positive change within our sport,” Leung said.