Celebrated Olympic gymnast Simone Biles delivered emotional testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, slamming the “entire system” that she says enabled disgraced Olympic doctor Larry Nassar to sexually abuse her and hundreds of other young women and girls.
“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” Biles said as she fought back tears during the Senate hearing on the FBI’s mishandling of sexual abuse allegations against Nassar.
Biles said that USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee knew that she was being abused by their official team doctor and yet did nothing.
Then, in July, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a bombshell report that detailed the FBI’s stunning failures to properly investigate allegations against Nassar. While senior officials at the FBI Indianapolis Field Office sat on their hands, more than 70 athletes continued to be abused, the report found. Investigators then lied when confronted with those failures to act urgently.
Biles, the most decorated gymnast in history, won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics this summer after withdrawing from a majority of the Games, citing mental distress. Three other star gymnasts testified Wednesday—McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Maggie Nichols, who was identified as “Athlete A,” the first person to lodge claims against Nassar in the summer of 2015, citing abuse that began when she was 15 years old and led to back pain.
Raisman said the trauma of coming forward with abuse allegations was so severe that she often struggled with basic tasks.
“I didn’t even have the energy to stand up in the shower,” Raisman said. “I would have to sit on the floor and wash my hair because standing up was too exhausting for me.”
“I’m 27 years old and my 80-year-old grandfather has more energy than I do,” she added.
Maroney detailed an occasion in Japan where she was being molested by Nassar and thought she would die that night because he wouldn’t let her go.
“That evening I was naked, completely alone, with him on top of me, molesting me for hours,” Maroney said.
In her fiery testimony, she said she was shocked when she learned that the FBI had not just failed to fully investigate her abuse claims. When agents documented her allegations more than a year later, they had fabricated their own narrative and made “entirely false claims” about what she said during an interview, she said.
“They chose to lie about what I said and protect a serial child molester rather than protect not only me but countless others,” Maroney said.
“What is the point of reporting abuse if our own FBI agents are going to take it upon themselves to bury that report in a drawer,” she added. “They had legal, legitimate evidence of child abuse and did nothing.”
She said FBI agents tried to convince her that Nassar’s abuse wasn’t all that bad, describing a phone interview with one agent who showed little regard for her claims. After she disclosed that Nassar had digitally penetrated her in treatments that did nothing to improve her injuries, there was a period of dismissive silence before the agent said, “Is that all?”
The Washington Post reported late Tuesday that the FBI had fired Michael Langeman, a supervisory special agent at the Indianapolis field office who was accused of failing to adequately investigate Maroney’s accusations after interviewing her in 2015.
Horowitz’s July report, while not naming Langeman directly, slammed both him and the former head of the FBI’s Indianapolis office, W. Jay Abbott, for mishandling allegations and later lying to investigators.
According to the report, Abbott had been eyeing a job with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and discussed it with Steve Penny, who was the president of USA Gymnastics at the time.
Raisman, who said she felt pressured by the FBI to consent to Nassar’s plea deal, slammed high-ranking Olympic officials and the FBI agents who “diminished” her claims of abuse.
She expressed disgust over Penny and others, who she said were able to retire or resign “without explanation,” effectively rewarding them for their failures to protect children.
The Justice Department has not prosecuted Abbott, who freely retired without pressure from the agency in 2018.
At the opening of the hearing, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said, “It shocks the conscience when the failures come from law enforcement itself, yet that’s exactly what happened in the Nassar case.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) added that the failures represented “a serious problem at the heart of the FBI, not a case of a few errant agents.”
“The FBI, candidly, must do better,” added Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
FBI Director Christopher Wray, who took the reins at the agency in 2017, called the conduct of agents who mismanaged the athletes’ allegations “reprehensible,” adding that he was “heartsick” after hearing the athletes’ testimony.
“I wish I could go back and change the past,” Wray said, vowing to learn from the painful lessons in the Nassar case to ensure the agency’s failures aren’t repeated in the future.