Vaulted into Victims: Preventing Further Sexual Abuse in U.S. Olympic Sports Through Unionization and Improved Governance
41 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2018 Last revised: 19 Sep 2019
Date Written: 2019
For almost two decades, a sexual predator groomed and abused hundreds of young, female athletes. All the while, he held an esteemed position as the national team doctor for USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the sport of U.S. gymnastics, and served on the faculty at Michigan State University, where he treated countless female athletes in his sports medicine clinic. This predator, Larry Nassar, is now behind bars for life. At his sentencing hearings earlier this year, hundreds of his victims, many of whom were Olympians, courageously came forward detailing their accounts of sexual abuse at the hands of Nassar, who veiled his abuse and molestation as “legitimate medical treatments” for injured athletes. So many of Nassar’s long list of victims were just children when he abused them (some as young as age ten), and, thus they were unable to comprehend what was happening to them as they pursued their dreams. The nation is now left baffled as to how this abuse persisted for so long and why USA Gymnastics failed to properly detect and stop it. This Article, which is the first scholarly piece to address the USA Gymnastics tragedy from a legal and regulatory perspective, aims to answer the above questions by analyzing the cultural and structural failures within USA Gymnastics that led to this abuse, and by proposing two major governance reforms within the world of U.S. Olympic sports to greatly decrease the likelihood that such a tragedy would ever occur again. These reforms consist of the adoption of a robust whistleblower reporting system with appropriate anti-retaliation protections and the unionization of gymnasts competing within USA Gymnastics so that the interests of vulnerable, young adults are adequately protected from a legal standpoint. The implementation of these legal and structural reforms will help to ensure that, going forward, the physical and emotional well-being of minor athletes is at the forefront of any organization that purports to protect them.
Keywords: whistleblowers, sports law, organizational governance, labor law, unions, sports business, retaliation, Olympics, Michigan State, Larry Nassar, USA Gymnastics
JEL Classification: K00, K23, K31, K3, Z1, Z2, Z21, Z22, J4, J47, J48, J5, J51, J58, J8, J83, J88, I00, I1, I2, I3, J00,
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