Takeaways from Wednesday’s hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sparked by the Larry Nassar case:
— The NFL anthem protest policy was announced literally in the middle of this congressional hearing. So no matter how important this session, it was immediately dwarfed by the NFL. That is a hard truth in the American sporting and cultural landscape.
— The cues were clear before Wednesday’s time on Capitol Hill that Congress seems remarkably disinclined to undertake a wholesale restructuring of the Olympic system in the United States. To reiterate a point made over and again in this space: the U.S. Olympic Committee is not boss of 49 national governing bodies. Instead, the USOC and NGBs are affiliated.
— What’s also crystal clear is that sexual abuse is a serious problem in Olympic sport. No one should pretend otherwise. It’s a problem in society at large. It would be the height of naivete to think that sport should be immune.
— What’s equally, profoundly clear is that it’s going to take not just far-reaching culture change but real money to address this very serious issue. So who has stepped up? The USOC. Anyone else?
— The USOC on Wednesday announced it has doubled its funding for the U.S. Center for SafeSport, from $1.55 million to $3.1 million per year through 2020.
— Have any corporate entities come through with significant help? No.
— Congress? Earlier this year, it passed, and the president signed, a bill that requires the prompt reporting of abuse in Olympic governing bodies to the authorities. Even while the heartbreaking testimony in the Nassar case was going on in that Michigan courtroom, Congress also stripped dollars from the bill — a proposed appropriation of $1 million annually to the SafeSport center.
The omnibus budget process now envisions $2.5 million per year.
SafeSport president Shellie Pfohl noted Wednesday for the record that the agency needs more resource and federal dollars would assuredly be helpful.
But — has even one cent come through?
— So, instead, what we got Wednesday was, per usual from Congress, and especially in an election year, kabuki theater.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), declaring Congress supports SafeSport: “Whatever money you need to actually do your work, please let us know and we will help with you and the USOC and other organizations to make sure you get that.” Oh, OK, sure.
Similarly, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.): “What are we doing to protect these young people right now? The time for talk is over and you need to walk your talk!” Precisely, congresswoman: show me the money.
Rep. Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.) was so ill-prepared she incorrectly pronounced Nassar not only with an emphasis on the second syllable but the “-sar” rhyming with “far.”
Rep. Buddy Clark (R-Ga.) used his five minutes Wednesday to theatrically lash into USA Gymnastics’ Kerry Perry and the USOC’s Susanne Lyons — it would be a stunner if that footage doesn’t show up in re-election campaign videos — and demanding apologies all around, even though apologizes have been offered many times. Perry apologized in her remarks Wednesday and said, “Those days are over.” The USOC’s Rick Adams, for that matter, had apologized to Congress last year.
— Perry did not respond to media inquiries after the session ended. That’s baffling. What advice did her lawyers give her, if any? As she said on the record in the session, she can only testify to what she knows first-hand since she has been at USA Gymnastics — since December, hired from outside the Olympic movement.
— To continue that thought, the time is now for as much transparency and authenticity as reasonably possible from Perry and others in positions of authority in the Olympic sphere. Lyons, for one, has been terrific.
— Now that this hearing is over:
It’s time for everyone to dial down the rhetoric — looking at you, Rep. Clark, and a bunch of plaintiffs’ lawyers, too — and work toward solution. That means real leadership. It also means significant resource. Enough talking already.