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Congress Grills Sports Officials Over Nassar Scandal


Senators put questions to Steve Penny yesterday. They put questions to him, but he declined to answer in some key cases. Penny is the former leader of USA Gymnastics, and he faces the questions about the sex abuse scandal that has engulfed that Olympic sport. New information suggests that Penny may have tried to suppress information about the abuse. Alexandra Starr reports.

ALEXANDRA STARR, BYLINE: Steve Penny had to be subpoenaed before he appeared in Congress. Senators questioned him about disgraced former team doctor Larry Nassar, who abused hundreds of athletes under the guise of medical treatment. Penny gave a variation of this response a half dozen times.


STEVE PENNY: Mr. Chairman, respectfully, I would like to answer your question. However, I've been instructed by my attorney to assert my rights under the Fifth Amendment. I respectfully decline to answer your question.

STARR: Penny served as head of USA Gymnastics for more than a decade, until 2017 when he resigned for how he handled the Nassar scandal. Kansas Senator Jerry Moran asked questions hinting that Penny did not prioritize the safety of young gymnasts. First, Moran asked whether it was true that Penny had launched a private investigation into Nassar.


JERRY MORAN: How did that private investigation come about? And then my understanding is that you waited 41 days to contact law enforcement. Is that correct?

STARR: Again, Penny refused to answer. He was allowed to leave shortly afterwards. A former gymnast and abuse victim stood and yelled shame as he walked out. Another witness at the hearing was Rhonda Fein, the first employee at USA Gymnastics to receive a complaint about Nassar almost two years ago. She told Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal she immediately informed Penny.


RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: You were told to keep quiet. Larry Nassar was informed of the investigation before the FBI was told about it, correct?

STARR: Yes, she said. While USA Gymnastics delayed involving law enforcement, Penny never informed Nassar's other employer, Michigan State University. That allowed the doctor to treat and abuse women for an additional year. Lou Anna Simon, the former president of Michigan State, also testified.


LOU ANNA SIMON: And I wish we had known sooner. I would echo again my apology to the victims, the survivors, those we know and those we don't.

STARR: Simon resigned earlier this year. Michigan State is paying out a half billion dollars to more than 300 victims. Nassar, the former doctor, is in prison. As Congress continues to investigate top athletic officials across Olympic sports, several senators promised more change is coming. Apologies are not enough, said Senator Blumenthal. We have to honor these victims with real action. For NPR News, I'm Alexandra Starr.

(SOUNDBITE OF AARON LANSING'S "ARCTIC TERN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alexandra Starr