With many of the cameras and reporters gone, the fourth Senate hearing about sexual abuse in Olympic sports took on a different tone. There was no yelling. There was no demanding of answers. CEOs of the organizations that oversee Olympic sports had a few chuckles. The grandstanding was gone, just the empty gestures of the government that created the Olympic machine remained.
The heads of USA Weightlifting, U.S. Figure Skating, USA Swimming, and USA Bobsled and Skeleton all appeared before the Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, product safety, insurance, and data security on Wednesday. The head of USA Taekwondo—which currently is being sued after multiple women said the organization received for years reports about sexual abuse done by two stars of the sport and did nothing—did not attend, only providing a written statement. These hearings began because of the Larry Nassar scandal in gymnastics and, with that sport not on the list for discussion this day, it was impossible to not notice the sparseness of senators present. Those who were there dialed things back. Past hearings featured fireworks; this was was muted and dim.
Take, for example, the questioning done by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut. Blumenthal’s office had been told that a woman on the national bobsledding team had been exposed to “sexually explicitly content” belonging to a male coach. Blumenthal tried asking questions about what the bobsledding organization knew and didn’t know and what had been done, but the questions were so ineffective that the final result was just USA Bobsledding and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele saying that he would provide an account of what happened.
Or when Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat from Nevada, told those assembled, “I hope you aren’t waiting for Congress to act,” which would be a strong-sounding sentence if not for the fact that the entire reason all these national governing bodies overseeing various Olympic sports exist is because of an act of Congress. Or when Masto asked all the CEOs if SafeSport, the organization tasked with investigating and preventing sexual abuse in Olympic sports, should be “adequately funded.” Every CEO said yes; nobody ever bothered to say what adequate funding would look like. Is adequate funding another $2 million? Or $20 million? And how should that be provided? Nobody said.
Instead, as before, the senators in attendance mostly used the moment to opine over and over again about how much they care about preventing sexual abuse in the Olympic movement, while ignoring Congress’s own role in creating the USOC, the laws that govern it, and their ongoing inability to give more than a pittance to the organization that’s somehow supposed to end sexual abuse in all Olympic sports.
Buzzwords took the place of congressional action. Everyone talked about culture change and a culture of reporting. Everyone promised to include athletes. Everyone promised to include survivors. All the quotes sounded very good— almost too good, as if written with tweets and write-ups in mind. What did all the phrases actually mean? During the hearing’s more than 90 minutes, nobody ever stopped to define them. If ending sexual abuse in sport were resolved by talking, the problem would be gone by now. Well into a fourth hearing, the best senators could do was repeat suggestions they’ve received from athletes or ask questions that are little more than follow ups to whatever reporters dig up for them.
Subcommittee chairman Sen. Jerry Moran began the hearing by saying, “I speak for the entire subcommittee when I say that the brave actions and testimony of our young athletes have inspired and motivated us. This committee is committed to making positive change for these and all athletes and the survivors we have been working with over the past several months are truly drivers of this much needed culture change.” Last week, the Republican from Kansas said he would vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh—who spent his time before Congress yelling, interrupting, and suggesting that Christine Blasey Ford coming forward to say she recalled him trying to rape her in high school was part of a revenge plot on behalf of the Clintons—to the U.S. Supreme Court.