A USA Gymnastics memo from 2000 that circulated on social media last week specifically advised young gymnasts to seek out Larry Nassar at night when they had problems at a training camp. Nassar, the former national team physician, has pleaded guilty to federal pornography charges and is awaiting trial on multiple state-level charges of criminal sexual conduct. More than 100 women and girls—most of them gymnasts—have come forward saying that Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment. The list of alleged victims includes world and Olympic medalists and former national team members.
Here is the memo, as it appeared last week on social media.
Many former gymnasts have said that they were medically treated by Nassar without additional adult supervision while on the road for competitions and at training camps at the National Team Training Camp at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas. As you can see in the memo above, which was sent to athletes, coaches, and national team staff, gymnasts are specifically told not to reach out to their personal coaches if they have a problem at night or anytime when they’re in their rooms while at the 2000 National TOP Training Camp. Rather, they’re supposed to reach out to “Dr. Larry Nassar, Debbie Van Horn or a USA Gymnastics staff person,” it says. Van Horn, an athletic trainer, had worked alongside Nassar for more than two decades (Van Horn is still on staff with USA Gymnastics.). It ends with “Please do not call your personal coach.”
While I can certainly understand why USA Gymnastics wouldn’t want the personal coaches to be the only person called to an athlete’s hotel room in the event of a problem—the majority of professional members on the banned list are former coaches who have sexually abused athletes—it’s unclear why they are not to be called at all. If a national team staff member is to be summoned, why can’t the young athlete’s personal coach accompany that person. Why are the gymnasts being told to not reach out to the person they came to the camp with?
The memo also shows a problem with protocols. USA Gymnastics was assuming responsibility for gymnasts, away from their parents, for a given period of time and hadn’t worked out how to properly help them in out-of-practice hours other than sending an unaccompanied adult to check in on them while excluding the personal coaches who were closest to the gymnasts. One of those adults, Nassar, would go on to be accused of rampantly sexually abusing gymnasts who said they trusted him. But the memo would still be a problem even if Nassar wasn’t charged with so many crimes.
And, in this case, he was working with very young gymnasts. TOPs, which stands for “Talent Opportunity Program” is for athletes between the ages of 9 and 12. Across the country, young athletes prepare for their TOPs testing every year in the hopes of making the TOPs team. The testing doesn’t consist of high level gymnastics; rather, gymnasts are tested on basics and things like speed, strength, and flexibility. Those with the highest marks are invited to the TOPs team and a training camp. In recent years, those have been held at the at the Karolyi Ranch but, back in the early days, as this memo shows, it was held in other locations.
When reached for comment about the memo, USA Gymnastics released the following statement, which does not address the memo.
USA Gymnastics will certainly look into the origins of the 2000 memo and is not currently in a position to speak to it. Here’s a brief summary of what is in place now. For the two-day national testing of the Talent Opportunity Program (TOPs), only USA Gymnastics, national coaching and TOPs national staff stay onsite at the National Team Training Center (NTTC). For camps, a formal, mandatory orientation meeting, which covers the rules and policies for the camp that are distributed in advance, is held for the athletes, their coaches and all staff. The rules provide specific directions regarding adult-athlete interaction at all times, including that no adults shall be alone with a gymnast in a private setting. Four USA Gymnastics staff, including an athletic trainer, are onsite 24/7, and two female medical personnel are present for all training and medical services activities. Additionally, seven counselors are on site at all times with a 6:1 ratio. All staff members receive background checks and will be trained in Safe Sport policies and best practices prior to this year’s TOPs National Testing. These protocols are designed and implemented with safe sport best practices in mind to protect the health and well-being of our athletes.