PYEONGCHANG, South Korea—Hours before the opening ceremony, United States Olympic Committee board of directors chairman Larry Probst opened the organization’s first press conference of the Pyeongchang Olympics with an acknowledgement. “I want to address upfront what many of you came here rightly to discuss,” he said, before launching into a scripted statement on the USOC’s role in Dr. Larry Nassar’s decades of abuse.
To the women, both those who chose to testify and those who did not, who have demonstrated tremendous bravery, poise and strength in the most difficult circumstances imaginable, let me say this: the Olympic system failed you and we are so incredibly sorry. Words cannot express the anger that the board and leadership of the United States Olympic Committee and me personally feel about the human toll that Larry Nassar’s abuse has taken on these young women and their families.
He concluded with an announcement that USOC had commissioned an independent investigation to “help us understand who knew what about Nassar’s abuse, when, and what they did with that information.”
If the statement was intended to preempt the need for further discussion on the matter, it failed. Most of the questions over the ensuing hour tried to get the members of the USOC board to give a straight answer about the organization’s admitted culpability; what, if any changes, have since been made to keep athletes—including those at the Olympics right now—safe; and what they intend to do going forward. (Although the board seemed far more comfortable discussing the decades of sex abuse than they did fielding a question about Vice President Mike Pence’s impending Olympic attendance.)
Of failing to attend any of the many days of sentencing where victims read statements about the abuse they suffered, Probst said, “That was simply a mistake, we should have been there,” and admitted that “we took too long to reach out to the gymnasts after the revelations became public, we’re in the process of doing that now.”
Following Nassar’s sentencing last month, USOC CEO Scott Blackmun issued a statement calling for the entire board of USA Gymnastics to resign—or else risk decertification—and they did. But in their victim statements, athletes like Aly Raisman also accused the USOC of being culpable for enabling Nassar as well and thus far no one from the that board has stepped down.
“We are far from unscathed,” Probst said, citing media criticism of the organization. But the board defended Blackmun, who did not attend the Olympics after undergoing surgery recently. “He has served the USOC with distinction since he joined the organization in 2010 and we think that he did what he was supposed to do and did the right thing at every turn,” Probst said.
Probst confirmed that there will be no personnel changes to the USOC board until after the investigation—which will be conducted by the Ropes and Gray law firm in Boston, and will be made public—is concluded.
“I’m pretty confident that it will show [Blackmun] did a great job,” added board member Anita DeFrantz.