They were invited to Washington D.C. for the same purpose, but the end result, may not have been what members of the Senate Subcommittee were hoping for.
Whether voluntary or through a subpoena, three former top officials from organizations where Larry Nassar treated patients, faced members of Congress as the subcommittee continues its series of hearings to find ways to protect and prevent athletes from sexual abuse.
In almost three hours, members of Congress demanded answers from former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, former President of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, and Rhonda Faehn, former Senior Vice President for Women’s Programs for USA Gymnastics.
They want to find out how Nassar’s sexual abuse on young women and athletes went undetected or unreported for decades, even though the warning signs were right in front of them.
Senators didn’t get much out of Penny, as the only answer he gave, was a confirmation that he indeed was the president of the Olympic organization during a certain time period.
He pleaded the fifth six times during the hearing, dodging questions including when he first learned about allegations against Nassar, how he dealt with those allegations, and whether he told the proper people and authorizes about the abuse.
He gave the following answer repeatedly, refusing to directly respond.
“Respectfully, Senator, I would like to answer your question,” Penny said. “However, I’ve been instructed by my attorney to assert my rights under the fifth amendment to the constitution.”
Lawmakers pushed back and instead, pointed out documents, including a memo written by Penny, indicating that he had questions about Nassar’s behavior as early as 2013.
Penny was eventually shown the door
Revelations about him, however, kept coming, through testimony from another former member of USA Gymnastics, Rhonda Faehn.
At one point, she began to cry, expressing sympathy for the victims of Nassar’s sexual abuse.
She said she reported athletes concerns to Penny, but never alerted the authorities, in large part, because she says Penny said he would take care of it.
“I tried to protect the gymnasts involved by making sure I immediately reported what I had learned from those that had contacted me,” Faehn said. “There is no question that better systems of reporting and addressing abuse need to be in place.”
Former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon took a different approach. She apologized that Nassar was able to abuse his patients for as long as he did and MSU did not discover his crimes sooner.
“Not a day goes by without me wishing that he had been caught and punished sooner,” Simon said. “And not a day goes by without me wondering what we missed and what could have been done to detect his evil before a former youth gymnast filed her complaint with the MSU Police in 2016.”
Simon defended a controversial 2014 Title IX investigation in which two-separate reports were generated, saying the experts did their jobs to the best of their ability.
She also maintained that the university did not know Nassar was sexually abusing young women and girls until 2016.
She apologized a few times to survivors of Nassar.
“I am here because of the unspeakable crimes of one former university employee, Larry Nassar,” she said. “I am truly sorry for the abuse the survivors of Nassar suffered, the pain it caused, and the pain it continues to cause today. I am sorry a university employee so utterly betrayed the survivors’ trust and everything for which MSU stands.”
And while she’s still in the hot seat for what has unfolded in the sexual abuse scandal, she said she wants to take on a role to help fix it in the future.
“I would very much like to be part of the conversation about the solution,” Simon said. “I do think I know a little bit about how university’s work and systems and approach and some of the unintended consequences of our bureaucratic processes and regulatory work that we need to be able to.”
Larissa Boyce, a survivor of Nassar’s abuse, wasn’t buying Simon’s apology.
She tried to tell a former MSU employee about Nassar’s abuse back in 1997.
When she disclosed to then MSU Gymnastics coach Kathie Klages that Nassar may have touched her inappropriately, she said Klages silenced her and made her believe she was the problem.
Today, however, Boyce is one of the most vocal Nassar survivors advocating for change.
As she watched the roughly three-hour long testimony, she said some things were missing:
- No questions about why coaches and trainers may have dismissed athletes when they brought concerns to them about Nassar
- She believes Kathie Klages and former Twistars owner John Geddert should have been questioned
- Says Simon “doesn’t seem to get that several MSU employees under her watch”, did not do the right thing and in turn, resulted in this scandal.
- Says Simon’s testimony lacked empathy
“It was disappointing that Steve Penny plead the fifth and didn’t answer any questions,” Boyce said. “It just felt like Lou Anna Simon just still doesn’t get it doesn’t get the fact that it was not just one man that allowed this to happen, but it was the enablers all around that didn’t do anything when they were one told or when they saw red flags.”