On Sept. 15, Olympian Simone Biles, along with three other prominent gymnasts, testified in a Senate hearing about the FBI’s handling of sexual abuse allegations against former U.S. Gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar. Each athlete gave poignant statements — and Simone Biles' testimony about the FBI and Larry Nassar did not pull any punches. Content warning: some of the following videos contain discussions of sexual abuse, and may be upsetting to watch.
In July 2021, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a damning report about how the FBI had mishandled the investigation into Nassar, who was convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse in December 2017 and sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. The report found, among other things, that FBI officials in Indianapolis had “failed to respond to the Nassar allegations with the utmost seriousness and urgency that they deserved and required, made numerous and fundamental errors when they did respond to them, and violated multiple FBI policies.” The report highlighted that officials had failed to seriously investigate allegations against Nassar, failed to inform other relevant authorities, and failed to take accountability for their mistakes. It also found that while the FBI failed to act, “Nassar’s sexual assaults continued.” As of 2021, at least 265 athletes have come forward with sexual abuse allegations against Nassar.
In light of the report, Biles, along with Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Maggie Nichols, all testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 15. In her testimony, Biles expressed her anger with how she felt Nassar’s case was mishandled.
“In reviewing the OIG’s report, it truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us and went out of its way to help protect USAG [USA Gymnastics] and USOPC [US Olympic and Paralympic Committee],” Biles said. “A message needs to be sent. If you allow a predator to harm children, the consequences will be swift and severe. Enough is enough.”
Athletes McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, and Aly Raisman gave statements alongside Biles that ripped into the FBI and Justice Department for essentially ignoring the continuing abuse and allowing Nassar to go unpunished.
Maroney detailed instances and times when she was abused by Nassar, as well as times when FBI officials didn’t follow up on her reports about Nassar. “What is the point of reporting abuse if our own FBI agents are going to take it upon themselves to bury that report in a drawer?” Maroney said angrily.
Raisman also expressed her anger, claiming her reports of abuse were not only buried by USAG and USOPC, but also “mishandled by federal law enforcement officers, who failed to follow their most basic duties.” All four athletes claim the gymnastics organizations, as well as the FBI, “knew that Nassar molested children, and did nothing to restrict his access,” per Raisman.
In a July 2020 statement from USA Gymnastics CEO Li Li Leung, USAG addressed Nichols’ allegations against Nassar in a public statement, and acknowledged that Nassar’s case was mishandled: “We are deeply committed to learning from the mistakes of the past and the mishandling of the horrific abuse perpetrated by Larry Nassar,” Leung wrote at the time. “In order to do that, we must listen with open hearts to Maggie Nichols’ story, and the experiences of other survivors, so that we can truly understand the impact it had, and the circumstances that led to it and enabled it for too long.” The statement followed the release of the documentary Athlete A, about Nassar’s abuse of young gymnasts.
Maggie Nichols, the fourth gymnast present on Sept. 15, is the Athlete A named in the documentary, something she highlighted in her testimony. “I was named as Gymnast 2 in the Office of Inspector General’s Report, and previously identified as Athlete A by USA Gymnastics. I want everyone to know this did not happen to Gymnast 2, or Athlete A. It happened to me, Maggie Nichols.”
In his opening statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Ill. characterized the FBI’s negligence in the Nassar case as “a stain on the bureau”, per NPR. “In the 15 month period that FBI officials shirked their responsibility, Nassar abused at least 70 young athletes,” Durbin added, noting how the FBI’s “failure in this case led to more athletes being victimized.” The committee has oversight responsibility over the FBI, and aims “to examine this injustice and to prevent future, similar tragedies,” per Durbin.
Testifying after Biles, Raisman, Maroney, and Nichols, FBI Director Christopher Wray apologized on behalf of the organization. “I'm deeply and profoundly sorry to each and every one of you," Wray said. “And I'm especially sorry there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed, and that is inexcusable. It never should have happened, and we're doing everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.”
When asked how to hold abusers — as well as their enablers — accountable for their actions, both Maroney and Raisman emphasized the need for a completely independent investigation into USAG’s and USOPC’s alleged cover up of abuse, as well as the need for widespread education on preventing sexual abuse within the gymnastics industry. Biles also added that accountability meant seeing any responsible officials from USAG, USOPC, and the FBI “federally prosecuted to the full extent of the law” for mishandling the abuse. In 2019, USOPC began instituting reforms in response to the Nassar case.
“I sit before you to raise my voice so that no little girl must endure what I, the athletes at this table, and the countless others who needlessly suffered under Nassar’s guise of medical treatment,” Biles stated. “I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetuated his abuse.”