IndyStar investigation shows USA Gymnastics failed to report sex abuse allegations

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Marvin Sharp's gymnastics academy

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – USA Gymnastics, headquartered in Indianapolis, failed to report several sex abuse allegations to police, according to an extensive investigation from our media partners at the IndyStar.

The Star’s investigation uncovered multiple cases in which children suffered the consequences of that lack of action, including a Georgia case in which a coach preyed on young female athletes for seven years. The group dismissed the first of four warnings against him.

Another case involved Marvin Sharp, who ran a gymnastics academy in Indianapolis. He’s one of four coaches cited in the report who ended up being arrested.

Sharp, who was charged with sexually abusing underage gymnasts, killed himself in jail. He was previously named coach of the year in 2010. A year after Sharp was honored, the group received a report about misconduct by Sharp. The group didn’t disclose that allegation until four years later, when another victim came forward.

In a lawsuit filed in 2013, two former USA Gymnastics officials admitted they dismissed sexual abuse allegations as hearsay unless they came directly from a victim or a victim’s parent.

USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body, develops athletes for the Olympics. Its members include 121,000 athletes and 3,000 gyms. The group would not disclose the total number of sexual abuse allegations it receives each year.

Officials from the organization declined to be interviewed for the Star’s story, but USA Gymnastics did release a statement from Steve Penny, its president:

“Addressing issues of sexual misconduct has been important to USA Gymnastics for many years, and the organization is committed to promoting a safe environment for its athletes.  We find it appalling that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in this manner, and recognize the effect this behavior can have on a person’s life.  USA Gymnastics has been proactive in helping to educate the gymnastics community over the years, and will continue to take every punitive action available within our jurisdiction, and cooperate fully with law enforcement.

“USA Gymnastics believes it has a duty to report to law enforcement whenever circumstances warrant, as was the case when I initiated the report of Marvin Sharp.  USA Gymnastics has been assured by law enforcement that it went above and beyond its legal obligations to report on this matter.  USA Gymnastics has, in the strongest terms, encouraged anyone who believes abuse has occurred to contact law enforcement and frequently works with law enforcement on these matters.

“USA Gymnastics seeks first-hand knowledge whenever allegations of abuse arise as the most reliable source to take action and as outlined in its bylaws and policies.  The organization has continually reviewed its best practices on how it addresses these issues and has been among the first to initiate new policies and procedures including publishing a list of banned coaches and instituting national background checks.

“We remain committed to this effort and have been working closely with the U.S. Olympic Committee to help keep athletes safe in all sports.

“With the Judge considering whether to dismiss the pending lawsuit in Georgia, there are limits on what the organization can say publicly during litigation.  Nonetheless, USA Gymnastics provided the Indianapolis Star with substantial information on its policies and procedures to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to the safety of its athletes within the scope of its jurisdiction and governance structure.  We feel the Star left out significant facts that would have painted a more accurate picture of our efforts.”

Read the full story in the IndyStar.