NDIANAPOLIS — A Georgia judge, at The Indianapolis Star’s request, released more than 5,600 pages of court records Friday detailing how USA Gymnastics handled sexual abuse allegations against coaches over a 10-year period.
The records, which include depositions of top USA Gymnastics officials and sexual abuse complaint files on 54 coaches, revealed that some coaches weren't banned from the sport until years after they were convicted of crimes against children.
One file included a letter that said a USA Gymnastics regional chairman spoke with former President Robert Colarossi in support of allowing a convicted sex offender to keep his membership.
In another case, USA Gymnastics conducted a lengthy investigation into a coach and concluded he “exhibited a pattern of behavior with regards to inappropriate touching of students" but decided to put him on probation rather than terminating his membership. Court records indicate he molested young gymnasts while on probation.
The documents were released by Effingham County Judge Ronald Thompson in response to a motion filed last June by IndyStar. USA Gymnastics fought the release for nearly nine months, including in two appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court.
An IndyStar investigation last year revealed instances in which USA Gymnastics executives failed to alert authorities to allegations of child sexual abuse, and found more than 360 cases in which gymnasts accused their coaches of sexual misconduct over the last 20 years.
The investigation also emboldened more than 80 people to come forward with allegations of sexual abuse against longtime USA Gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar.
The documents show that the Indianapolis-based national governing body employed a policy of requiring sexual misconduct complaints to be signed by a victim, victim's parent or eyewitness to the alleged abuse. President Steve Penny testified that the organization has to move carefully on complaints “because the coach is as much a member as the athlete” and the possibility of a witch hunt is “very real.”
Some of the files USA Gymnastics compiled on member coaches were more than 300 pages long, spanning more than a decade, and others were as brief as five pages.
USA Gymnastics redacted the names of 17 of the coaches, including two who appear to have been criminally convicted but not banned from the sport. The court prohibited the release of the names of coaches who had not been criminally convicted, as well as the names of victims, gyms and people making reports about coaches.
In many of the files released Friday, entire pages were redacted. In at least one case, more than 175 consecutive pages were blacked out. IndyStar reporters are reading the files and will be reporting further on their contents; expect updates over the next few days.
An initial examination offered greater detail about how sex abuse allegations are handled within the organization.
Some coaches named in the files argued strenuously to retain their membership, sometimes threatening legal action. One coach dismissed the allegations against him as a "witch hunt" and lies perpetrated by a competing gym, only to be later convicted of molesting young gymnasts.
The files also included impassioned letters from gymnasts' parents, pleading for coaches to retain their membership.
USA Gymnastics' policy allows its president to terminate the membership of a person who was convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, sexual misconduct or child abuse, without an investigation.
But an initial look at the court records reveals several instances in which USA Gymnastics conducted internal investigations of coaches long after they had been convicted of child sex crimes, often interviewing the same witnesses and victims interviewed by police.
USA Gymnastics has hired former federal prosecutor Deborah Daniels to review its policies and make recommendations for changes. It has also cited the pending opening of a U.S. Center for SafeSport as an example of progress being made on the issue of child sexual abuse in Olympic sports.
In a statement Friday, USA Gymnastics noted that it has banned 37 of the 54 coaches in the files, and 48 of the matters involved law enforcement.
“USA Gymnastics has been conducting an audit of its administrative files to determine what, if any, additional actions are necessary," the statement said.
“Keeping athletes safe requires sustained vigilance by everyone — coaches, athletes, parents, administrators and officials — and there is more work to be done. We recently initiated the most comprehensive, thorough and independent evaluation of our athlete safety program to date," the statement said. "This is a community-wide effort designed to examine the culture and generate recommendations that can help USA Gymnastics strengthen its efforts in this area."