Building on her efforts to address the abuses within the U.S. Olympic system, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a survivor of sexual assault, helped pass a bill to ensure the resources designated for investigating abuses of Olympic and amateur athletes are safeguarded and put to proper use. The Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act, which Ernst supports, passed the Senate unanimously today.
“The horrific abuses of hundreds of young athletes by Larry Nassar are appalling and unacceptable. Since this news broke, I’ve been working to prevent this type of tragedy from ever happening again. While the U.S. Olympic Committee has shown a willingness to make necessary reforms to prevent these abuses in the future, this legislation builds on that effort by increasing oversight and accountability and puts in place steps to prevent all forms of abuse. The Senate’s bipartisan action today will help start the process of restoring trust and integrity within the U.S. Olympic system,” said Senator Ernst.
The Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act will:
- Empower athletes by giving them a seat at the decision-making table, and significantly increases athlete representation on governing boards, committees and panels within National Governing Bodies (NBGs) and the USOPC to help identify problematic policies and practices faster, while prioritizing athlete-centric solutions;
- Bolster resources for the U.S. Center for SafeSport while ensuring its independence from the USOPC and the NGBs;
- Require relevant SafeSport training, so athletes know how to identify abuse, and so adults know how to prevent it;
- Strengthen and codify reporting mandates for adults with knowledge of any allegation of child abuse of an amateur athlete;
- Protect individuals who report emotional, physical or sexual abuse of an athlete from retaliation within the Olympic movement;
- Promote safety by requiring NGBs to enforce SafeSport sanctions and directing SafeSport to maintain a public list of all barred coaches and individuals;
- Bolster USOC auditing and reporting requirements, so that Congress can better provide regular oversight; and
- Establish legislative mechanisms by which Congress can dissolve the Board of the U.S. Olympic Committee and decertify NGBs.
Senator Ernst has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of the survivors of abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar. Senator Ernst is a proud bipartisan supporter of the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017, which was signed into law by President Trump in February 2018.
Following the heartbreaking reports of sexual abuse, Senator Ernst called for a special Senate committee to investigate the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and USA Gymnastics regarding how team doctor Larry Nassar was allowed to sexually abuse female gymnasts over decades. She pressed her colleagues on this issue at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, in part saying, “Many children grow up admiring Olympic athletes, dreaming that one day they, too, could be on the winner’s podium to accept a gold medal for their country. I want that dream to live on for generations to come, but there is much work to be done first.”
When reports indicated that Scott Blackmun, CEO of the USOC, was aware of the sexual abuse allegations of Nassar, Ernst immediately called for him to step down, saying in part, “If these reports are true, this goes far beyond negligence and raises serious questions of culpability at USOC, in which the most appropriate action would be for Scott Blackmun to resign.”
After Sarah Hirshland took the helm as CEO of the USOC, Hirshland essentially “shut down” USA Gymnastics following the way the organization botched the scandal. After that decision, Ernst stated, “I am glad to see that USOC’s current CEO, Sarah Hirshland, is taking action to start rebuilding trust with our country’s athletes and the American people. I also want to applaud the young women who have – and continue – to make their voices heard, calling for change and a new vision for the sport.”