Heard on the Hill

Senate Clears Bill to Protect Young Athletes From Sexual Abuse

Measure hailed by former Olympic gymnasts heads to President Donald Trump

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., hugs Olympic gymnast Jamie Dantzscher as Rep. Susan W. Brooks, R-Ind., speaks with Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu, right, at the end of the press conference on legislation to prevent future abuse of young athletes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate cleared by voice vote on Tuesday legislation that would impose new reporting requirements on a wide variety of amateur sports, including gymnastics.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein joined former Olympic gymnasts and a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers at an event earlier in the day to celebrate the anticipated Senate action.

Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, recalled that as she went into a meeting last February in which former gymnasts detailed past abuse, she was unaware of the scope of the allegations.

“The meeting made clear that USA Gymnastics was fostering a culture that put money and medals first, far ahead of the safety and well-being of athletes,” Feinstein said. She set out to build support for new legislation.

Watch: Former Congresswomen Reflect on Sexual Harassment Issues

The House passed an amended version of the bill on Monday evening by an overwhelming 406-3 vote.

Rep. Susan W. Brooks, a Republican from Indiana who led the House’s effort, thanked the women for stepping forward, and also praised the work of her hometown newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, for its work uncovering the abuse perpetrated by Larry Nassar, who was recently sentenced to a lengthy prison term for sexually abusing gymnasts in his role as a sports physician.

“I know the value and the trust and the care and the love that athletes are supposed to have with their coaches, with their trainers, with their — the people they are supposed to trust,” Brooks said. “These women have given a voice to people, to young people, who had been the voiceless for far too long.”

Dominique Moceanu, a member of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team that won Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996, thanked the senators and House members in attendance for their efforts, but stressed that the work is far from over.

“Thank you to the public servants who heard our voices and for the bipartisan support of this bill. Thanks to you and the voices of survivors, we can now confidently say that future generations of children participating in sports will be safer,” Moceanu said. “It is more imperative than ever to work together to protect athletes and provide safe environments for them. Weeding out the abusers and bad actors and their enablers is a major part of that.”

 After being amended in the House, the Senate needed to act one more time to get the legislation to President Donald Trump’s desk. Final action came less than a week after Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison.

The Senate bill included contributions from the Judiciary Committee and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chaired by South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune.

Among the key provisions of the bill are requirements that sports entities, including those under the U.S. Olympic umbrella, report allegations of abuse to law enforcement and social services.

“Passage of all these reforms is first and foremost a victory for the survivors and other advocates whom I was honored to stand with today at a press conference marking this important legislative achievement,” Thune said in a statement after passage.

It also grants authority to the new Center for SafeSport, with jurisdiction over groups like the United States Olympic Committee, to make sure that athletes can report allegations of abuse to an independent organization.

“While we celebrate today and look forward to this law being enacted, there is still work to be done. In order to uncover how the USOC, USAG and Michigan State University failed young athletes, we need them to first be transparent,” Jeanette Antolin, a former U.S. national team member, said at the morning news conference. “Once this is accomplished, we can then begin to understand how such a heinous crime was allowed to go under the radar for 20 years.”

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