“The Collective Failure”

Ropes & Gray attorneys on investigating Larry Nassar

Published in 2018 Massachusetts Super Lawyers Magazine — November 2018

The details were damning.

On December 10, the Boston-based firm Ropes & Gray released a report summarizing its investigation into the institutional failings that allowed former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar to escape scrutiny as he sexually abused hundreds of underage athletes over the course of nearly three decades. The investigative effort, which was commissioned by a special committee of the board of directors of the United States Olympic Committee, spanned 10 months and was spearheaded by firm partners and white collar criminal defense attorneys James P. Dowden and Joan McPhee. More than 100 witnesses spoke to the lawyers over the course of the investigation.

“Nassar’s sexual abuse of hundreds of girls and young women was a manifestation of a broader set of factors and conditions in elite gymnastics and Olympic sport that allowed the abuse to occur and then to continue uninterrupted for almost 30 years,” says McPhee. “The fact that so many different institutions and individuals failed to stop him does not excuse any of them, but instead reflects the collective failure to protect young athletes.”

Among the 233-page report’s findings: USOC chief of sport performance Alan Ashley was made aware of accusations against Nassar in 2015, and did not make any move to prevent Nassar’s access to potential victims. In the wake of the report’s release, the USOC fired Ashley.

The report also revealed that Nassar—who’s now imprisoned after being convicted on sexual assault charges—actively involved himself in the creation of USA Gymnastics’ guidelines regarding sexual misconduct by medical staff, including an unsuccessful attempt to influence the policy surrounding false accusations.

Susanne Lyons, the incoming USOC board chair, said in a statement, “The U.S. Olympic community failed the victims, survivors and their families, and we apologize again to everyone who has been harmed. … Everyone in the Olympic and Paralympic community, including the USOC, must learn from the report and take appropriate actions to strengthen protections for athletes.”

“Our aim was to get to the bottom of what went wrong,” says Dowden. “And it remains our sincere hope that our factual findings will inform efforts going forward to protect young athletes, and will help to ensure that a predator like Nassar can never again find so accommodating a home in sport.”

Read the full report here.

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