In a proposed class action filed this week, former Olympic gymnast Marcia Frederick alleges the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and USA Gymnastics (USAG) failed to report her claims of child abuse at the hands of her coach between 1978 and 1980.
Known for being the first American woman to win gold at the World Gymnastics Championships, Marcia Frederick says she chose to forgo participating in the 1984 Olympic Games because “she was afraid to and physically could not continue training” with her coach, Richard Carlson, after being sexually abused by the man for years.
At the age of 13, according to the lawsuit, Frederick joined the American Gold Gym, run by defendants Muriel Grossfeld and George Ward, to train and prepare for world gymnastics competitions. As part of training, the gymnast says she and other athletes surrendered their lives to the “complete control” of their coaches and the Olympic gymnastics team, down to their training, education, and even when and where they slept. Frederick lived at the gym and was housed in one of its dormitories when defendant Carlson became the new head coach in 1978, the case says.
Frederick claims her coach began physically and sexually abusing her in late 1978, when she was only 15 years old, and that she submitted to his behavior as a necessary evil to further her career, being advised that she must be “close with her coach” to reach her Olympic goals.
Based upon what was told to Ms. Frederick by the adults tasked to supervise her and the culture that USAG and USOC cultivated, and allowed to be cultivated, both in and out of the gym, Ms. Frederick believed she had to submit to Perpetrator Carlson’s sexual demands in order to continue training for the 1980 Olympics.”
In 1980, Frederick reportedly told defendants Grossfeld and Ward about the alleged abuse in detail, but they apparently “took no actions to remedy the situation.”
After winning first place at the 1982 American Classic gymnastics competition, Frederick says she chose not to pursue the 1984 Olympics to escape the alleged abuse she suffered at the hands of her coach.
The gymnast’s story went untold until she reported the incident to the USAG in 2015, after which the organization failed to relay her report to the authorities, the case claims.
Fast-Forward to 2018: The Safe Sport Act
Congress passed the Safe Sport Act in February 2018 “to promote a safe environment in sports that is free from abuse, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, of any amateur athlete.”
The enactment of this new law followed public outcry against the actions of Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics sports physician who was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison in January 2018 after over 150 women and girls claimed in court that he sexually abused them.
This incident prompted the USOC to issue a public apology to those who were abused under its care, followed by the resignation of all 21 board members of the USAG.
The Safe Sport Act now requires the USAG and USOC to report any incidents of assault or abuse to the authorities within 24 hours—making any failure to adhere to this rule a federal crime.
Case Claims the Defendants Failed Their Duty to Report Abuse Under Safe Sport Act
Frederick says under the Safe Sport Act, the USAG and USOC had 24 hours after the Act was passed to report her 2015 claim of abuse to authorities – which would have been February 15, 2018.
As of the date the lawsuit was filed, the defendants allegedly have still not reported the incident, and, as the plaintiff suspects, have failed to report numerous other incidents of abuse.
The lawsuit claims the defendants were responsible for protecting young athletes, defending them against potential perpetrators, and responding appropriately to any signs of assault or abuse – but have wholly failed their duty.
Despite having the power, authority and responsibility to act, Defendants failed Plaintiff Frederick and numerous others by showing deliberate indifference to assault and abuse of minors, fostering an environment of abusive activity towards gymnasts, failing to institute corrective measures to protect gymnasts from assault and abuse, failing to investigate, train, oversee, monitor and supervise employees and agents, including but not limited to Perpetrator Carlson, failing to respond to the complaints of sexual abuse, and/or actively defending and covering up abuse, all at the expense of Plaintiff Frederick and other class members.”
The case seeks to cover all current and former USAG-affiliated and/or USOC-affiliated amateur athletes for whom the organizations received complaints of abuse and failed to appropriately report the incidents.