A reported bout with Covid kept actor Denzel Washington from attending the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House on Thursday, but 16 others, including Olympic Champion Simone Biles, U.S. soccer player Megan Rapinoe, and Khazir Khan, joined President Joe Biden to accept their respective honors.
Washington, Khan, Rapinoe, and Sandra Lindsay each received the medals – the country’s highest civilian honor.
“The Fourth of July week reminds us of what brought us together long ago and still binds us – binds us at our best, what we strive for,” Biden remarked during the ceremony.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles told Congress in forceful testimony Wednesday that federal law enforcement and gymnastics officials turned a “blind eye” to USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of her and hundreds of other women.
Biles told the Senate Judiciary Committee that “enough is enough” as she and three other U.S. gymnasts spoke in stark emotional terms about the lasting toll Nassar’s crimes have taken on their lives. In response, FBI Director Christopher Wray said he was “deeply and profoundly sorry” for delays in Nassar’s prosecution and the pain it caused.
The four-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time world champion — widely considered to be the greatest gymnast of all time — said she “can imagine no place that I would be less comfortable right now than sitting here in front of you.” She declared herself a survivor of sexual abuse.
“I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” Biles said through tears. In addition to failures of the FBI, she said USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee “knew that I was abused by their official team doctor long before I was ever made aware of their knowledge.”
Biles said a message needs to be sent: “If you allow a predator to harm children, the consequences will be swift and severe. Enough is enough.”
The hearing is part of a congressional effort to hold the FBI accountable after multiple missteps in investigating the case, including the delays that allowed the now-imprisoned Nassar to abuse other young gymnasts. All four witnesses said they knew girls or women who were molested by Nassar after the FBI had been made aware of allegations against him in 2015.
An internal investigation by the Justice Department released in July said the FBI made fundamental errors in the probe and did not treat the case with the “utmost seriousness” after USA Gymnastics first reported the allegations to the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis in 2015. The FBI has acknowledged its own conduct was inexcusable.
Wray blasted his own agents who failed to appropriately respond to the complaints and made a promise to the victims that he was committed to “make damn sure everybody at the FBI remembers what happened here” and that it never happens again.
A supervisory FBI agent who had failed to properly investigate the Nassar case, and later lied about it, has been fired by the agency, Wray said.
McKayla Maroney, a member of the gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic gymnastics team in 2012, recounted to senators a night when, at age 15, she found the doctor on top of her while she was naked — one of many times she was abused. She said she thought she was going to die that evening. But she said that when she recalled those memories in a call with FBI agents, crying, there was “dead silence.”
Maroney said the FBI “minimized and disregarded” her and the other gymnasts as they delayed the probe.
“I think for so long all of us questioned, just because someone else wasn’t fully validating us, that we doubted what happened to us,” Maroney said. “And I think that makes the healing process take longer.”
Biles and Maroney were joined by Aly Raisman, who won gold medals alongside them on the 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams, and gymnast Maggie Nichols. Raisman told the senators that it “disgusts” her that they are still looking for answers six years after the original allegations against Nassar were reported.
Raisman noted the traumatic effect the abuse has had on all of them.
“Being here today is taking everything I have,” she said. “My main concern is I hope I have the energy to just walk out of here. I don’t think people realize how much it affects us.”
Speaking alongside senators after the hearing, Raisman called for more investigations of USA Gymnastics, Olympic officials and the FBI. The probes should be independent and go back decades, she said, because there might still be people in positions of power who should be held accountable.
Biles acknowledged in January 2018 that she was among the hundreds of athletes who were abused by Nassar. She is the only one of the witnesses who competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — held this year after a one-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic — where she removed herself from the team finals to focus on her mental health.
She returned to earn a bronze medal on beam but told the committee the lingering trauma from her abuse at the hands of Nassar played a factor in her decision to opt out of several competitions. At the hearing, she said she had wanted her presence in Tokyo “to help maintain a connection” between the failures of officials and the Olympic competition, but that “has proven to be an exceptionally difficult burden for me to carry.”
Democratic and Republican senators expressed disgust over the case and said they would continue to investigate. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said it was among the most compelling and heartbreaking testimony he had ever heard.
“We have a job to do and we know it,” Durbin said.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, called Nassar a “monster” and wondered how many other abusers have escaped justice, considering that even world-class athletes were ignored in this case.
The internal probe by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who testified alongside Wray, was spurred by allegations that the FBI failed to promptly address complaints made in 2015 against Nassar. USA Gymnastics had conducted its own internal investigation and the organization’s then-president, Stephen Penny, reported the allegations to the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis. But it was months before the bureau opened a formal investigation.
The watchdog investigation found that when the FBI’s Indianapolis field office’s handling of the matter came under scrutiny, officials there did not take any responsibility for the missteps and gave incomplete and inaccurate information to internal FBI inquiries to make it look like they had been diligent in their investigation.
The report also detailed that while the FBI was investigating the Nassar allegations, the head of the FBI’s field office
in Indianapolis, W. Jay Abbott, was talking to Penny about getting a job with the Olympic Committee. He applied for the job but didn’t get it and later retired from the FBI, the report said.
Nassar pleaded guilty in 2017 to federal child pornography offenses and sexual abuse charges in Michigan. He is now serving decades in prison after hundreds of girls and women said he sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment when he worked for Michigan State and Indiana-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.
Litigation over the abuse may soon be coming to an end after USA Gymnastics and hundreds of Nassar’s victims filed a joint $425 million settlement proposal in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Indianapolis last month.
With few exceptions, every four years, citizens of the world revel in the pomp, ceremonies and athletic excellence of the Olympic Games. So-mething in the human spirit admires the competition of the games and, for that moment in time, the emergence of the best athletes.
Like many this year, my attention has been primarily focused on gymnastics. I admire the grace, skill and agility of gymnasts and the long-term perseverance required to develop their craft to the level of world competition. I have nieces who are fledgling gymnasts and I know the extent of commitment required for them to compete at the local and state levels. I know of the hours they spend in practice each day while also managing theirschoolwor and household res- ponsibilities. I can attest that this is no small or insignificant task. It tests the full measure of their physical and emotional strength.
My exposure to their gymnastic experience gives me a degree of insight into the challenge of maintaining the personal “balance” required to compete with regularity. That insight is why I condemn the criticism directed at Simone Biles for prioritizing her mental health ahead of competing in the Tokyo Olympics.
I have read that she has been criticized for a lack of “toughness.” Some criticism questions her patriotism and commitment to the country that she is supposed to represent. She has been accused of being self- -centered and self-indulgent. These unjust critiques are of the same ilk as those used to deride and degrade tennis star Naomi Osaka. Both of these young women have chosen their mental well-being over the expectations for their athletic performance. This choice is just as important as if they had pulled a muscle or broken a bone. (This may not be true for Simone, as she has been known to compete with broken toes.)
Their concern for personal mental health and well-being may be a newly expressed reason, but the expected “right” of the external control of “our” performance is nothing new. It harkens back to the control exercised throughout our existence in this nation — from slavery through the civil rights era to today.
When Colin Kaepernick took a knee, he was disparaged as lacking a sense of patriotism. He was called a “bastard” by the sitting president. He was accused of being an ingrate who was privileged to be allowed to make the huge sums of money he made for playing a game. His placing principles over dollars was inconsistent with the mindset of those who criticized him. Prospering silently while others suffer under the oppression of systemic racism was not in Colin’s “playbook.” His critics could only focus on money, but his principles caused him to focus on the injustice occurring daily in his community.
And who can forget Fox Media personality (not newscaster) Laura Ingraham telling LeBron James to “shut up and dribble.” I have always believed that telling someone to “shut up” was among the greatest insults one could give another human being. It is tantamount to telling someone he or she is worthless. It is unacceptable to think that LeBron would sit in silence while the so-called leader of the free world practiced the vilest racism.
At the peril of their careers and lifestyles, Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Jim Brown, John Carlos, Tommie Smith and others have ignored the demand for them to “shut up and perform” or “go along to get along.” Each of them demonstrated their steadfast belief in a purpose higher than just existing as well-paid but muted entertainers. They, and we, are more than performers. Like the spirit of the Olympiad, we will exercise our right to express the full measure of our talents.
Williams is president of the National Congress of Black Women.
Texas colleges and high schools are well represented in Tokyo.
Texas has once again sent a strong contingent across the globe to compete in the Olympics, this time to Tokyo for the 2020 games.
There are dozens of Texans suiting up for Team USA, and a number of others representing other countries. If you spot someone we’ve missed, please let us know by emailing email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mackenzie Brown; USA; Flint native
Shane Baz; USA; Concordia Lutheran
Tim Federowicz; USA; former Ranger
Todd Frazier; USA; former Ranger
Scott Kazmir; USA; Cy Falls
Ian Kinsler; Israel; former Ranger
Nick Martinez; USA; former Ranger
Simeon Woods-Richardson; USA; Fort Bend Kempner
Ariel Atkins; USA; Duncanville and Texas
Luka Doncic; Slovenia; Dallas Mavericks
Allisha Gray; USA 3-on-3; Dallas Wings
Josh Green; Australia; Dallas Mavericks
Brittney Griner; USA; Baylor
Nicolo Melli; Italy; former Maverick
Virginia “Ginny” Fuchs; USA; Bellaire Episcopal
Lawson Craddock; USA;Cypress Springs
Conor Fields ;USA; Plano native
Alison Gibson; USA; Texas
Hailey Hernandez; USA; Southlake Carroll
Jordan Windle, USA, Texas
Courtney Hurley; USA; Northside Warren
Kelley Hurley; USA; Northside Warren
Anna Van Brummen; USA; Houston native
Bryson DeChambeau; USA; SMU
Carlos Ortiz; Mexico; UNT
Simone Biles; USA; Spring resident
Jordan Chiles; USA; Spring resident
Brian Irr; USA; Plano trained
Tom Scott; USA; Jesuit, TCU and UT-Dallas
Gia Doonan; USA; Texas
Kevon Williams; USA; Houston Westbury
Vincent Hancock; USA; Fort Worth resident
Phillip Jungman, USA; Caldwell native
Austen Smith; USA; Keller resident
Janine Beckie; Canada; Texas Tech
Jane Campbell; USA; Houston Dash
Kristie Mewis; USA; Houston Dash
Cat Osterman; USA; Cypress Springs
Townley Haas; USA; Texas
Natalie Hinds; USA; Midland
Lydia Jacoby; USA; Texas commit
Drew Kibler; USA; Texas
Simone Manuel; USA; Fort Bend Austin
Erica Sullivan; USA; Texas commit
Table tennis (1)
Huijing Wang; USA; Sugar Land native
Paige McPherson; USA; Abilene native
Austin Krajicek; USA; Plano resident
Track and field (20)
Jordin Andrade; Cape Verde; Parker University
Ronnie Baker; USA; TCU
Trayvon Bromell; USA; Baylor
Ryan Crouser; USA; Texas
Teahna Daniels; USA; Texas
Tara Davis; USA; Texas
Bryce Deadmon; USA; Fort Bend Ridge Point and Texas A&M
Melissa Gonzalez; Colombia; Carrollton Creekview and Texas
The U.S. Olympic gymnastics teams often include at least one athlete who trains in Texas.
Expect that trend to continue this summer.
This week, gymnasts from across the country will gather at the U.S. gymnastics Olympic trials in St. Louis.
The men’s national team will compete Thursday and Saturday; the women’s squad on Friday and Sunday. Both will name their respective Olympic teams about a half-hour after their second meet.
The stakes are even higher this cycle — and not only because the coronavirus pandemic postponement added an extra year of disjointed training.
Each team will include just four gymnasts, down from five at the 2012 and 2016 Games, six from 2000-08 and seven before that. The women will send an additional two individual Olympians — who will represent the U.S. but not contribute in team competitions — and the men will select one.
Several Texans are prime candidates to represent the U.S. this summer.
Some are obvious. (We’re looking at you, Simone Biles).
Others are under-the-radar candidates hoping to make strong final impressions in front of a national TV audience at the trials.
Here’s a look at five gymnasts with Texas ties who are in the mix.
Any list about gymnastics would be incomplete without the 24-year-old Biles, a Spring resident who’s widely viewed as the greatest gymnast of all time. Biles, who won five medals, including four gold, at the 2016 Rio Olympics, will officially make her second Olympic team this weekend. Watch for Biles to show off some of her unprecedented new moves — a Yurchenko double pike vault and triple-twisting, double-flipping tumbling pass — in St. Louis as her final test before she re-takes the Olympic stage.
Blakely, a 16-year-old who trains at World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Frisco, wouldn’t have qualified to Olympic trials if not for the coronavirus pandemic postponement. She just became age eligible (16 years old) in 2021 and has capitalized on her surprise opportunity this year. Look for Blakely to stand out on balance beam, where her routine features some of the country’s highest difficulty, and as a steady all-around contender.
Chiles, a Vancouver, Washington, native, has trained near Houston at Biles’ World Champions Centre gym since 2019. Often overlooked for international competition assignments early in her senior elite career, Chiles, 20, has appeared confident, steady and dominant in 2021 and placed third all-around at the national championships earlier this month in Fort Worth. While not as much of a guarantee for an Olympic berth like Biles, Chiles is a near lock to make the squad if she has smooth performances this weekend.
Malabuyo’s family moved to the Dallas area two weeks after her 11th birthday because her former coach in California said she showed promise and thought she should pursue the elite level at Texas Dreams Gymnastics in Coppell. Now, Malabuyo is 18 years old, forged by rounds of hardship in recent years, and making a dark-horse push to be part of the U.S. team. If she has a similar two-day performance to her fourth all-around finish at the national championships, Malabuyo could be in prime position to travel to Tokyo.
Colin Van Wicklen
Van Wicklen, a Magnolia native who trains at the University of Oklahoma, is a relative unknown entering the trials. He was part of the 2018 world championships team, but hasn’t competed this season because of adrenal fatigue. He earned his invitation to the Olympic trials via a petition after the national championships. If he has strong showings on his best events — high bar, vault and floor exercise — Van Wicklen could complement the specialties of the men’s Olympic team front-runners well.