WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) helped advance sweeping bipartisan legislation to reform the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) that aims to protect Olympic and amateur athletes from abuse. The legislation – which includes Peters’ bipartisan amendment to strengthen whistleblower protections for Olympic and amateur athletes who report abuse – was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act was introduced following findings of systemic abuse within the U.S. Olympic movement and the sexual abuse of former U.S. Olympic and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar.
“For too long, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s culture of retribution created an environment where monsters like Larry Nassar were protected and survivors were either silenced or punished,” said Senator Peters. “We must demand more from an organization whose core mission is to foster the development of young athletes. What happened at both the US Olympic Committee and at Michigan State can never happen again. I will continue working to hold these institutions accountable and ensure that this commonsense legislation passes the Senate and becomes law.”
“Even the fear of retaliation can dissuade athletes from coming forward with their grievances, especially athletes who are not yet retired,” said Han Xiao, Chair, Athletes’ Advisory Council. “This has been shown time and again and must be addressed in order to encourage athletes to report serious issues before they become systemic. Senator Gary Peters’ amendment would provide athletes with recourse for retaliatory behavior against them and serve as an effective deterrent to retaliation against athletes.”
“This is outstanding, best practice legislation that offers the best of whistleblower rights to athletes who have experienced abuse,” said Tom Devine, Legal Director, Government Accountability Project. “The bill would empower athletes who currently have no rights against retaliation on our national teams.”
The legislation seeks to implement measures to promote a culture that puts the safety and interests of athletes first, ensure greater transparency and accountability and reinforce the independence and authority of the U.S. Center for SafeSport—the body responsible for investigating allegations of sexual abuse against athletes and coaches. Peters’ bipartisan amendment developed in partnership with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) makes clear that athletes and U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee employees cannot be retaliated against for coming forward and establishes a process to ensure they receive remedies should any retaliatory actions occur.
Peters also authored an additional amendment that passed as part of the bipartisan legislation that requires the USOPC to hire a third party entity to conduct an annual anonymous survey of active USOPC athletes on their comfort level with their relevant organization and the USOPC as a whole. This effort would also include questions related to sexual harassment and abuse in an effort to empower athletes and give them more of a voice without the fear of retaliation. Peters’ amendment was supported by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Commerce Committee.
Peters has supported numerous efforts in Congress to protect athletes and young adults from abuse. Earlier this year, Peters urged his colleagues to pass bipartisan legislation he reintroduced to require leaders of universities that receive federal funding to certify they have reviewed any reports of sexual abuses perpetrated by university employees. Peters has also criticized former leaders at Michigan State University (MSU) for their failure to support the victims of Larry Nassar and William Strampel, and supported the findings of a recently concluded federal investigation into MSU’s conduct surrounding those cases.