Volume 35

“Vaulting into the End Zone”: How Lessons from the Senate’s USA Gymnastics Investigations Can Prevent the House from Fumbling its Washington Commanders Inquiry

by Stephanie Rigizadeh

Weeks after the United States Women’s Gymnastics Team won silver at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, decorated medalist Simone Biles sat near the end of a long witness table in the Hart Senate Office Building. Biles, “the greatest gymnast of a generation,” was joined by her teammates and fellow abuse survivors: McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, and Aly Raisman. “We suffered and continue to suffer because no one at FBI, USAG, or the USOPC did what was necessary to protect us,” she said. “We have been failed and we deserve answers.”

These survivors’ testimonies before the Senate Judiciary Committee served as the most recent congressional hearing on sexual abuse within USA Gymnastics.7 Three years prior, Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) launched a bipartisan investigation into USA Gymnastics (USAG) and the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC).

On February 3, Congress heard from five more survivors—this time, former Washington Commanders employees who alleged “sexual harassment and verbal abuse within” the organization. Five months after the Senate Judiciary Gymnastics hearing, the House Oversight Committee held its first public roundtable during its investigation into the Washington Commanders’ “workplace misconduct.” The Oversight Committee’s inquiry followed the NFL’s failure to publish a report on its investigation into the team—which itself started after “[m]ore than a dozen women” accused former employees of harassment. Survivors have called on Congress to release the NFL investigation findings.

This Note argues that the House Oversight Committee can learn from the accomplishments and missed opportunities of the Senate USA Gymnastics investigations to achieve a Washington Commanders inquiry characterized by bipartisanship, dialogue, and accountability. Part I provides background on the Senate USA Gymnastics proceedings. Part II summarizes the Washington Commanders investigation details. Part III analyzes the lessons—accomplishments and missed opportunities—from the Senate USA Gymnastics investigations. Based on these lessons, Part IV recommends three takeaways for the Washington Commanders investigation: bipartisanship, hearings with survivors and NFL leadership, and accountability. Like USA Gymnastics, the Washington Commanders inquiry serves as a nationally-significant example of sexual misconduct’s stain on sports. Congress must use the lessons from the Senate Gymnastics investigations to promote accountability and women’s safety in sports.


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