Former USA Gymnastics head invokes Fifth Amendment rights at hearing about Nassar

Steve Penny's former deputy testified that he tried to keep allegations quiet.

June 05, 2018, 5:37 PM

The former president of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, who resigned last month, appeared before a Senate Commerce subcommittee Tuesday after being subpoenaed, but he did not answer questions.

Shortly after he responded to a series of queries by invoking his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, he was dismissed.

As Penny exited, a woman stood up and shouted, "Shame!"

The former USA Gymnastics head resigned in March 2017 amid allegations of sexual abuse against the national team's former doctor, Larry Nassar. Nassar pleaded guilty to seven counts of child molestation later that year, but more than 130 women and girls, including Olympic gold medalists, had accused him of assaulting them. He was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison in January of this year.

Rhonda Faehn, who served as Penny's deputy at USA Gymnastics for only 37 days, also testified before the committee. She said she had brought up several allegations of misconduct to Penny, and each time had been told to keep quiet.

"Each time I reported these incidents, I was told by Penny not to say anything to anyone for fear of possibly impeding any investigation of Nassar. I was not aware of any delay in contacting authorities or any efforts to misinform anyone of his departure," Faehn said, as Penny sat next to her at the witness table.

Faehn appeared along with former Michigan State University president Lou Anna Simon, who was also subpoenaed. Nassar was also an employee at MSU.

“I want to say to all the survivors that I am really truly sorry for the abuse you suffered,” Simon said during her opening remarks. Simon resigned from MSU hours after Nassar’s sentencing in January.

Before the hearing, several female gymnasts who were victims of Nassar spoke at a press conference, slamming USA Gymnastics for failing to protect them from predators.

“If Steve Penny cannot be convicted in the court of justice, he should be convicted in the court of public opinion,” gymnast and survivor Jeanette Antolin said.

In a statement released Monday, USA Gymnastics president and CEO Kerry Perry noted that the organization is implementing steps to prevent athletes from being abused in the future, including revamping its safety policies and procedures and providing financial assistance for counseling to athletes who have been abused.

"We want all of our members to know that gymnastics is an incredible sport for young women and men, and one that is taught by individuals who have their athletes’ best interests at heart," Perry said.

Faehn also noted that teams are beginning to bring adult chaperones on trips when young athletes compete in overseas competitions.

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