Steamboat Olympian Deb Armstrong adds name to list of athletes critical of USOC
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Olympic gold medalist Deb Armstrong is proud to be one of the athletes calling for the resignation of members of the United States Olympic Committee and senior leadership in the wake of the release of a report investigating Larry Nassar’s abuse.
“Nassar is a symptom of something, and that symptom was cancerous and was the absolute worst case scenario, but that cancer was allowed to grow,” said Armstrong, a Steamboat Springs resident and the women’s giant slalom gold medalist at the 1984 Olympics.
She is one of many Olympic athletes who make up the Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOC, which, according to a story published by Inside The Games, urged the resignations of several USOC board members following the release of the Ropes & Gray report that chronicles the factors underlying Nassar’s abuse.
Armstrong said it’s important to not marginalize or compartmentalize what happened with Nassar, who was at the center of the USA Gymnastics’ sex abuse scandal and accused of molesting more than 250 young women and one young man going back as far as 1992. Nassar, the former doctor for the national gymnastics team and orthopedic physician at Michigan State University, pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison.
Armstrong said she believes Nassar’s actions are a sign of a bigger problem that is driven by the abuse of power that is often protected by those in charge. She feels the time for change is at hand, but that’s not what has happened in the wake of the report, which claims both the USOC and USA Gymnastics failed to act when allegations against Nassar emerged.
The report also stated that USOC Chief Executive Scott Blackmun and Chief of Sports Performance Alan Ashley were aware of the accusations more than a year before they became public. Ashley was fired after the release of the document, and Blackmun resigned shortly after the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, citing health issues.
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who won three gold medals and a silver in swimming in 1984, helped form the Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOC and is critical of the recent appointment of Rich Bender and the reappointment of Steve Mesler to the USOC board.
The committee said the men defended the status quo and the Athletes Advisory Council was not consulted before the appointments were made. The group does support the appointments of Brad Snyder and Beth Brooke-Marciniak to the board.
“I know Nancy as an Olympian and also as an advocate for women in sports,” Armstrong said. “It was Nancy who reached out to me because she knows how vocal I’ve been … I support the causes of athletes, equality and do a lot around gender in sports.”
Armstrong also shares Hogshead-Makar’s views that athletes, both men and women, need to be more involved in the appointments of USOC board members.
“It all comes down to power,” Armstrong said. “This Nassar thing had to do with power. It was this powerful man who had a powerful reputation, and over time, he leveraged that power in monstrous ways, and he was caught. There were people who were less powerful — these minors, these athletes — that when they would raise a qualm, their voice did not carry the same weight.
“I think bottom line right now, with what’s happening with sports and what’s happening with movements in our country in general, these are all questions about power,” she said.
Armstrong, who has been involved with sports her entire life and was on the U.S. Ski Team from 1982 to 1988, said she would like to see a change of structure that would look out for the interests of athletes and give them a voice.
“If you are not careful, power becomes corrupt … often, the people who speak out to these things get in trouble for it,” Armstrong said.
The Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOC also includes 18-time Grand Slam tennis champion Martina Navratilova and four-time Olympic diving gold medalist Greg Louganis.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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