Ex-Michigan State president apologises in gymnastics sex abuse scandal

Lou Anna Simon, former president of Michigan State University testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee in Washington, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The president of Michigan State University, who resigned over a scandal involving a doctor convicted of molesting young female gymnasts, apologised before a U.S. Senate Committee on Tuesday.

"I am so sorry that a trusted, renowned physician turned out to be an evil predator, and I am sorry that we did not discover his crimes and remove him from the community sooner," said Lou Anna Simon, who resigned in January. "Now, my hope is that we learn from these horrific events."

Larry Nassar worked at an on-campus clinic at Michigan State.

"Do I wish in hindsight things might have been different?" she added. "I have a lot of wishes about that."

Simon and Steve Penny, who stepped down as president of USA Gymnastics, have been criticized for not doing enough to halt abuse by Nassar, who worked as a doctor for USA Gymnastics.

Penny, who was subpoenaed to testify, asserted his right under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution not to incriminate himself when asked when he first learned of Nassar's abuse.

"I respectfully decline to answer your question," Penny said, when asked whether he felt a responsibility to testify.

After confirming he planned to plead the Fifth to every question, Penny was excused and a woman in the audience yelled: "Shame" at him as he exited.

Nassar received prison sentences of up to 175 and 125 years in two Michigan courts, and 60 years in a separate federal case.

Many victims testified in the Michigan cases that Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment while on his examination table, sometimes hiding it from view of nearby parents.

The disclosures of the long-running abuses sparked investigations by Congress and the U.S. Department of Education into possible offences at U.S. athletic federations and schools.

"There's developed a culture within the Olympics which prioritised winning medals over the health and welfare of the athletes," Republican Senator Joni Ernst said at the hearing.

The scandal also led to the resignation of the entire USA Gymnastics board, and Scott Blackmun, the head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, who left in February, citing medical reasons.

"I am deeply sorry for those who were harmed and horrified that this happened on my watch," Blackmun said in a written statement released by the committee.

Last month, hundreds of women sexually abused by Nassar tentatively agreed to a $500 million settlement with Michigan State.

Penny resigned in March 2017, saying it was in the best interests of the sport.

Kerry Perry, chief executive officer of USA Gymnastics since December, apologised last month to hundreds of female athletes sexually abused by Nassar and told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing that "those days are over."

A third official, Rhonda Faehn, who was dismissed last month as the women's programme director of USA Gymnastics, testified as she cried at one point that she alerted Penny to complaints about Nassar and believed he would report the abuse to authorities.

(Reporting by Makini Brice and David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Cooney)

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