The former head of USA Gymnastics, who is accused of covering up sexual assault accusations made against Larry Nassar by not reporting immediately reporting them to law enforcement and by not telling other athletes and Michigan State University about the allegations, refused to answer questions before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.
Steve Penny, 54, was called to testify before the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security, which is looking into how USA Gymnastics handled the sexual abuse accusations against Nassar, its longtime team doctor. Nassar was convicted of several counts of sexual assault in Michigan, along with federal child pornography charges, and is serving what is essentially a life sentence.
His attorney, Robert Bittman, said in a statement to USA Today that his client, “declined to testify before the subcommittee while the matters that attempt to wrongly shift blame for Nassar’s crimes remain open,” referencing lawsuits being brought against Penny, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. After Penny Pleaded the 5th, a Former Gymnast Who Was a Victim of Abuse Yelled ‘Shame’ at Him as
He Walked Out of the Senate Hearing
Steve Penny pleaded the fifth and refused to give a comment or answer questions when he was summoned to appear before a Congressional subcommittee investigating the Nassar case on Tuesday. “I would like to answer your question but I have been instructed by my attorney to assert my rights under the Fifth Amendment,” Penny said during his brief appearance before the Senate subcommitte.
As he was walking out of the hearing, a former gymnast who was herself a victim of abuse, Amy Compton, yelled “shame” at him.
During the hearing, Senator Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, said to Penny, “Juries are instructed they should draw no conclusion from someone taking the Fifth but the popular impression is there’s something to hide, and in many instances I think that’s fair.”
Penny would not comment to reporters as he left.
Penny is named in several lawsuits being brought against USA Gymnastics by the athletes abused by Nassar. Through his lawyer, he has denied doing anything wrong.
During the hearing on Tuesday, Blumenthal said, “Each of the individuals who will testify this afternoon failed in a profoundly significant way to protect these young women. The system failed. There was an institutional collapse of moral and legal responsibility.”
In May 2017, Penny delayed giving a deposition in one of the sexual abuse lawsuits brought against him because he was planning to attend social functions at the Indy 500. Penny, who had resigned from USA Gymnastics two months earlier, wanted to network at the event, his lawyer told a Los Angeles County judge, who agreed to the delay.
“Steve Penny is no longer employed,” his attorney, Daniel White wrote, in a letter to his opposing counsel, according to People. “Because of his former position, he has many contacts who will be attending Race Week. He intends to participate in as many pre-race function as possible in an effort to connect with those who may be of some assistance in his re-employment efforts. I can assure you he feels the need to do this is critical to the needs of his family.”
Another attorney for Penny, Edith Matthai, told the Orange County Register, “Mr. Penny agreed to appear one of the dates suggested by plaintiff’s counsel. Plaintiff’s counsel then filed a motion making defamatory statements about Mr. Penny in an attempt to have the deposition take place at an earlier date. That motion was denied by the court. Yet, the motion served the plaintiff’s counsel’s goal to obtain negative publicity about Mr. Penny and USA Gymnastics.”
2. He Has Been Accused of Waiting a Month to Contact Law Enforcement After Learning of the Accusations Against Nassar & of Not Notifying Michigan State University
Penny has been accused of covering up the accusations against Larry Nassar by waiting a month to contact law enforcement. It is also alleged that he never told Nassar’s other employer, Michigan State University, about the accusations, which allowed Nassar to continue practicing medicine and seeing patients at MSU during the year it took for an investigation to be conducted.
Penny has denied any wrongdoing. USA Gymnastics has said it didn’t share the information with other gymnasts, parents or MSU because the FBI advised the organization not to intefere with the investigation, NBC News reports.
An email provided to Congress shows Penny told USA Gymnastics board members not to discuss the Nassar allegations with anyone even before the FBI got involved. “You are instructed not to have any conversations with anyone concerning this issue until further notice,” he wrote in a July 21, 2015, email. The note was sent to board members notifying them that a lawyer was about to tell Nassar that athletes were “uncomfortable” with his procedures. Penny didn’t contact the FBI until July 27, 2015, five weeks after the first accusations were made to him about Nassar.
During the Senate hearing on Tuesday, Blumenthal told Penny, the “documents will speak for you.” Blumenthal also asked a questions, which Penny did not answer, about a document that suggested Penny had concerns about Nassar in 2013 and 2014. The email referred to a “code of silence,” within the gymnastics organization, according to NBC News.
3. Penny Was Given a $1 Million Severance Package When He Resigned in March 2017
Penny began working for USA Gymnastics in 1999. He was initially a senior vice president, focusing on business development. His role grew to encompass marketing, sponsorships, event operations, TV deals and communications. In April 2005, Penny became the president and CEO of USA Gymnastics. He held that position until his resignation amid the Nassar scandal in March 2017. He has not spoken publicly about the Nassar case since stepping down.
Upon his resignation, Penny received a $1 million severance package, the Wall Street Journal reported in June 2017. He was not fired for cause, but resigned under pressure from the U.S. Olympic Committee, whose board had voted to recommend that Penny step down.
Sources told the WSJ, “several board members wanted Penny to remain despite lingering questions about whether the federation acted quickly enough to address allegations that its longtime team doctor, Larry Nassar, sexually abused female gymnasts for years. Instead, a deal was reached based on approximately two years of Penny’s compensation. These people said terms were confidential.”
Tax records showed Penny earned more than $557,000 in 2014, including a base salary of $395,577, and then received $628,445, in 2015, including a base salary of $460,078.
USA Gymnastics said in a statement its board, “accepted his resignation and the organization is moving forward. Employment-related information is confidential except for financial matters when reported in public tax filings.”
On Tuesday, John Manly, an attorney for many of Nassar’s victims, said in a statement about Penny’s silence, “He used intimidation tactics and a non-disclosure agreement to bully and silence Nassar’s victims. He was given a one-million-dollar golden handshake by USAG when he was forced to resign. Now he lacks the common decency to cooperate with a U.S. Senate committee that is trying to protect young athletes from sexual predators.”
4. He Grew Up in Washington & Graduated From the University of Washington in 1987
Penny grew up in Mercer Island, Washington, and graduated from Mercer Island High School. He then went on to graduate from the University of Washington in 1987 with a degree in speech and communications.
In 2012, ahead of the London Olympics, Penny was profiled by his hometown newspaper, the Seattle Times, about his rise in the gymnastics world:
Mercer Island native Steve Penny has never claimed to be able to do the flips and twists that have landed the U.S. men’s and women’s gymnastics teams as top medal contenders at the London Olympics. What the president and CEO of USA Gymnastics can do is sing Motown. And while not as useful as being able to do an Amanar vault, it does have its benefits. Penny turned heads 13 years ago when, as the newly hired senior vice president at USA Gymnastics, he got up and enthusiastically serenaded Chinese gymnastics officials by belting The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’ after a formal dinner at a competition in Asia. The Chinese hosts were impressed. So, frankly, were the Americans. ‘We didn’t expect that,” said Ron Galimore, USA Gymnastics’ COO, who got to know Penny on that trip. ‘We cracked up. We thought, ‘I guess he’s OK!” ‘My Girl’ was just the beginning. Since becoming president and CEO of USA Gymnastics in 2005, the 6-foot-4 Penny, a graduate of Mercer Island High School and the University of Washington, has emerged as an outgoing presence in a reserved sport.
In that profile, Peter Vidmar, then-chairman of the USA Gymanstics board of directors, told the newspaper, “(Penny) may not look like a gymnast, but he’s a gymnast at heart.
Galimore added, “He’s not afraid to step out and do something that just cracks everybody up that you’d think is out of character. I have to give him credit for it. At international functions, he does whatever he needs to support the sport at the highest level, including handstands. And I’m the one who has to spot him.”
5. Before Working for USA Gymnastics, Penny Worked in Sports Marketing for USA Cycling, the Goodwill Games, Turner Broadcasting & the Seattle Mariners
Before joining USA Gymnastics in 1999, Penny worked for several different organizations in marketing and promotions, according to the New York Times. He began his career in the Seattle Mariners front office, working as a marketing and promotions assistant. He then worked at Turner Broadcasting and the Goodwill Games as a research manager,
In 1991, Penny became the director of media and public relations for USA Cycling and went on to become managing director of the United States Cycling Federation. In 1996, he moved back to Seattle and began working for the sports marketing company Bob Walsh Enterprises.
Penny is married and has three daughters, triplets who were born in 2008. He now lives in Fishers, Indiana. On his Linkedin profile, Penny now lists himself as a “strategic thinker,” with his job as TBD.