NBC Sports Chief on Olympic Gymnast Sex-Abuse Scandal: "Horrific Failure of the System"

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Larry Nassar

Mark Lazarus also addressed the gaffe made by Korea expert Joshua Cooper Ramo, who seemed to gloss over Japan’s history of imperialism in Korea during NBC’s coverage of the Opening Ceremony.

NBC Sports executives are closely following the scandal involving former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who admitted to molesting some of America's top gymnasts and, on Jan. 24, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison.

“It was a horrific failure of the system,” said NBC Broadcasting and Sports chairman Mark Lazarus, referring to USA Gymnastics. “I believe they need to make a complete overhaul of their systems and of their protocols and of their protections of their athletes.”

The organization has come under intense fire after it was revealed that dozens of women and girls complained about Nassar’s behavior. Speaking to reporters from PyeongChang, South Korea, where the network is five days into the Winter Olympic Games, Lazarus added: “I know there’s an independent investigation underway. For us, that cannot happen fast enough. And I think the USOC also needs to make sure they have an independent investigation and pushes very strict and severe governance rules down through the federation community.”

The United States Olympic Committee also has come under scrutiny after many Olympic gymnasts including Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber and Simone Biles who called out the organization of not doing enough to support them through the ordeal. USOC chief Scott Blackmun was forced to apologize for not attending the trial in Lansing, Michigan. And immediately after Nassar’s sentencing, the USOC issued a statement calling for the entire board of USA Gymnastics to resign. 

NBC Sports execs are hopeful that women’s gymnastics, which is among the most-watched sports of the Summer Games, can recover in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Biles, who won four gold medals at the 2016 Rio Games, has said she plans to compete in 2020. NBC Sports has more than $12 billion invested in the Olympics through 2032.

“Gymnastics is an important part of the Games. And I don’t see it going away,” added Lazarus. “There’s new leadership now at USA Gymnastics and they’re working to piece that back together. I do believe that the USA program will get strong again and very quickly. But first and foremost, they’ve got to create a safe environment for their athletes.”

Lazarus also addressed the gaffe made by Korea expert Joshua Cooper Ramo, who seemed to gloss over Japan’s history of imperialism in Korea during NBC’s coverage of the Opening Ceremony. Asked why they didn’t just edit out the offending remark for the tape-delayed primetime coverage of the Opening Ceremony, Lazarus noted that there was “some degree of misinterpretation” of what Ramo said. But, he added, “I respect and understand that [the Korean people] were offended. We certainly had no intention of that. It’s not our job to equivocate and explain to folks who were offended that they shouldn’t be offended. We simply apologize and move on.”

NBC Sports is five days into its coverage from PyeongChang, and primetime viewing across all platforms has so far dipped six percent compared to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. At this point, the Games are averaging approximately 24 million viewers in primetime, with 22 million on NBC and another 2 million on cable and streaming, according to Joe Brown, senior vp research for NBC Sports. By way of perspective, Lazarus noted that the top two entertainment shows on television (that were on four years ago) are down double digits. The exec also talked up the more than $900 million in ad revenue the network expects to make, which would be a record for a Winter Games. And he also stressed that many of America's most anticipated athletes — including snowboarder Shaun White and skiers Lindsey Vonn and Mikeala Shiffrin — have yet to compete in their signature events.  

"This will turn out to be the most-consumed Winter Games in all of history," said Lazarus.