'Shocking, heartbreaking': Olympic gymnastics judge says sexual abuse scandal can lead to change

March 16, 2017: An Olympic judge based in Knoxville says recent changes within USA Gymnastics after a sexual assault scandal can lead to positive changes.

Olympic gymnastics judge and Knoxville coach Steve Butcher says the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked USA Gymnastics is "heartbreaking" and "devastating news" for the sport. 

Butcher works at Premier Athletics in Knoxville, and was the president of the men's gymnastics technical committee during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Rio Games were Butcher's fourth as a judge. 

Through his work in the gymnastics community, Butcher said he's known Dr. Larry Nasser for about 25 years. Nasser, who treated some of the most famous Olympic gymnasts in recent history, is facing 23 sexual abuse charges, and has been accused by more than 80 girls and women that he sexually abused them during treatments. 

On Thursday, the CEO of USA Gymnastics resigned amid criticism he hadn't done enough to protect gymnasts from sexual abuse or responded to allegations against coaches appropriately or quickly enough.

Butcher said he wasn't surprised by the change in leadership, and believes it could end up bringing much-needed change and healing to the organization. 

Butcher also personally knows many of the women who have come forward with complaints of abuse. 

"I know them personally. I know them, I know their coaches, I've known their families, their husbands and kids now," he told WBIR 10News. "It's not just shocking, it's devastating. I feel like it's a weight on my heart when they tell me what they've endured." 

MORE: USA Gymnastics CEO who handled sexual abuse scandal resigns

While the scandal has cast a negative light on one of the most popular Olympic sports, Butcher said it is leading gyms to sharpen their protocols for protecting athletes in the future. 

"I'm just happy the young ladies that were victims were courageous enough and force change in the future," he said. "Everybody is putting more safety precautions up. The gyms here in Knoxville are really cautious, background checking their staff and doing everything they can to protect their young athletes." 

Butcher said it's important, too, for parents to look out for their kids and make sure they are working with coaches who no only make them a better athlete, but a better person. 

"I can tell every parent out there is the most important thing to be aware of is traveling teams and trusting the coaches to be responsible on road trips," he said. 

Butcher has been asked to be part of the International Gymnastics Federation Task Force that is working to create protocols to look after athletes in the sport. He will soon be moving to Switzerland to begin that work. 

"These international task forces are new, but everyone knows these problems are not just happening in the U.S. but worldwide," Butcher said. "I'm concerned about the problems we don't hear about that means there's a chance there's every more abuse ... The goal is for more people to come forward and more protocols and rules setup to protect the athletes." 

Butcher is making it his personal mission to ensure young athletes - both male and female - are protected in the sport. 

"My personal effort is going to be in the future to do anything we can worldwide, not just in the U.S., to develop programs where athletes feel more reassured if they come forward about a abuse case, but to advise the parents and athletes to prevent them. That's my mission," he said. "It's so hard to be a male in these cases, they all involve male coach and female athletes ... but I worry about young male athletes as well ... It's going to be my mission to help develop better programs to protect them." 

© 2017 WBIR.COM


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