O’Brien Fellowship Award given to journalists who exposed USA Gymnastics abuse

The+O%27Brien+Fellowship+allows+selected+journalists+to+investigate+a+project+of+their+choice+alongside+student+interns.

Photo by Jordan Johnson

The O'Brien Fellowship allows selected journalists to investigate a project of their choice alongside student interns.

The American Society of News Editors named Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia and Tim Evans of The Indianapolis Star the O’Brien Fellowship Award winners for Impact in Public Service Journalism March 29.

The journalists won for their investigative piece called Out of Balance,” which exposed the USA Gymnastic team’s practice of not reporting sexual abuse allegations as they occurred.

Marquette’s O’Brien Fellowship funds the award and brings the award winners to campus each fall. The journalists will receive $2,500.

I’ve tended to focus on — in my career — giving my voice to people who may not have one in the community,” Kwiatkowski said.

Kwiatkowski had been investigating sexual assaults in Indianapolis schools when she received a tip about a lawsuit with USA Gymnastics. She received thousands of court documents that began to paint a picture of the organization.

Evans became a part of the investigation because he has experience covering issues like sexual abuse. 

“It suddenly became an issue people couldn’t ignore,” Evans said.

As the three journalists began looking into the court order papers, they realized there was a story.

“If they weren’t breaking the law, they certainly were not adhering to the spirit of the law,” Evans said.

The investigation, which began in March 2016, continues today. The first story was released on August 1, 2016. Evans said they looked into 150 cases overall.

These coaches went on to abuse other children. We were looking for a pattern,” Evans said.

“(The story) is about examining the failures in the system,” Kwiatkowski said. 

Evans said he believes it is important to give a voice to those who were silenced.

It blew up in the winter or fall when Mikayla Moreno and Aly Raisman came forward and said they were molested. That coincided with the rise of the #MeToo movement,” Evans said.

Dave Umhoefer, director of the O’Brien Fellowship, said the O’Brien Fellowship pays a sum to the American Society of News Editors to judge the competition and go through the applications.

We get to give this cool award so more people find out about (the fellowship),” Umhoefer said.

Teri Hayt, director of the American Society of News Editors, said Marquette approached the society two years ago to pitch the award.

They wanted to put together an award that showcased public service,” Hayt said.

There are 3 to 5 judges for each category, Hayt said. This year, there were 10 to 12 judges to choose the winners from the finalists.

“That usually is a very robust discussion,” Hayt said.

Umhoefer said the fellowship plans for the winners to visit campus next fall to do the Burleigh Lecture, an annual media ethics lecture sponsored by the College of Communication.

At least one of the journalists will attend the event to represent the team, and they will also speak to student media and classes, Umhoefer said.

Ultimately, Evans said the O’Brien Award provides journalists the opportunity to speak with students.

“We can hopefully inspire other journalists and tell them our story,” Evans said.