January 24, 2018

Shining light on a terrible situation is the only way to inform others of its existence, and sometimes it takes a helluva lot of light before people even recognize the horrors of sexual abuse. USA Gymnastics' former doctor, Larry Nassar has been sentenced to 175 years for his abuses of hundreds of minor athletes over several decades.

The survivor gymnasts had their day in court and emotionally confronted this man responsible for this unspeakable abuse. If this doesn't change the enabling policies that permitted this atrocity to occur for so long, USA Gymnastics will not survive, and that could negatively impact the hopes and dreams of thousands of young gymnasts.

Disclosure: I am a former elite gymnast and I currently coach gymnasts as well, and I've been several times to Karolyi's Ranch.

Nassar's abuses were facilitated by several red flag situations. One of those was USA Gymnastics use of Karolyi's Ranch outside of Houston as the training facility. It is a remote camp and frankly it's a bit creepy if you ask anyone who has had to stay at the ranch. It was where much of Nassar's abuses were permitted to continue for far, far too long. Finally, when Olympic phenom Simone Biles complained about having to return to that "house of horrors" to possibly train for the 2020 Olympics, they decided to drop the ranch as the site of camps for the National Team.

It wasn't just Nassar who created awful memories for so many gymnasts and coaches. It was a culture of winning-at-all-costs that came from both Karolyis, and other once-prominent coaches of Olympic gymnasts like McKayla Maroney (Arthur Akopian) and Jordyn Weiber (John Geddert).

(National Team Coach), Marta Karolyi’s tactics as national team coordinator have been described as power-blind and abusive. Several gymnasts, including the first Olympian Nassar accuser, Jamie Dantzscher, have also alleged that Martha and her husband, legendary coach Bela Karolyi, turned a “blind eye” to the sexual assaults taking place in their facility. For their part, the Karoylis have said they had no knowledge of Nassar’s bad acts nor of any complaints made against him. In a statement to People in February, they also denied allegations “that they physically abused gymnasts and deprived them of food.”

I have heard personally from a coach who is currently named in a lawsuit, who remarked that he would rather have "a gymnast with an eating disorder than a fat gymnast," so the food deprivation and fat shaming is not at all implausible.

The refusal to believe what is actually happening was the major cause of allowing this abuse to continue. USA Gymnastics and many other coaches and parents were alerted to Nassar's troubling behavior, but people don't want to believe this sort of nightmare is actually happening. A gymnast tried desperately in 1997 to inform others, but no one wanted to believe her. Generally, the gymnasts would be shamed into silence. "Jane Doe" recalls telling her coach:

“I mean, nobody wants to believe that something like that is happening. So I think that’s why she (her coach at the time) reacted the way she did.”

Olympic medalist, Shannon Miller explains that there have been major reforms instituted, but there is so much more to do to make sure that the sport of gymnastics can continue without enabling any form of abuse. Fortunately she was not among the victims of Nassar, nonetheless, she has infinite sympathy and respect for the survivors.

Among her suggestions for changing gymnastics, she said, would be employing a rotation of trainers for when gymnasts need to be medically evaluated and that none of the trainers are given personal phone numbers for minors. She added that it's "common sense" to not have a male trainer in the examination room alone with a female of any age.

"I have really tried to be very sensitive to the importance of the victims' voices being heard. I am so in awe of their courage," Miller said.

"It's their voices that I take with me," she added, "and it's the outrage that I feel that I keep with me and I try to channel into a relentless pursuit of agenda-focused change in this sport."

USA Gymnastics and some enablers have definitely dropped the ball on ending myriad forms of gymnasts' abuse and the changes must reflect vast protections for these athletes in the future. Is it ironic that this is all coming to light now because the head of our government is quite likely a sexual predator himself? Perhaps that's one good thing that can come from Trump's installation? We can only hope something good can come from the abuse of power of people like Dr. Nassar and Donald Trump.

Can you help us out?

For 18 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.