Condemn United States Gymnastics for their treatment of athletes
In a powerful statement read in court on Jan. 18, 22-year-old McKayla Maroney shared the unfortunate story of her time with USA Gymnastics team. According to , Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis read a statement on Maroney’s behalf, saying, “I had flown all day and night with the team to get to Tokyo. He had given me a sleeping pill for the flight, and the next thing I know I was all alone with him in his hotel room getting a ‘treatment.’ I thought I was going to die that night.”
According to , Maroney was referring to an incident that happened when she was only 15 years old, and unfortunately, she is not the only gymnast to come forward with accusations against the same perpetrator, Larry Nassar.
On Dec. 7, 2017, Nassar, the team doctor for USA Gymnastics and the Michigan State University gymnastics team, was sentenced to 60 years in prison due to child pornography charges, according to . Since then, more than 100 women — both gymnasts and non-gymnasts — have accused Nassar of sexually abusing them, and some of them were as young as six years old at the time of the abuse, according to .
Several gymnasts — including Maroney, Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber — have had the courage in the past week to testify against Nassar in his sentencing hearing, which began on Jan. 16. While sharing their stories and speaking out against Nassar, the survivors — and many other people — have taken issue with the governing organizations that have allowed these incidents to happen, most notably USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee.
According to , women started to speak out against Nassar in 2012, around the time of the London Olympic Games, a time when the members of the 2012 Olympic team were first experiencing Nassar’s abuse. These accusations were dismissed by the USOC, which said that they would not conduct an investigation and defended USA Gymnastics as one of the most prominent leaders in developing policies to protect athletes, according to Raisman’s testimony. The fact that these problems have been ongoing for such a long time points to many issues with the governing organizations that failed to prevent such abuse.
According to , USA Gymnastics refused to disclose to the public the number of sexual misconduct allegations it receives each year. However, USAG has compiled complaint files on more than 50 USAG coaches and has hidden them in a file cabinet in its executive office in Indianapolis. In addition, USAG was allegedly warned of suspected abuse by coaches in four different cases but did not report it. It is unclear as to why USAG would do this, but it is critical that they take more steps to keep their athletes safe.
It seems that USAG fails to create an environment in which survivors of sexual abuse feel safe to speak out. For one, gymnasts have no control over who the team doctor is. This is problematic, because choosing a doctor should be a personal decision for the athlete. This creates a power dynamic that is mostly controlled by the doctor and the governing board, with little room for the gymnasts’ personal needs and concerns. I was unable to uncover the process that USAG goes through when picking a doctor for the team or how Nassar was picked in the first place, but it is irresponsible to have one doctor fulfilling the medical needs and treatments of all gymnasts on a particular team. All gymnasts have different needs, ranging from the specific medical treatments they require to the type of relationship they prefer to have with their doctor. According to Raisman’s testimony, it was mandatory for the team members to receive treatment from Nassar. They were not only presented with a sole option for medical care in the first place but but also manipulated into receiving treatment regardless of whether they wanted it. According to , USA Gymnastics wanted gymnasts to keep quiet about Nassar’s misdoings and according to , Maroney was threatened with a $100,000 fine if she were to provide a victim statement. Medical treatment is certainly very important to athletes, and it is good that USAG has developed a procedure through which all of their athletes can receive treatment if necessary. However, it is irresponsible of USAG to refuse to allow athletes to choose their doctor .
Based on the evidence in the cases against Larry Nassar, these governing organizations seem to be unaware of the sensitive situations that they put their athletes in by requiring a shared and mandatory treatment system. Further, it is unacceptable that USAG has refused to disclose the reports of assault they receive. While board members such as USAG CEO Kerry Perry are now lauding gymnasts for speaking out, “talk is cheap,” as Raisman said in her testimony. The organizations should have taken more proactive steps to protect their athletes.
USAG needs to take further steps to ensure that they are employing trustworthy coaches and staff and keeping all gymnasts safe; crucially, this includes believing individuals who speak out. Gymnasts need to be able to train and compete in an environment in which they feel safe and supported at all times.