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Nassar Vile Symptom of Diseased Culture of USA Gymnastics
(3 votes, average 4.33 out of 5)

Justice for Larry Nassar will be served. But there is danger is in assuming that we have a one-guy problem, writes 1986 national champion Jennifer Sey. Pictured: World and Olympic champion Jordyn Wieber speaks at Nassar's sentencing hearing on Friday in Lansing, Michigan, where she revealed for the first time she had been sexually abused for years by the former doctor.

USA Gymnastics (USAG) finds itself mired in the worst sexual abuse scandal in American sports history. Over 140 gymnasts claim that former U.S. Olympic and National Team doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment. Olympic gold medalists McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles and Jordyn Wieber and world champion Maggie Nichols are among the army of women who have come forward with powerful statements describing their abuse at the hands of the doctor entrusted to care for them by USA Gymnastics.

After more than a year of denials, Nassar plead guilty to first degree criminal sexual conduct in November 2017. Asserting that he was performing legitimate and necessary medical care, he had inserted his hands into young athletes' vaginas and anuses; some girls were as young as 9 years old. Without guardians present, without gloves, without request or consent, Nassar violated these gymnasts repeatedly over the course of their athletic careers. He gained their trust as a friendly ear in an otherwise hostile training environment. He listened to them, brought them food when they were hungry, feigned friendship. He abused that trust again and again as these athletes sought only to pursue their dreams of national team berths and Olympic medals.

Nassar has admitted to the molestation of 10 athletes but well over 100 gave victim statements this past week in Lansing, Michigan during the sentencing hearing. He's already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography. He will be sentenced for the criminal sexual assault this week and will undoubtedly spend the rest of his life in prison.

Justice for Nassar will be served. But there is danger is in assuming that we have a one-guy problem. That with Nassar locked up, the issue of serial sexual abuse in gymnastics goes away and the sport is now safe, the girls protected from predators. In the summer of 2016, before the first allegation that Nassar was serially abusing girls as a doctor at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, The Indianapolis Star newspaper began the investigative series "Out of Balance" on the chronic mishandling on the part of USAG of reports of abuse against gymnastics coaches and staff. And, as Juliet Macur from The New York Times writes on Friday, the blatant failure on the part of USAG to protect young athletes, requires the most drastic action — decertification by the USOC. She calls it the "nuclear option", one that is required when a dereliction of duty to protect children is so complete, so craven.

Nassar is the tip of the iceberg. Abuse is so endemic to the sport it almost goes unnoticed. These athletes come to master their sport by handing themselves over to the coaches. They learn to tolerate physical and emotional pain in service of their dreams.

I competed in gymnastics in the 1980s. I was the United States national champion in 1986. I bore witness to physical and emotional abuse since I started the sport in the 1970s. And, even as a child, I was vaguely aware of the threat of sexual abuse in gymnastics circles. As I matured, I became all too aware that this was happening in the places that I trained, to my friends, to my teammates. But I was still a kid — I didn't know what to say or who to say it to. It seemed all the adults colluded to keep those in power in power.

As an adult, I've not been quiet. In 2008, I wrote a book called Chalked Up detailing the physical and emotional abuse so prevalent in the sport. And the sexual abuse that can occur when a powerful coach finds a young girl who wants nothing more than to find herself in his favor, so that she can pursue her dream.

I was forced to train on broken bones, denied food and humiliated for my weight. I was called fat, lazy and pathetic. I watched chairs hurled across the gym at my teammates when a vault was not performed perfectly. I learned to duck and stay quiet. I know what abuse feels like. And I know that when you are treated as such, you begin to accept this behavior as normal. And you are likely to accept far worse as you come to see yourself as deserving of it. If you can't take it, you're weak. You don't want to win. You're lazy. It becomes necessary to endure it to fulfill your aspirations.

The community has accepted abuse as the price you pay to be successful. And these athletes are minors. These aren't young women. They are kids entrusted to coaches and doctors to become champions, and abused with no oversight. And it has been happening for decades.

In Strasbourg in 1978, Marcia Frederick was the first American woman to win a gold medal at the world gymnastics championships. She triumphed on the uneven bars, an unknown American going up against Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast to score a perfect 10.0 at the Olympic Games.

At the 1979 World Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, Frederick walked on to the competition floor feeling utterly overwhelmed and filled with dread. Just two hours before she stepped out to represent her country, she says her coach, Richard Carlson, forced her to perform oral sex on him. As the competition was about to begin, all she could think about was whether the same thing would happen again that night after the meet was over. She ended up losing her uneven bar title, placing sixth, rattled and unable to focus. When she went home, the abuse continued.

"It was sometimes every day, twice a day, could be once a week, could be in the bedroom. If we traveled to competitions. In cars, at competitions, in hotels, everywhere, all the time. And for me it was just this is how this person wants us to be so we're closer and I just did it," Frederick revealed only recently..

After two years of suffering through the assaults, which began just weeks after she turned 16, she told her mother and another coach. "The reactions I got were none. No emotion, no reaction whatsoever."

Despite all that she endured at the hands of Carlson, it's the responses from the people that were supposed to protect her that have caused her the most suffering. "It's everybody's reaction or non-reaction for lack of a better word. That's what changed my life. I don't trust anybody. Everybody's at an arm's length."

In 1981, Jessica Armstrong became the junior elite national champion. She says she was groomed for abuse by a coach in her gym who made her desirous of his attention and willing to do almost anything to avoid his wrath. He complimented her on her appearance, then told her she needed a bra. She says he found ways to be alone with her, drove her to practice. She described the abuse as starting slowly, with fondling, but escalating over time. Eventually, he invited her to his apartment and asked her to perform sexual acts on him. He penetrated her with his fingers. He was controlling and his anger made a day in the gym unbearable. She was willing to do anything to avoid the silent treatment.

"I remember feeling like this was part of what I had to put up with in order to be great," Armstrong recalls. "And I remember feeling that no one believed me or was willing to put themselves out to protect me. I ended up feeling very ashamed about my body and sexuality. My confidence was battered for a long time. But I take heart in the fact that I did my best to warn others. I warned them to stay away."

In 1986, Doe Yamashiro was a 16-year-old aspiring Olympian from California. A high-ranking member of the national team, she was considered a contender for a berth on the 1988 team. She travelled to the east coast for a competition and struggled during the meet. Her personal coach, Don Peters, was also the national team coach at the time. He summoned her to his room after the competition and she assumed she would be berated for her performance. But it was worse. She says he began fondling her that night when she was 16 and had sexual intercourse with her against her will when she was 17.

In 2011, Doe came forward to the USAG and told them her story. After what she says felt like discouragement from the USAG, she went to the press. She wanted to make sure that her coach never had the opportunity to abuse athletes again. And she knew he was still actively coaching. Her story was published in the Orange County Register and her coach was banned from the sport for life and removed from the sport's Hall of Fame after an internal investigation by USAG. He did not contest the ban.

Doe Yamashiro only realized the depth of what had happened to her last year, at the age of 47. "So you have this thing you're doing daily that is risking your life and you have this coach who is spotting you and supposedly keeping you alive," Yamashiro said. "So it just gets really twisted, the whole thing, it gets twisted up."

All these years, she's grieved, endured shame and depression, and only now, is she starting to rebuild her confidence. "Standing up against abuse takes its power over us away. The first step is speaking up," Doe says.

Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, was the first prominent athlete to come forward about Nassar and the first to file a lawsuit against him and USA Gymnastics. She asserts that he "treated" her back pain by inserting his ungloved hand into her vagina. She says it started when she was 13 and continued until she was 19. When she found the confidence and courage to come forward nearly 2 decades after the abuse ended, she was met with disbelief from her own community.

Dantzscher was among the 89 women who have already delivered victim impact statements this past week in Lansing, Michigan at Nassar's sentencing hearing.

Dantzscher revealed, "When I came forward in August 2016, I was attacked on social media. People did not believe me. They believed him. Even people I thought were my friends. They called me a liar, a whore and even accused me of making all of this up just to get attention. Even USA Gymnastics psychologist Ali Arnold was campaigning for positive Larry Nassar stories all over social media to try to discount my accusation. Instead of backing down, I continue to speak."

In March 2017, Dantzscher testified before Congress about the abuse. On November 14, 2017 the Senate passed the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act which requires amateur athletics governing bodies to report sex-abuse allegations immediately to local or federal law enforcement.

Since Dantzscher came forward, world and Olympic gold medalists McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas and most recently, Maggie Nichols and Simone Biles, have also come forward. Maroney says, at age 15, she was given sleeping pills by Nassar en route to the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo, only to wake up alone with him on top of her in his hotel room, getting a "treatment".

How many people had to look the other way for this to go on for so many years? The USAG in its current form cannot be entrusted to change this culture that they've overseen for decades even with a new law pending that requires that they report sex abuse allegations. It needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, the culture reinvented to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.

Proctor and Gamble and Kellog's have ended their sponsorships of USAG amidst the scandal. Meanwhile, USAG has claimed no responsibility for the health and safety of these athletes as a response to the lawsuits filed against them by the victims.

Nassar is the tip of the iceberg. Abuse is so endemic to the sport it almost goes unnoticed. These athletes come to master their sport by handing themselves over to the coaches. They learn to tolerate physical and emotional pain in service of their dreams. The line blurs and it isn't clear when things go from tough coaching to downright abuse. But they do. And now these athletes are shouting #UsToo.

In her victim statement, Aly Raisman roared for them all: "You know what, Larry? I have both power and voice and I am only just beginning to use them. All of these brave women have power and we will use our voices to make sure you get what you deserve."

These brave women deserve real action, real change. No gold medal is worth a lifetime of shame, suffering and crippling self-doubt. The culture that allowed this abuse to go unreported and undetected for decades must come to an end.

Jennifer Sey was the 1986 U.S. national gymnastics champion and member of the U.S. national team for eight years before attending Stanford University. She is the author of Chalked Up (2008), a memoir detailing her time spent as a gymnast. She has written extensively on the culture of gymnastics with columns for and The New York Times. She is now the Chief Marketing Officer for Levi Strauss & Co. and the mother of four children.
Comments (1)add comment

bill terrill said:

grandfather with 8 granddaughters
i am in shock at what has taken place to all of these kids. 4 of my granf daughters love gymnastics. all of you should resign. I hope all of you are under investigation. how can you sleep at night.smilies/shocked.gif
January 21, 2018
Votes: +4

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