U.S.A. gymnasts seek accountability

Trigger warning: this story discusses sexual violence and molestation

 

On Sept. 15, 2021, a group of gymnasts gave testimony for a senate hearing concerning the FBI’s handling of the investigation into allegations of sexual abuse, assault, and molestation by USA Gymnastics coach and doctor Larry Nassar. This senate hearing is part of a more than six year battle to bring justice to those abused by Nassar. 

Those that testified were famous gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Maggie Nichols. Each of them is under the age of 30 and all were abused by Nassar when they were still minors. 

“Enough is enough. Today, I ask you all to hear my voice. I ask you, please, do all that is in your power to ensure that these individuals are held responsible and accountable for ignoring my initial report, for lying about my initial report and for covering up for a child molester,” said Maroney in her opening statement. 

Even though Nassar has been convicted and is now imprisoned, the goal of this specific hearing was to bring light to the role of other organizations in covering up Nassar’s abuse after it was reported by more than six parties, one of whom had video evidence. Those initial interviews were conducted by the FBI in 2015. They were not addressed for over 14 months, and many of the reports of the testimonies were falsified. This is just one example of the oversight, miscommunication, and negligence from the FBI, in accordance with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, during Nassar’s entire case and investigation. 

What allows for athletics to default to the protection of abusers? How could so much time have passed without accountability? Our system is deeply, horribly flawed. The voices, stories, and experiences of these survivors hold weight not just for over 300 girls abused by Nassar but for all young athletes.  

It is unexplainably frustrating that over six years since the initial reports, survivors are having to retraumatize themselves by speaking to the senate, and concurrently the entire public. They are opening up themselves to public comment, opinion, and criticism. But it seems like the only way to reach true justice.

This hearing reminds us of the conversations surrounding mental health in sports that Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka spearheaded this past year, written about in the Sept. 23 edition of the Mess. Why is the weight of wellness and protection of athletes sitting on their own shoulders? Athletes should not have to speak publicly about their trauma in order for change to occur. 

At the hearing, Maroney spoke in excruciating detail about her initial interview with the FBI when she was just 19 years old. She spoke about the silence she received in response to her tears as she described assault after assault. She spoke about the FBI agent asking her, “Is that all?” after she finished describing a particularly horrible assault from Nassar. This recounting alone shines a light on systems and individuals that protect and enable abuse. 

After Maroney’s FBI interview, hundreds more minors were molested because Nassar was not immediately held accountable. This case documented systemic failures on the part of powerful athletic organizations in the U.S. and exemplifies why so many sexual assaults go unreported. I could not be in more awe of the women who sacrificed their own well-being and mental health in order to tell the truth on a national stage. As a country, we need to start working to ensure that this type of trauma and gaslighting never has to happen again.

peacor2@stolaf.edu

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