By, Katherine L. ’20
USA Gymnastics has been the governing body of gymnastics in the United States since 1963, so why is their status now in jeopardy? The short answer is Larry Nassar. Nassar served as USA Gymnastics’ chief medical coordinator from 1996 until 2015, when he unexpectedly stepped down from the position. Less than a year later, hundreds of women came forward with sexual assault allegations against him. In December of 2017, Nassar pleaded guilty to child pornography charges and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. But that was just the beginning. Many more US gymnasts came forward with allegations, including Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, and Jordyn Wieber, four members of the “Fierce Five” from the 2012 Olympics. In January of 2018, after a more thorough investigation had been launched, Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in prison for his crimes. During the trial, 156 victims made statements, most of whom went to Nassar for medical treatment and were abused instead. Nassar initially denied the allegations, either accusing the women of lying or justifying his actions as treatment. However, he eventually pleaded guilty and told the victims, “There are no words that can describe the depth and breadth of how sorry I am for what has occurred.”
Although Nassar is now facing a lifetime in prison, USA Gymnastics (USAG) is still fighting to maintain its status. In wake of the Nassar trial, the US Olympic Committee (USOC) is attempting to remove USAG as the governing body of gymnastics. Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the USOC, explained the committee’s reasoning in an open letter to the gymnastics community, “We believe the challenges facing the organization are simply more than [the organization] is capable of overcoming in its current form.” USAG definitely has problems to address: not only Nassar’s trial, but also its constantly changing leadership. In October, the organization lost its second president in two months, while at the same time, a former president was arrested for involvement in Nassar’s abuse. Hirshland gave USAG the option of stepping down voluntarily, but the organization has not yet publicly made a decision about how to move forward. The USOC has ensured the gymnasts that if USAG’s status were to be revoked, training and competitions would continue as normal. The only difference would be that the USOC would assume USAG’s responsibilities until a new governing body is established.
The gymnasts themselves are actively involved in the initiative to remove USAG. Aly Raisman, who is especially outspoken about the issue, recently took to Twitter to share her opinion: “Change is not easy, and the unknown can be scary, but we need to do whatever it takes to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.” She has also stated that USAG is “100% responsible” for allowing Nassar’s abuse to continue for so long. In fact, many victims claim to have told trainers and coaches at USAG that Nassar assaulted them, and yet action was not taken against him for years. Maggie F. ‘20 has actually met Aly Raisman and has always been inspired by her. Maggie commented on the significance of Raisman speaking up, “It’s sad that her immense success, as well as that of the other gymnasts, came at such a high cost. But I think with her dedication and platform, she and the other gymnasts can do a lot of great work.” In regards to the #MeToo movement, well-respected athletes like Raisman can really make a difference by demonstrating bravery and encouraging change. Attorney John Manly addressed the gymnasts’ support for the USOC’s initiative, “This is a direct result of all the survivors. These women and girls wanted this to happen, not for money and retribution, they advocated for decertification in order to protect children that they will never meet from the USA Gymnastics culture that coddled child molesters.” For now, the future of the gymnastics community is undetermined. But thanks to the US Olympic Committee and the gymnasts who continue to use their voices, progress is clearly being made.