Tag Archives: gymnastics

Sexual Abuse Allegations Rock USA Gymnastics

21 Aug

I wrote this awhile ago and it never got published and so, given the fact that Aly Raisman just spoke publicly about this for this first time this past weekend, I thought maybe I would drop it here. Trigger warnings for sexual violence and pedophilia. 

On Tuesday, March 28th, 2017, former Olympic gymnast Jamie Dantzscher testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about her experiences as an elite athlete. Dantzscher reported that starting when she was 12 years old and continuing through the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games six years later, she was sexually abused by the USA Gymnastics (USAG) team doctor, Larry Nassar. She spoke in front of The Committee in support of an amendment to the federal law that governs Olympic sports organizations in America. This amendment, formulated by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Cali), would overhaul the ways in which organizations that put together the United States Olympic teams deal with allegations of sexual assault and misconduct within their sport. The legislation would require anyone associated with an Olympic governing body, such as USAG, to report allegations of sexual misconduct to law enforcement and would create procedures intended to prevent coaches who have been fired due to such accusations from getting a job at another club. Although this legislation would impact all Olympic sports, it appears to be in direct response to what some have characterized as gross negligence on the part of USAG when it comes to protecting its athletes from serial sexual predators.

Women’s gymnastics poses a unique challenge when it comes to preventing misconduct. Athletes spend roughly 35 hours per week in the gym, sometimes working one-on-one with their coaches. Hands-on spotting is required to assure athlete safety, and as a result coaches are often male owing to the fact that on average men are taller and have more upper body strength than women. The sport also requires that an incredibly high level of trust exists between coach and athlete; a poorly placed foot or a missed hand could result in serious injury or death. In the best cases, this leads to an incredible bond between gymnast and mentor, where the two individuals function as a team and are able to help one another reach the goals they have set. In the worst case, this unquestioned trust and imbalanced power dynamic can result in a situation where a coach abuses the athlete or else turns a blind eye to the misconduct of others in pursuit of a shared dream. In the case of Dr. Larry Nassar, and of 2010 USAG Coach of the Year Marvin Sharp before him, the organization seems to have prioritized its own success over the safety of the athletes, many of whom are minors.

In an interview with 60 Minutes this past February, former USAG National Team member Jessica Howard summarized her experience of abuse and explained why she and the dozens of other gymnasts who have come forward since Nassar’s arrest didn’t do so previously. She said, “no one wants to step out of line because there’s a group of people that make decisions that dictate whether you’re successful or not. So you just comply with what you’re told to do.” The people who make up the governing body of USAG, the body that chooses who represents the United States in international competition, are the same people who see these young women monthly at the National Team Training Camp in Huntsville, Texas and they are the same people who hire the support and medical staff that are tasked with keeping the athletes safe and healthy. The gymnasts spend their entire childhood and early adulthood attempting to impress the members of USAG because those people hold the key to their futures; without the approval of the USAG Selection Committee the gymnasts dreams simply cannot come true. As a result, the athletes unquestioningly do as they are told because they assume, understandably and probably correctly, that obedience is required for the realization of their dreams.

As of March 23rd, 103 women have come forward and joined the federal lawsuit against Dr. Larry Nassar. Among these women are members of the USA gymnastics national team, club gymnasts in Eastern Michigan as well as student athletes at Michigan State University where Dr. Nassar had an office. Almost all of the suits list USAG, MSU and Geddert’s Twistars, a Lansing-area gymnastics club, as codefendants for ignoring red flags about Nassar’s behavior. What this growing lawsuit indicates is that over the course of at least 2 decades USAG, as well as other organizations and individuals, shirked their moral responsibility to protect the women under their guidance and instead allowed a doctor to have unfettered access to them. Perhaps these organizations operated in a shadowy area of the law, but what they did was look the other way as young women were routinely victimized and disempowered under the guise of medical attention. If the situation involving the Catholic Church is any indication of what is to come, it seems likely that this lawsuit will grow larger by the week, month and year and the uphill battle that USAG will have to fight to regain its reputation as a safe space for young athletes is only beginning.

Those Pre-Race Jitters

22 Feb

Tomorrow morning at 4:45am a car, driven by the awesome Leo, will come pick me up to take me to John F. Kennedy International Airport for my 6:50 flight to New Orleans.  I will arrive a few hours later in the Big Easy for my fourth time, and only the third time I’ll make the trip by plane.  At exactly this time last year I was leaving New York by car.  With me behind the wheel and two friends, a cat, a disco ball, and a life-size cardboard cutout of R2D2 taking up the backseat of a rental car with Tennessee plates (glad to avoid New York plates on a drive through the south!) we set off from New York City to New Orleans, by way of about a dozen different states, to set a friend up in her new apartment in her new city to start a new chapter of her life.  It was a fun ride followed by a fantastic few days of exploring a new town and then a great 13.1 miles through a city I knew I would be visiting yearly, if not more.  I had no expectations of that race considering I had spent the better part of the previous week either sitting in a car, sitting in a bar, or exploring every inch of New Orleans by foot.  It turned out better than I had expected.  It was my best time in a half marathon up until that point, my best time, that is, until I bettered it by almost 6 minutes about 3 months later in the Brooklyn Half on a gorgeous day in May.  2012 was my year (for running)!

As I was saying, tomorrow morning I will be en route to New Orleans, about 24 hours after I fell asleep this morning following an 8-hour shift behind the bar.  I will arrive in the city at around 9:30am to the expectant faces of two of my closest girlfriends — one of whom keeps an awesome blog and came in 4th among women in the New Orleans Marathon a few years back (and she didn’t even have a great race! Asthma attacks! Who does that?!) and the other who busies herself bartending, making jewelry, doing investigations, practicing Reiki, and trying to turn herself into a glitter unicorn, she is so close.  I’ll spend the day at the Marathon Expo and catching up with my girls before my third night of minimal sleep leads into a 13.1 mile run, once again through the streets of New Orleans.  I have to say, I am a little nervous.  As I sit here thinking about the upcoming race, I can’t help but focus on all the potential negatives. I can’t help but pressure myself a little bit to better my time from last year, to try and set another personal record.  But then there are those nagging concerns.  So now I am thinking if I mention them here, to you, I can release them and just go into the race with a clear mind the way I have entered all my other successful running experiences.  The way I have always managed to have the most fun.  So, here goes.

1.  My training has really not been the best.  As I think I might have mentioned in this post about a run I took with Ira Glass (sorta), I originally planned on running the full marathon.  I even got through a few 18-20 mile runs.  The thing was, none of them felt all that good.  There was always something.  Three colds; hands that wouldn’t warm up even when I stopped on the side of the road, crouched down on the floor and stuck them in my armpits (I did this, don’t mock me); hips that ached with every step.  All this happened, I know, because I was lazy about doing speed work and strength training.  Did I do something about it?  No, obviously not.  My last super long run was meant to be 20 miles long.  About 12 miles in, my body and my brain had had it.  I called it quits.  It was then that I decided to drop down to the half.  It was, overall, a bad training cycle.  Never the best thing to ease a mind.

2.  I bought new shoes and they hurt.  They are the same models as my old ones and, added bonus, they look really cool!  Bright blue and green!  You can see me from miles away!  My first few runs they felt good, albeit a little stiff, but that’s normal for Mizunos in my experience.  But then after an 8 mile run last week, when I was running the downhill stretch to my house, I felt this super uncomfortable feeling on my right ankle bump (learned that term in anatomy class).  It hurt!  And now it hurts every time I run in them.  It’s too late to buy new shoes so what do I do?  Risk injury by wearing a pair of shoes that already have about 300 miles too many on them or risk bruising the shit out of my ankle bump and having an uncomfortable race?  You’ll be able to find me stuck over there, right between a rock and a hard place.

3.  I think my period is about to start and I am pretty sure the heaviest day is going to be the day of the race.  I won’t go into that.  Just read about it here.

But then there are some really good things!

1.  My running friend, C, is probably going to run with me and we will talk through the whole thing, leading to a slower time but a higher quotient of fun!

2.  Music!  Brass bands!  Other kinds of bands!  All along the route!

3. Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan are running it.  C. and I plan on stalking them down and making them be friends with us.  And then we will all be buddies and we will run together, only Kara and Shalane will be fastest, C. will be almost keeping up with them, and I will be bringing up the rear with my hands in my armpits like an asshole but then we’ll all make jokes about it and it will be great.

4. After the race, regardless of my time, I will take a shower, wash my hair and then drink the biggest bloody mary that New Orleans has to offer.  I have very high expectations for this.

5.  For the glorious week following the race, I will not set foot behind a bar.  In a bar?  Yes.  At a bar?  Yes.  Behind a bar?  Oh, hell no.

6.  When I get back to New York on Saturday, March 2nd it is only 24 hours until the AT&T American Cup, the first big elite gymnastics meet of the 2013 season.  Don’t get me wrong, I could do without Tim Daggett, Elfi Schlegel,  Andrea Joyce, and Al Trautwig’s overuse of the words “catastrophic” and “phenomenal” and I will be writing a letter to NBC telling them to get rid of one of those clowns and hire Alicia Sacramone because she rocks.  Those things aside, I will watch that meet and I will love every second of it.

Oh, hey, look at that. Three bad things, six good things. And those were just the good things that went directly from brain to fingers to keyboard.  I bet I could even think of more if I didn’t have to start packing. (Fingers crossed I don’t forget something important like a sports bra.  That would go into the list of bad things.)  So, okay, my training didn’t go great, I’ll probably be bleeding and I have uncomfortable shoes.  People have run through worse.  I think it will be fine.  And if it isn’t?  I’ll just have to have TWO ginormous* bloody marys.

*Totally didn’t know that was actually a word.  Another wonderful addition by us Americans, no doubt