Tag Archives: gymnastics

ICYMI: The Gymnastics Sex Abuse Scandal Broke 14 Months Ago

24 Jan

As many of you who know me personally are probably aware, I am a HUGE gymnastics fan. While friends are binge watching the newest series on Netflix and Hulu, I am rewatching National Championships from the late 90’s, exploring NCAA gymnastics meets and reviewing some of my favorite routines and gymnasts from over the years, amazed by what they have been able to do with their bodies in such limited pieces of air. It is death defying, beautiful, seemingly impossible and yet they do it. And what’s even more amazing is that they make it look easy.

As many of you also know, being a gymnastics fan right now is a very unenviable position to be in. I have watched over the past year and change as my favorite sport has been ripped apart from the inside out, slowly, methodically, and the world has paid no attention. Not until the past few weeks, anyway, and I am so angry. I am so angry that I feel as though I could punch a hole through a brick wall. I am so angry that I am afraid that if I didn’t stop myself from clenching my jaw my entire face might explode. I am so angry that if I ever met Larry Nassar in person I think I could do something I never thought possible of myself; I think I could actually kill him with my bare hands and feel no remorse whatsoever. I am so angry that I want to shake every single person in this entire fucking country and ask them where they were, why they haven’t been listening and why, when the Indy Star broke this story over 14 months ago, why no other goddamn news source picked it up. Where were you, New York Times? Washington Post? NPR? ESPN? Where were you when these women were coming to terms with what was done to them? Where were you to tell them that we were listening, that we cared, when people ignored their pleas for help for decades?

Let us not forget, these were children.

I remember back in 2015 when Larry Nassar disappeared from USA Gymnastics with no fanfare, not even a word. As an avid fan I knew how well respected he was, I knew that he was touted as the best gymnastics doctor in the world. He was a miracle worker, he could fix anything. But then one day, leading up to the 2015 World Championships and the 2016 Olympic Games when we were expected to sweep the field yet again, he was gone. Just poof. Shortly thereafter Marvin Sharpe, coach of 2008 Olympians Bridget Sloan and Sam Peszek, was arrested on child pornography charges. He was later found dead of an apparent suicide. No one said a word. And then it came out that the national governing body of the sport, USA Gymnastics (USAG) had been covering up abuse charges for decades, Catholic Church style. They had complaints about 50 coaches spanning decades. Coaches who they allowed to transfer to different facilities around the country without informing the owners and other coaches of the monsters that were in their ranks, monsters that were training young boys and girls who entrusted them with their safety. When the story broke in the Star it became clear that USAG was an organization capable of covering up the worst in the interest of maintaining a clean reputation all in an effort to win medals, and money, on the backs of young athletes whom they mistreated and did not protect.

These were children.

There were reports about Nassar going back decades. Athletes who went to school counselors, local police departments, coaches, Child Protective Services, university athletic directors going all the way back to the 1990s. No one said anything. No one stopped him. We are talking about a man who stuck his ungloved fingers inside the vaginas of scores of young women under the guise of medical treatment. We are talking about a man so vile that he told girls he could help them achieve their dreams, all while robbing them of their innocence. We are talking about a man who angled himself into a career, a position, where he would have unfettered access to girls who thought he was their friend, their protector. And we are talking about organizations – USAG, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), Michigan State University (MSU), Geddert’s Twistars – who looked the other way for decades as this man violated women who they were obligated to protect. And then, when they couldn’t ignore it any more, they tried to sweep it under the rug and hope that no one would notice and they almost managed it.

They almost fucking managed it. Here were are, in the middle of the #MeToo movement and #TimesUP and a serial pedophile who preyed on young girls for decades was almost tried and convicted with no media acknowledgment whatsoever. USAG, MSU and the USOC have been putting out toothless statements about the bravery of the young women who have come forward and have done absolutely nothing to take on some of that work themselves. These women are survivors and, as is always the case, they are out there alone doing the heavy lifting. These women, women who have been trying to get people to listen to them for decades, some of whom have brought fame on USAG and the USOC through their performance on the national and international stage have been cast aside. They have been made to feel as though they only hold worth as long as they fly through the air in sparkly leotards adorned with the Stars and Stripes. So I have to ask, where has everyone been? At this moment when people are finally, finally listening to women, why did it take 14 goddamn months of a constant cascade of information for The New York Times to put this on the front fucking page? This is the biggest sexual abuse scandal in sports history and they were children and it was not deemed important enough to print until now. I’ll tell you why. Because for as important as the #MeToo Movement has been we are still knee deep in a disgusting patriarchal culture that does not listen to the voices of women even while news outlets congratulate themselves on how much space they have been giving to our voices. If they cannot make space to out a serial pedophile and the organizations that stood blindly by all while creating an environment that was just aching to host a monster like Nassar then we have gotten no where, our voices, our pain, still mean nothing.

I have been saying since the beginning that our downfall is our tendency to valuate the experiences of victims in order to decide whether the career of one man is worth being ruined. How many of our voices does it take? How many of our careers, our lives, have to be stymied in order to protect the trajectory of a man’s life? How many young girls coming forward to the people whom they trusted with their safety and their happiness and their innocence does it take to get one serial fucking pedophile put behind bars? I think we have our number and it is higher than we know.

When will people start listening? At what point will one abuse be enough to end it? When will our stories permanently stop being relegated to women’s interest subsites as if our experiences do not have universal effects on the societies in which we live. Our experiences matter. What we endure shapes the world around us. I would love to tell everyone to shut up and listen but the problem is that they claim to be but they simply aren’t. How long did it take the news to go crazy over some bullshit story about tide pods? Not 14 months, I can tell you that much. The bottom line is that we as a society simply do not care about women and we do not care about little girls. This story has made that abundantly clear and it breaks my heart every single day.

Am I happy that this monster will die in jail? Yes. If there was a way for us to keep him alive for every single second of his 175 year sentence, I would support it. I want that man to suffer for every moment of the rest of his miserable life. When he is sleeping I hope he replays these past few days in his mind until his very last day. But that is not all that I want. I want USA Gymnastics to be decertified as a governing body until they completely clean house. Every person that worked at that organization while this was allowed to happen has got to go and we need to start fresh. If that means less medals, so be it. The athletes must always come first. I want Marta and Bela Karolyi investigated for their role in this atrocity and fuck them if they think they get to retire in peace and determine their own legacies. They did this. I want every person who had involvement with the athletic department at MSU gone, starting with the president of the University, Lou Anna Simon. I want a complete overhaul at the USOC because that is clearly not an organization that can or should be trusted with the safety of any athlete. And I want people to finally listen to women and girls when we speak. I want people to trust that we understand the difference between a good touch and a bad one, that we can discern a joke from abuse. We are raised to protect ourselves from men, it is the only thing that allows us to survive.

So no, I am not happy and I am not relieved. I am fucking angry. Remember Dominique Moceanu? That little girl who danced into our hearts in 1996? She has been trying to expose the abuse within USA Gymnastics for years and she was maligned. And here’s a name you might not know: Rachel Denhollander. She was the one who started this whole process by reaching out to the Indy Star over a year ago when they published an article critical of the culture of USA Gymnastics. She knew what Nassar did was wrong when it happened to her but she didn’t report it until now. Why? Because she knew no one would listen to her, no one would believe her. And she was right.

This is not just about one man. This is not just about one sport or a few governing bodies. This is not just about the countless adults who did nothing in the face of decades of abuse. This is about all of us. We need to start caring. And not just paying lip service. We need to demand that these stories are told front and center because that is the only way we can stop this from happening again. Because if we continue the way we are, it will happen again. Who knows, it might be happening right now.



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