Tag Archives: women’s 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.

Only in Dreams

18 May

The past few weeks I have had the strangest dreams.  Or, should I say, I have remembered the strangest dreams.  I don’t know if it’s that I have been sleeping more fitfully, waking up at more regular intervals and thereby interrupting the process of my dream and making me remember, or just that my mind is trying to tell me something.  If it’s the latter, I think what it is trying to tell me is that there are some people I am angry at and I have a strange obsession with water sports of all kinds.

I have recently had two dreams in which I told off people who had wronged me, or perhaps people who I perceive to have wronged me.  The first one, the more detailed dream, made a lot of sense.  I have rehearsed in my head the very conversation that occurred in my dream.  Only, when I imagine the conversation I believe he will argue with me about how wrong I am, how I misperceived things, how I didn’t see what I know I saw.  In the dream though, he just sat there calmly while I told him what was what.  Didn’t defend himself, just sat there.  And this is because I’m right and he’s wrong and dream him realizes it.  Which is awesome.  Dream him is so much more agreeable than real him.  This closure that I have wanted to get for so long, that I know would only succeed in making me seem like a crazy person, was achieved in a dream state.  Hopefully that’s all that was needed.  Hopefully I won’t have another dream in which I push him down a flight of stairs because that is another thing I have fantasized about here and there.  Violence, whether in real life or dream life, is not good.  Or so I’m told.  The other dream, however, was sort of out of left field.  The person who I yelled at is someone who I am happy to not have in my life anymore, someone who was more of a detriment to my happiness than anything else.  I tend to operate by the theory that if you have a relationship with someone, any kind of relationship, and more often than not you leave an interaction feeling worse or less happy than you did when you entered it, it’s probably not a relationship you need to be in.  I was never happy after I saw this person.  Ever.  So why the dream closure?  Who knows but it was awesome.  And, the extra great thing about it was that, at least in this one dream, dream Rebekah was exactly the same as real Rebekah!  I told the girl off, and then I went around, in my dream, and told all my dream friends about what had happened.  I even embellished a little to make the story better!  It’s nice to know that in a dream state I exhibit remarkable consistency.

And now on to water sports.  As some of you who know me might know, I love love love the Olympics.  Specifically the summer Olympics.  I have even assembled my ideal women’s gymnastics team.  (I have also discovered that when you tell people you have assembled your ideal women’s gymnastics team they think you are a little bit of a freak so it is best to just keep it to yourself.)  Anyway, a few weeks ago I had a dream that I was in an Olympic sailboat race.  Not only was I in the race, but I won.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you are reading the blog of a dream-Olympics gold medal sailor.  And I did it on a Sunfish, no less.  You might ask why, of all the Olympic sports, and considering my obvious obsession with gymnastics, I would have a dream in which I sailed.  I do not have an answer to that question.  I don’t think I have set foot on a sailboat, Sunfish or otherwise, since summer camp in the early 90s.  But let me tell you one thing I know for sure:  winning Olympic gold is awesome.  What’s even more awesome is that when I woke up there was like a 5 second period during which I actually thought I had won Olympic gold in real life.  Those 5 seconds were totally great.  And when I realized I had neither attended the Olympics nor won the event, I wasn’t even let down!  I was just super impressed by my own imagination.  I went from congratulating myself for winning to congratulating myself for being a really good dreamer.  Gold medal caliber, even.

Then, two nights ago I had yet another dream.  In this dream, a friend of mine was pregnant.  Very pregnant.  The weird part of the dream was that in her rather large state she insisted on swimming a 100-lap race.  In open water.  Without goggles.  (And no, it was not part of the Olympics…it was just your regular, every day, run-of-the-mill 100-lap open water race.  For fun.)  I don’t know why she wasn’t wearing goggles.  I don’t know why she was in the race – she isn’t a swimmer in real life.  I also don’t know whether or not she won because a 100-lap race takes a really long time to finish, in a dream or otherwise.  What I do know is that she was doing a damn good job last I saw.  Maybe the dream-baby added to her buoyancy.

Anyway, that’s it for this first and, likely not last, installation of my dream journal.  Going forward I hope for more water sports and less anger.