Simone Biles and Ally Raisman are two of the most recognized and decorated gymnasts in the world. So people took notice when they were publicly critical in early March of the $215 million settlement involving USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Nassar was convicted of sexually abusing 517 gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment. He was sentenced in 2018 for 175 years. Nassar’s punishment was severe, and the payout was notable, but it is clear that these gymnasts and many others are still looking for answers and only getting money in return.
The bottom line is that the athletes want to shed light on a culture that allowed Nassar to assault so many women over time with impunity; they are asking where the oversight was from officials at USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Lack of information is the crux
Ally Raisman has been particularly outspoken, believing sweeping changes to avoid abuse in the future comes from revealing what happened in the past. She argued that the settlement is a “coverup” because officials did not want the scandal to hang over the competition in Tokyo. (At the time of the announcement, the gymnasts were still planning to compete in 2020.)
Changing the culture
Gymnasts and their families are taking lessons from the Nassar scandal and applying them to other situations to institute changes in gymnastics and training. The latest example is coach Maggie Haney, coach to 2016 Olympic champion Laurie Hernandez. The New York Times reported that the coach was suspended for verbal and emotional abuse in late March, but complaints from Hernandez and others go back years before that.
Another case involves gymnastic coach Qi Han is unresolved despite going back to 2017 – he also is accused of verbally and physically abusing his athletes, but not accused of sexual abuse.
A promise of change?
Chief Executive and President of USA Gymnastics Li Li Leung took over the job in early 2019. She promised to be more responsive to complaints and more transparent about the investigation process. She cites the Haney suspension as a step in the right direction from a long-held tradition of tyrannical training methods imposed upon elite gymnasts in their early teens. Things are at a standstill, but the chances are that there will be more complaints involving other coaches as athletes and families continue to come forward.