In their testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, several current and former U.S. gymnasts outlined sexual abuse they suffered from former team doctor Larry Nassar, and they condemned people and institutions who they said ignored their pleas for help.
The hearing was a follow-up to a Department of Justice report released in July that found FBI officials exhibited "extremely poor judgment" during the Nassar investigation. In response to the report, the FBI called its employees' actions as "inexcusable" and "appalling."
Nassar pleaded guilty in 2017 to abusing 10 of the more than 265 women and girls who have come forward to say they were molested. He is serving up to 175 years in prison.
Publicly, members of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team have been some of the most vaunted athletes in America over the last few Olympic Games. But Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols all testified that a network of abusers and enablers forced them to suffer in secret behind the scenes.
Biles’ opening statement, in particular, indicted officials at the top of each institution for what she said was complicity in sexual violence.
She said she first realized she’d been abused after speaking with Nichols in 2015. Although the then-head of the USA Gymnastics women’s program, Rhonda Faehn, learned of the abuse that year also, Biles said no one from the organization contacted her or her family.
"While I was a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, neither USAG, USOPC nor the FBI ever contacted me or my parents," she said, also referring to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. "While others had been informed and investigations were ongoing, I had been left to wonder why I was not told until after the Rio Games."
Wednesday’s hearing was one in a series of steps toward getting accountability ... But it should also be a warning about popular, powerful, profitable entities like USA Gymnastics.
Biles, the most decorated gymnast of all time, is just months removed from competing in this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, where her performances placed her at the center of a national discussion on athletes’ mental health. While she is an advocate for mental health services, Biles said after the Games that she prefers not to be the face of conversations surrounding athletes’ mental health.
"Sometimes when we speak on these things, then we become the face of it. I'm not sure if I'm completely ready for that aspect of it," she told People magazine in August.
On Wednesday, she said the abuse she suffered from Nassar lingered with her through the Tokyo Olympics.
"The scars of this horrific abuse continue to live with all of us," she said. "As the lone competitor in the recent Tokyo Games who is a survivor of this horror, I can assure you that the impacts of this man’s abuse are not ever over or forgotten."
"I don’t want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured before, during and continuing to this day in the wake of the Larry Nassar abuse," she added.
Wednesday’s hearing was one in a series of steps toward getting accountability for Biles, Maroney, Raisman, Nichols and the many others who have come forward to say they were abused by Nassar. But it should also be a warning about popular, powerful, profitable entities like USA Gymnastics.
In their rush to vault people into superstardom — in their eagerness to keep them there — some of these institutions are willing to excuse the worst behavior imaginable.
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