Larry Nassar, USA Gymnastics, and What Comes Next
I am a USA Gymnastics professional member. Beyond that, I am the USA Gymnastics State Administrative Committee Chairman. I have been in this role coming up on a year now, and prior to that, I was a member of the State Administrative Committee.
I am also a mother of three young children, a coach to 23 optional athletes, and mentor to a staff of 40 that instructs our student base on a weekly basis.
I would like to take a moment to directly address what is at the forefront of our sport – a sexual abuse scandal that spanned decades and affected over 160 women – many of which were involved at the highest levels of my sport – gymnastics.
Larry Nassar has been sentenced to a lifetime in jail for the crimes he committed. The question is – how did this happen? How did someone rise to such a powerful position that he had unlimited access to teenage girls? Girls that were instructed to seek medical attention from him on a routine basis. Girls that were innocent, unknowing, and obedient to their parents, coaches, and doctors.
It happened because Nassar came into too much power. Over the years he had networked his way to the top. He was the best in his field and when he was challenged early on, he guised his assaults as necessary medical treatments.
He came to power in Michigan where he was a top rated University Physician and Gymnastics doctor at the club level. From there, his power escalated as he was named the lead physician for USA Gymnastics. Those at the top of my sport thought of him as revolutionary. A necessary component to creating championship caliber teams.
What happened when athletes complained? Maybe they weren't believed. Maybe they were told they were wrong. But what we do know is - not enough. The people that were made aware of his misconduct and abuse did not act. They did not act for so long that his attacks affected more than 160 women.
USA Gymnastics is the National Governing Body (NGB) for the sport of gymnastics in the United States. The organization oversees over 4,000 gymnastics clubs and 5 million members. The purpose of a NGB is to provide safety guidelines for training and competing that protect its members. Many times and in many ways, USA Gymnastics has failed its members.
Why did USA Gymnastics allow Nassar to stay in power after allegations? Nassar was not the first gymnastics professional to be accused or convicted of sexual crimes against its members. Any time one person has power over another, the opportunity exists for the person to misuse his or her power and abuse the other person. This has happened in other sports, at schools, within families, and among church organizations. Have we not learned that pretending it didn't happen is not the best course of action?
I wish I did have answers to these questions to be in a better position to prevent this from happening in the future. But the truth is, we still have not been informed as to how the complaints were pushed under the rug and why he got away with this for so long.
What Comes Next?
The fallout has just begun. USA Gymnastics has a new President, Kerry Perry. The Board of USA Gymnastics has resigned allowing new leadership to take charge. But is it too little too late or can real change come about?
Can we leave USA Gymnastics?
Many people in my position have the same question: what would happen if we leave USA Gymnastics? At this point in time, USA Gymnastics is the only NGB for our sport. There are rules that exists prior to Nassar to protect athlete safety including matting regulations, safety certifications, and mandatory background checks. Even more so since the case, a new SafeSport group has been formed and members are routinely educated on how to recognize and respond to predators.
If we leave USA Gymnastics, there are no regulations. There are no background checks required, there are no best practices for member clubs to follow, there wouldn't even be any competitions. That is not fair to the athletes, parents, and professional members that are following every rule in the book. The ones that have the best intentions set forward. The ones that strive to teach life lessons through gymnastics and inspire each individual to reach their true mental and physical potential. Gymnastics needs a NGB that will direct with the best intentions for children in mind - that will prevent this from happening again.
USA Gymnastics Regulations
USA Gymnastics has many rules in place to protect its members. Some of those have been in existence for years. Others are new to the sport as a reaction to Nassar and other abusers.
- Background checks for all Professional Members
- Safety certification for Junior and Professional Members (now includes SafeSport)
- Matting requirements for meets and other Sanctioned Events
- Progressive Compulsory Routines for Athletes
- Qualification standards for safety in moving up in the levels
- Online education for coaches, business owners, and members
- In person education on regional and national levels
- Requirements for Registration of a Member Club can be found here.
It Starts With Me.
Me = a USA Gymnastics Professional Member that coaches children in a positive, self-esteem improving way. A mother that watches her children grow both mentally and physically as they attend gymnastics classes. A leader that oversees and enforces policies that protect our youth today and forever.
There Are So Many "Me"s in Our Sport.
Let's name a few - my fellow coach-friends, my athletes and their parents, my fellow gym-owners. There are those in gymnastics that are doing everything we can to protect our gymnasts while reaping the benefits of what gymnastics offers - lessons like hardwork, dedication, perseverance, teamwork, leadership, prioritization, and more are learned and repeated each week at gymnastics studios around the nation.
It truly is up to us. I took on a leadership role in my sport to have a positive impact not just on my athletes at Pinnacle, but on the athletes throughout my state and throughout the USA Gymnastics organization.
My heart aches for those athletes that were violated, assaulted, and traumatized by the abuse they succombed to as a participant in gymnastics. However, listening to those women, those girls, one truth rang loud and clear. You cannot take the love of gymnastics out of the hearts of these survivors. Aly Raisman put it best, "I am also here to tell you to your face, Larry, that you have not taken gymnastics away from me. I love this sport, and that love is stronger than the evil that resides in you and those who enabled you to hurt many people."
It is time. It is time for a change in leadership at the highest level of our sport. It is time for members to become educated on abuse of all types. It is time for the "Me"s to lead by example, to enforce the rules and regulations, and to call for proactive changed that increase the level of safety and respect for our athletes.