Gymnasts Are Treated Like Rock Stars — Except When They’re Being Abused

In 20 years, Dr. Larry Nassar assaulted over 100 gymnasts.

Gymnasts Are Treated Like Rock Stars — Except When They’re Being Abused

Ilana Gordon

Former USA team member Jeanette Antolin. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Gymnasts Are Treated Like Rock Stars — Except When They’re Being Abused

In 20 years, Dr. Larry Nassar assaulted over 100 gymnasts.

A man universally trusted by coaches and parents across USA gymnastics stands accused of sexually assaulting over 100 of his patients. For more than 20 years, Dr. Larry Nassar served as team physician for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. During this time, his accusers say, Nassar used his position to prey on patients, many of whom were minors — some as young as nine.

The athletes accuse Nassar of fondling and penetrating them both vaginally and anally without gloves or lubrication. They allege he was noticeably aroused in some instances. In one case, he abused a gymnast while her parent was in the room.

Michigan State fired Nassar after the first civil suit was filed in September. Together, the state and federal courts are charging him with over 28 counts, including three counts of criminal sexual conduct, possession of child pornography and first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

The Nassar story is a huge scandal, one that has been quietly building since the news first broke last fall. In March, Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics, resigned from his position; that same month, a Michigan State Title IX investigator found Nassar guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old gymnast back in 2000.

In Nov. 2011, the sports world turned upside down when 30 boys accused former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky of sexual abuse. In a piece for Huffington Post, Chloe Angyal points out that Nassar abused more people than Sandusky and Bill Cosby combined, but his story isn’t dominating the media — and your social feeds — in the same way those stories did.

Angyal paints a comprehensive picture of why this might be the case: Almost 90% of sports journalists are male; as a sport, gymnastics is not as popular as football; the Penn State scandal was less about Jerry Sandusky’s abuse than it was about head coach Joe Paterno’s fall from grace. It’s possible the current political climate is also to blame.

Whatever the reason, the fact that this story isn’t getting more traction amongst mainstream outlets is a tragedy. Gymnastics might not make as much money as football, but in 2016, Adweek proclaimed it the sport Americans were most likely to watch during the Summer Olympics. US gymnasts have provided America with some of its most compelling sports triumphs (see: Kerri Strug’s gold medal-winning vault at the 1996 Games).

The media is happy to fawn over stars like Dominique Dawes, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, yet fail to amplify the voices of the women who trained and competed alongside them. Many of these athletes spoke out and were shot down, their allegations ignored or covered up. Now, they’re speaking out again and more people should be listening.

Gymnasts have done a lot for America. It’s time America does something for them.