The Larry Nassar Case From the Perspective of a Former Gymnast
The Disgraced Former USA Olympic Doctor’s Actions Aren’t Hard to Believe
By now, almost everyone has heard the name Larry Nassar.
The American gymnastics olympic doctor pleaded guilty to sexually abusing young athletes for years under the pretence of medical treatment. Over 100 women testified against him during his hearing, detailing the abuses they suffered.
On Jan. 24, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison, and according to a CNN report, the CEO of the United States Olympic Committee has asked all members of the USA Gymnastics board of directors to resign due to their role in either ignoring or covering up Nassar’s abuse.
Many people are still shocked that Nassar could attempt to justify his actions as medical procedures or that his victims believed him when he said his “treatments” were purely medical. As a former gymnast, I understand how easy it was for him to get away with it for as long as he did.
I’ve played many individual and team sports and none of them were as physically demanding as gymnastics was. Your body is the sport. The goal is to push your body to do what should be impossible. Because of this, however, injuries are very common.
The relationship shared between gymnasts, coaches and doctors is very intimate. There is a great deal of trust between all three parties. My coaches would “touch” me all the time but as a means of demonstrating proper posture for a move or to force me to contract my muscles more to improve my ability to do certain tumbling sequences and not get injured. However, looking back now I can see how easy it would have been for someone to take advantage of me.
All the girls I trained with and I would also often tweak muscles during practice and have to have our coach or someone on the gym staff massage out the pain. Sometimes this meant them having to massage more intimate areas like near our pelvis or butt. Again, this might sound strange to some people but it’s very common in the sport and is not sexual or inappropriate—unless the coach or doctor’s motives are. I knew when my coaches were massaging me near my pelvis it was because I had injured a muscle there, and as soon as I said I felt better they removed their hands.
Nassar took advantage of this trust.
Right now, there is no real way to protect gymnasts from a coach or doctor who crosses the line. I believe Nassar knew this. He knew that, as a doctor for gymnasts, he would have access to young girls, with all kinds of injuries for him to treat. He also must have known that as a “trusted” team appointed doctor to naïve athletes he would have more of a chance of justifying his unusual treatment plan.
The only way to truly protect gymnasts is through implementing strict ethical guidelines and an ability to report abuse without fear of repercussion. Extensive background checks should be done on anyone that is trusted to have any kind of contact with young athletes. If safeguards are put in place, it sends a message to any potential abuser that they will get caught and face very real punishments.
Finally and more obviously, we need to listen to anyone who makes a claim of abuse and investigate the matter. This final point is what allowed Nassar’s abuse to continue for over a decade: The few who spoke up weren’t taken seriously, and those who didn’t thought they wouldn’t be believed.
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