Athlete A is a documentary that recounts the sexual abuse scandal within USA Gymnastics (USAG), where over 500 minors were sexually, physically, and emotionally abused over several decades. The documentary primarily focuses on sports doctor Larry Nassar, however, there are countless other USAG coaches who also face abuse allegations.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, the “aesthetic” of the typical female gymnast was a grown woman. However, this changed in 1976, when 14 year-old Nadia Comaneci won a “perfect 10” gold in the Olympics. From that point, the typical female gymnast changed from grown women to very young girls.
“It created a really dangerous environment, because eating disorders became very prevalent, delaying menstruation and delaying maturation. There was also a benefit of the coaches having more control when the girls are younger.”
Steve Penny, the USAG President and CEO placed more focus on money and the USAG brand than the wellbeing of the USA athletes. Child sexual abuse was bad for the USAG brand and therefore allegations were swept under the rug rather than brought up with the proper authorities.
“On multiple occasions, USA gymnastics compiled complaints of coaches accused of sexual misconduct but refused to share information with police, most often dismissing it as hearsay, because the complaints were not made by the victims, those young athletes, or their parents.”
In 2015, young gymnast Maggie Nichols (Athlete A) came forward about her abuse from Larry Nassar. After hearing the allegations, Steve Penny waited five weeks to report the case to the FBI. Maggie and her family were told that the case was under control and to not go to the public with the allegation. During this time, Larry Nassar continued to molest young girls for another 15 months. Many other women had also made complaints, however, no action was being taken.
At the end of the documentary, it shows the victims sharing their heartbreaking statements on trial in front of Larry Nassar before his final sentencing. Although these victims were able to finally get their justice, there is still a fundamental problem within these large organizations that must be addressed. Abusers should not be able to get away with abuse for almost 3 decades without any accountability. Hopefully from the publicity and gravity of this case, there will be changes to the way young athletes around the world are trained and treated by their superiors.
Overall, Athlete A serves to open a conversation about child abuse in sports. It is important to understand that this documentary primarily focuses on Larry Nassar and not other physical, emotional, and sexual abuse cases that arouse during this time in USAG. For more information and the full story of abuse within USAG there are many reports that can be easily accessed online. Some links can be seen below.
Written By: Jasper and Daphna