On Wednesday afternoon the most elite and highly decorated gymnasts sat in front of the senate judiciary committee and repeated their stories of being abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Nassar is currently serving a 175-year sentence in federal prison for first-degree criminal sexual conduct. While that should be considered a win for the women who suffered by his hand, it is hardly the tipping point, which is why these women find themselves sitting before another group of power-wielding individuals pleading their case.
What happened to many of the gymnasts under USAG and Michigan State is unspeakable and took place over a course of decades involving such systemic failings that to point the finger at one is to point a finger at a whole system. One of the institutions that participated in this mass failure is the FBI who were given credible evidence and testimony that Nassar was abusing gymnasts and failed to act on that information. Then of course there’s USAG, Safesport, Michigan State, the Kerolyi family, the Olympic Committee, and all of the individuals who heard whisperings of Nassar’s behavior and did nothing to intervene.
Yet the burden of fixing the many broken and predatory systems has not fallen on the shoulders of any of those people, aside from Nassar. Instead it rests squarely on women like Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, Gabby Douglas, Isabell Hutchins, and so many others who have been tasked with processing their trauma over and over again in the public eye in order to garner some kind of change.
These women dedicated half of their lives to performing as representatives for USAG and the US Olympic team; they are lauded as heroes and superhuman; and now, at this moment, they are being asked to debase themselves in front of yet another group who will watch them cry, offer empty condolences and do nothing. It is a song and dance we’ve seen too many times with the same despicable ending: The people responsible remain largely faceless and unquestioned.
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It is impossible to say what justice can look like in a case as far reaching and deeply rooted as this one. But what it should not look like is an endless montage of women reliving their trauma publicly and telling stories that should move legal mountains, but ultimately only garner sympathy without action.