The US women’s gymnastics team will compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic competition on Sunday July 25th. Their athletes are expected to bring the gold medal home, yet the USA gymnastics federation faces the lowest public and internal support it has had in decades. This follows the September 2016 revelations that the same gymnasts who had won the gold medal at the 2016 Olympics had been molested by the USA gymnastics team doctor. The evidence of this discovery had been ignored and actively enabled by the federation for decades. Now, the federation faces several hurdles to regain the trust of both its athletes and the public’s support.
History of Abuse
The investigation into Larry Nassar’s abuse culminated in his sentence of multiple lifetimes in prison. For 20 years Nassar had abused over 500 women and girls, mostly gymnasts. The reality is that Nassar’s perversions were enabled by the particular culture inside USA gymnastics, in which sexual abuse, and verbal and physical abuse, has become widely accepted. The various aggressions committed against its athletes, mostly young girls, valued for their innocence and obedience, is accepted and encouraged across the administrative boards.
For the past 20 years, members of the US gymnastics team were required to attend a private training camp at the Karolyis ranch. While the gymnasts are here, they are completely isolated, with no cell service, no parents allowed, and completely vulnerable to the abuses of adults such as Larry Nassar and others.
As gymnastics is predominantly dominated by younger girls, adults within the federation exercise a level of control and coercion higher than other Olympic sports.
The fall of USA gymnastics
The arrest of Larry Nassar has brought the abuse these athletes endure into direct focus, and USA gymnastics faces unprecedented hurdles as a result. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against the federation and individual members within it. Two team coaches, John Geddert and Marvin Sharp — killed themselves in recent years after being accused of abusing young gymnasts. Steve Penny, the former chief executive and president of U.S.A. Gymnastics, was in 2017 and is facing felony charges for tampering with evidence in the Nassar investigation.
The USA gymnastics sponsors have reacted to this as well, with long standing sponsors such as Procter and Gamble and Kellogg’s disappearing from the sport. Following the Nassar case and the hundreds of lawsuits filed soon after, USA gymnastics filed for bankruptcy protection in 2018.
The future of this federation is still unknown yet certain efforts have been made to encourage a more protected and safe space for its gymnasts.