Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman is one of over 100 people who have filed civil action lawsuits against not only former USA Gymnastics Team Doctor Larry Nassar, but also the organization itself for being complicit in Nassar’s methodic abuse of his patients. The lawsuit, which also names the U.S. Olympic Committee, states that the two organizations “knew or should have known” about the abuse, but that no action was taken.
USA Gymnastics maintains that the organization did not commit any legal wrongdoing. Nassar was fired from his position as Team Doctor on July 29, 2015, a few weeks after an official investigation was opened. However, Raisman and her fellow plaintiffs say the organization was aware of the abuse earlier than it has claimed, and that not only was Nassar allowed to continue treatments, but USA gymnastics also pressured gymnasts into staying silent about their experiences. USA Gymnastics hired an investigator to look into what the organization says were the first reports from gymnasts of “athlete concerns,” but Raisman says that the investigator was sent to interview her as a warning to keep quiet, and she felt her gymnastics career was being threatened.
The organization says it launched an investigation immediately after the first gymnast reported the abuse, contradicting plaintiffs’ statements that they told parents, coaches and police officers about being assaulted, all of whose complaints to USA Gymnastics went nowhere. “My highest priority is to push for change,” Raisman stated, and the organization claims to have the same goal. But because it has yet to conduct an internal investigation to understand how these cover-ups happened, that promise falls flat. How can USA Gymnastics claim to hold athletes’ safety as its highest priority when it refuses to find the root of the problem?
A sentiment expressed in the media by several gymnasts is that the two things USA Gymnastics cares about most are its image and winning gold medals. Its carefully cultivated image is disintegrating because of this abuse scandal, but the organization is failing to learn from its mistakes. Many of the organization’s officials have resigned, but those that remain are letting currently competing gymnasts slip through the cracks. There is no board of directors, no team coordinator and no sponsors, who have all declined to renew their contracts since the scandal broke. The organization cut ties with the Karolyi Ranch, the national training campsite, earlier this year, but it has yet to find another location for elite gymnasts to train with their fellow national team members. USA Gymnastics has withdrawn from two major international competitions — the International Gymnix and the City of Jesolo Trophy — forcing young gymnasts who need the experience to register individually, and at their own expense. These athletes are talented, but they are being denied the support that this organization is supposed to provide, and the nature of the sport is such that they don’t have the luxury of waiting for things to settle down. “We cannot put our bodies on hold,” U.S. National Team member Margzetta Frazier said in a Twitter post. “[The scandals] do not define our talent, our drive, or our sport.”
USA Gymnastics has yet to admit any kind of legal or moral wrongdoing in the investigation against Larry Nassar. At the same time, it is continuing to commit wrongdoing by failing to support current gymnasts who have been working their whole lives for a sport they love.