USA Gymnastics, an organization known over the last decade for raking in gold medals has a name that has been tainted by the name Larry Nassar. Over the last two years, with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, a surge of athletes came forward denouncing the once famed doctor for his illegitimate medical treatments. Even big names, like Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles — the last two Olympic all-around champions — were both under the medical watch of Larry Nassar during their reigns as “best in the world.”
One of the names you may not recognize from the list of hundreds of accusers, however, is the name at the helm of this movement. Her name hit Time’s 100 List of Most Influential People of 2018, but do you recognize her face? Do you even recognize her name?
She is ‘The Silence Breaker.’ Rachael Denhollander was the first of many women to come forward to the public about her experience and, ultimately, her abuse with Larry Nassar. The Indy Star broke this story initially in 2015, and just like a drop in the water creates a ripple effect, women started coming forward by the dozens and soon hundreds to talk about their abuse with Larry Nassar.
Larry Nassar … a name that was once praised by athletes and coaches from all over has fallen from grace and will now go down in infamy. Who would suspect that the darling, friendly doctor, the athletic training specialist at Michigan State University, the national team doctor to the U.S. Women’s National Gymnastics Team would turn out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Nassar is worse than a wolf, though, because whereas wolves kill out of instinct, pedophiles and child molestors take advantage of their position of power as a means to violate a child’s innocence.
If Nassar is the wolf in this metaphor, then he had sheep’s clothing in the form of three organizations: Michigan State University (MSU), United States of America Gymnastics (USAG) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). It is because of these three organizations that Nassar was allowed to prey upon victims for upwards of 30 years. 30 years … that’s 30 years of abuse, which came crumbling down in one week as nearly 150 patients of Larry Nassar came forth with their stories.
Those who know the whole situation know that Nassar was in the perfect position as a predator. USAG, and even the sport of gymnastics in general, is an intense and abusive environment — pushing athletes to the brink of their abilities physically, mentally and emotionally. Nassar knew the stress and pressure that the gymnasts were under, and he saw this as an opportunity to get on their good side, a process known as “grooming.”
Whenever a child was sent to him for proper health maintenance, Larry would be their friend, tell them that their coaches and Martha Karolyi, the national team coordinator, were too harsh. He would sneak them candy and other treats they weren’t allowed, and bring them small gifts as a way to gain their trust.
Once he felt as though he had gained their trust, he took advantage of it by performing his procedure. These athletes were left unattended with him and were left feeling incredibly uncomfortable throughout the whole procedure, cringing and wincing with every touch, praying that it would be over soon enough.
Who were they to question the genius of this man, though? He was a professional doctor with so much experience, long-established and, at the end of the day, a nice guy. He had given care to Olympians and World Champions; they were told that they were lucky enough that he would treat them. These girls wanted to be the best, so they carried their cross in silence in order to achieve their goals.
Girls had spoken out over the years, and they were silenced. They were told things like: “you must be mistaken,” and “he knows what he’s doing.” Nassar definitely knew what he was doing, and so it wasn’t until 2015 that the tangeld web that he had weaved began to unravel. Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman were stretching at their monthly national team camp when a coach overheard them discussing the procedure that Nassar had performed on girls every time they had some sort of medical issue. The coach reported it, and Nassar was let go. USAG did not report this to the FBI until weeks later, while Nassar was able to say he was leaving under the guise of retirement. Nassar went back to Michigan and continued to have his practice and work with MSU. Red flags were raised, but they were put to rest as many have been before. This report would soon become known as the largest sexual abuse scandal in any sport’s history.
It wasn’t even until a detective had come to the Karolyi Ranch for questioning months before the Rio 2016 Olympics that some of the gymnasts even knew that they had been abused. Many gymnasts even rallied behind him to support him because they could not begin to process the fact that they were a victim of abuse. Anyone who tried to question USAG about what was happening was told that “the situation was being taken care of, don’t worry about it.”
Denhollander came forward publicly at this time, but with the buzz of the Olympics on the horizon, it didn’t receive the proper publicity. It was enough, though. Nassar was soon arrested on counts of possession of child porn and accusations of sexual assault as he was running for his community’s head of the school board. Soon enough, one Jane Doe came forward, then another, then 20, 50, 100, 200, 300+. Over 300 women came forward about their abuse.
Larry Nassar pleaded guilty and was on trial for days as nearly 150 women testified against him. He was unable to even so much as look at a single one. Some of the most notable names who gave testimonials or impact statements included: 2000 Olympic Medalist Jamie Dantzscher, 2010 World Medalist Mattie Larson, 2015 World Champion Maggie Nichols, 2012 Olympic Champions McKayla Maroney and Jordyn Wieber, and 2012 and 2016 Olympic Champion Aly Raisman. As women flooded the courtroom to ensure that their voices were heard, Rachael Denhollander was there to listen to each and every one of them. Denhollander was the last to speak in Nassar’s hearing, asking Judge Aquillina, “How much is a little girl worth?”
A few months have gone by, Nassar has been sent to prison for life, and investigations continue as organizations such as USAG and MSU undergo a completely restructured system. The annual ESPY Awards took place one week ago on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. At this particular ceremony, the gymnasts of USA Gymnastics who have come forward with their abuse were honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Sarah Klein, Tiffany Thomas Lopez and Aly Raisman all spoke for those who had been abused over the years. Every single woman on that stage embodies what it means to be courageous, strong and powerful.
Do not let what these girls suffered through be in vain. These girls had a voice and they chose to use it to shape a better future for everyone despite the emotional trauma they had been put through in coming to terms with their abuse and the initial doubt that they received from people across the country, including their peers. Let this be a lesson; let your voices be heard because you DO have the power to effect change. Be bold. Be relentless. Be revolutionary.
Though you may have time to go before we have children ourselves, let this be a lesson as to why you can never trust too much. Society must trust children more; if we silence them, then they will have no one to protect them from their own suffering. Just because they are children, does not mean that we have any less of a reason to believe them. It is for their protection, safety and sanity that we must do everything in our power to put an end to evil organizations like USAG and evil people like Larry Nassar. If we speak up when we know something, we could be saving future generations. We can make right what was done wrong to us. No gold medal or the money that comes with it is worth living a life in pain.
VALLEY would like to extend a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to Rachael Denhollander for inspiring others to speak out and to the all of the athletes for putting an end to this nightmare turned reality. VALLEY sends our love and prayers to the survivors who have spoken out, and to those who have not, please remember: you are not a victim, you are a survivor and you are not alone. Speak your truth.