The abuse was global

Anything for sport, right? Anything to win.

The Larry Nassar scandal is the biggest sexual abuse scandal in sports history. Nassar’s victims, who include some of the most famous female athletes around today, including Simone Biles and McKayla Maroney, outnumber the alleged victims of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby combined. The abuse was global: he abused girls in London at the 2012 Olympics; at the Károlyi Ranch, USA Gymnastics’ training centre in Texas; at gymnastics meets in Rotterdam.

Over the course of the week-long sentence hearing, more than 150 women made impact statements in which they described lives crushed by trauma and shame. Shy little girls who briefly found self-confidence through sport became deeply self-loathing teenagers and adults because the man who was supposed to help them do the sport they loved instead molested them, over and over again.

The most obvious word this case sparks is “how”: how could this have ever been allowed to happen? How could USA Gymnastics have required hundreds of girls under its care to submit to mandatory treatment from a man who would give them “pelvic exams” in their hotel or dorm beds at night, wholly unsupervised? And how could the complaints about him have been dismissed for so long, as detailed by the gold medallist Aly Raisman in her unforgettably blistering testimony? “It’s easy to put out statements talking about how athlete care is the highest priority. But [USA Gymnastics] has been saying that for years, and all the while, this nightmare was happening,” Raisman said in court.

Because winning was all. Gold medals were all. The teenagers doing the winning didn’t matter.

“There is no other sport in which this could have happened but gymnastics,” says Joan Ryan, whose 1995 book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, about the physical and psychological toll gymnastics takes on girls and young women, is still regarded as one of the seminal books about the sport. “These girls are groomed from an incredibly young age to deny their own experience. Your knee hurts? You’re being lazy. You’re hungry? No, you’re fat and greedy. They are trained to doubt their own feelings, and that’s why this could happen to over 150 of them.”

Ryan’s excellent book is also about figure skaters – the other athletes who are dressed and made up like dolls to do their sport.

Ryan wrote about the notoriously brutal regime at the Károlyi Ranch, run by Béla and Márta Károlyi and where Nassar worked, detailing how girls were so deprived of food and water they would beg their male teammates to smuggle them snacks. Yet as long as the Károlyis brought in medals the media loved them.

Anything to win, baby.

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