The United States women’s gymnastics team has produced powerhouse Olympic champions over the years like Shawn Johnson and Simone Biles. Like any great athlete, there is always a crew of support behind them — whether that be coaches, family members, teammates, or fans.
But in the case of numerous female gymnasts, their supposed support system, USA Gymnastics, fell short — something Olympic champion Aly Raisman isn’t allowing to go unnoticed.
According to the Associated Press, both Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher and former gymnast Rachael Denhollander filed a civil lawsuit in 2016 against both volunteer team doctor Larry Nassar, accusing him of sexual abuse, and the USAG, while more female gymnasts have filed suits against Nassar since, also citing sexual abuse.
Some of those claims detail Nassar’s alleged abuse over a number of years, performing “intravaginal adjustment[s]” to “digitally penetrate” the victim’s vagina in order to “adjust her bones.”
In March, USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny resigned after the U.S. Olympic Committee leadership recommended he do so. Penny faced harsh criticism over his delayed responses to the sexual abuse claims, but he insisted he acted appropriately and resigned “solely to support the best interests of USA Gymnastics.”
Although the USAG began taking the necessary steps to ensure all kids could grow in a safe environment since the allegations, Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman says it can do much better — especially when it comes to owning its mistakes.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday, Raisman said the USAG spent so much effort on trying to “sweep” the scandal “under the rug” that it completely missed the mark in standing behind the victims and all gymnasts:
“I feel like there’s a lot of articles about it, but nobody has said, ‘This is horrible, this is what we’re doing to change.'”
She refused to discuss whether she’d personally been mistreated by Nassar, however, she did tell the AP she was frequently around the “monster” at training facilities and meets, and that those facts alone are enough to cause a young gymnast to be traumatized:
“What people don’t realize is that this doctor was a doctor for 29 years. Whether or not he did it to a gymnast, they still knew him. Even if he didn’t do it to you, it’s still the trauma and the anxiety of wondering what could have happened. I think that needs to be addressed. These girls, they should be comfortable going to USA Gymnastics and saying ‘I need help, I want therapy. I need this.’”
In response to Raisman’s criticisms — which she gave after she and her “Final Five” teammates were inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame — the USAG said it “welcomes” her “passion” on the matter:
— Will Graves (@WillGravesAP) August 20, 2017
Its statement read, in part:
“Aly is one of our most-decorated athletes and has serves as an athlete leader and the captain of two Olympic teams. We welcome her passion on this critical issue. As we have said, we are appalled by the conduct of which Larry Nassar is accused. And, we are sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her of his gymnastics career.”
It then detailed the measures it’s taken to prevent any abuse or mistreatment in the future, saying it’s “taking this issue head-on, and we want to work with Aly and all interested athletes to keep athletes safe.”
Raisman, however, voiced concerns over the USAG’s measures, citing the $1 million severance package it granted Penny, telling the AP:
“I thought, ‘Wow, why couldn’t they create a program?’ A million dollars is a lot of money. They could do a lot of things to create change. They could create a program. They could even contact all the families that have come forward and say ‘Can we help your kid with therapy?’”
Since her Olympic domination, Raisman has dedicated her voice to be a fierce advocate of body positivity and anti-bullying. And while she mulls over whether or not she’ll compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics, she’s definitely not backing down on bullying and abuse — especially when it comes to her home turf of gymnastics.