Six-time Olympics medal-winning gymnast Aly Raisman said Saturday USA Gymnastics is not doing enough to protect gymnasts – especially young girls – from sexual abuse and she wants the organization to do better.
“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 said, after she and the “Fierce Five” were inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
Raisman, who most recently won gold in Rio at the 2016 Olympics, spoke out Saturday, in the wake of dozens of allegations of sexual abuse by gymnasts against former team doctor Larry Nassar, whom she called a “monster.”
Nassar spent nearly 30 years as an osteopath with the USA Gymnastics program and is now in prison in Michigan after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. Nassar has been accused of sexually abusing more than 100 top-tier athletes, most of whom are gymnasts, while he was treating them as USA Gymnastics’ team doctor and throughout his career as a gymnastics physician.
The first allegation came out in September, 2016, and Nassar was subsequently fired from USA Gymnastics and his faculty position at Michigan State University. He plead guilty in July to three federal counts relating to child pornography and is currently in jail awaiting trial on separate criminal sexual conduct charges, in addition to being sued by over 125 women in civil court who claim he sexually assaulted them under the guise of treatment. Nassar has pleaded “Not Guilty” to the assault charges and the dozens of civil suits filed in Michigan are currently in mediation.
Raisman, who said she was around Nassar regularly at the team’s training facility in Texas, didn’t say whether she was treated improperly by Nassar.
She pointed to the reported $1 million severance package given to former president Steve Penny after he resigned under pressure in March as proof that the organization has not handled the issue properly.
“I thought, ‘Wow, why couldn’t they create a program?’” Raisman said. “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?’”
Ali’s mother, Lynn Raisman, said USA gymnastics needs to “get rid of the people who knew and looked the other way.”
The gymnast added that every kid in the USA Gymnastics program must be protected.
“Everyone is important,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the Olympic champion or you’re an eight-year-old that goes to gymnastics in Ohio, or wherever you are in the US. Every single kid is important and I want USA Gymnastics to do a better job with that.”
”What people don’t realize is that this doctor was a doctor for 29 years,” she added. “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.”’
USA Gymnastics said in a statement late Saturday stating it welcomes Raisman’s passion, adding it’s “appalled” by the accusations against Nassar.
“We are taking this issue head-on, and we want to work with Aly and all interested athletes to keep athletes safe.”
USA Gymnastics launched an independent review of its policies in the wake of the allegations against Nassar and reporting by the Indianapolis Star that highlighted chronic mishandling of abuse allegations against coaches and staff at some of its over 3,500 clubs across the country. In June the federation immediately adopted 70 recommendations by Deborah Daniels, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw the review. The new guidelines require member gyms to go to authorities immediately, with Daniels suggesting USA Gymnastics consider withholding membership from clubs who decline to do so.