For roughly 10 years of my life, I lived and breathed gymnastics.
It was my sport, and like so many little girls who spent their childhoods in the gym and spent hours watching VHS recordings of Olympic routines we’d memorized, I wanted to be one of those bright-eyed young women who wore a crystal-studded red, white, and blue leotard atop the medal stand.
Needless to say, I never became one of those young women. I was only moderately talented, and I didn’t have the dedication or desire to forfeit the remainder of my adolescence to attempt to reach dreams that so few attain.
Still, gymnastics has a special place in my heart.
At 33 years old – two decades after I quit the sport – I talk about former national team coaches/coordinators Bela and Marta Karolyi as if they’re my distant relatives, and I still sit glued in front of the TV any time a competition airs.
I think that’s a big reason why I’ve been so vested in the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case. And why it hurts my heart to learn how so many young women endured horrendous abuse at his hands, all while their “protectors” and leaders ignored the warning signs.
Let’s be clear, Larry Nassar deserves the maximum sentence he’s received. And Judge Rosemarie Aquilina – the tough-as-nails purveyor of justice and de facto advocate for this courageous “army of survivors” – owes no sympathy to Nassar, despite what some social media users would like to believe.
With a press that still wants to highlight Hillary Clinton’s failures (real and imaginary) instead of holding our hot-headed Commander-in-Chief accountable for his offensive remarks and actions, it’s only fitting that much of the populace finds Judge Aquilina’s treatment of a sexual predator – one who, for three decades, abused young girls who’d entrusted him with their health – as controversial and unfair.
Right, because listening to statements about the abuse he repeatedly inflicted is even remotely close to experiencing that abuse, while desperately wishing for the terror and humility to end, firsthand!
It’s high time the victims’ voices are heard, and I pray this is only the beginning of questioning policy, holding leaders and coaches accountable, and reshaping a sport that has let down, at minimum, over a hundred women and their families for decades.
I believe that the whirlwind of the #metoo movement was an enormous factor in bringing Larry Nassar to justice and showing the non-gymnastics world just how pervasive his abuse was within the sport, and hopefully this momentum will continue.
Executives and policy writers at USA Gymnastics need to be held accountable and step down from their positions.
Administrators at Michigan State University must bear responsibility for turning their backs on victims and brushing the reports against Nassar under the rug.
Allegations of additional abuse at the former National Training Center at the Karolyi Ranch should be investigated properly.
Anybody with a hand in the sport must do all in their power to ensure that gymnastics becomes a refuge for ambitious young boys and girls and not a source of fear, shame, and destruction of innocence.
I still love the sport, and I remember how, even at the recreational level at which I competed, coaches and teammates become like a second family. I continue to hold onto special memories, and I hate to see them tarnished by evil.
Even more, I am devastated that so many young women had to experience that evil firsthand.
This isn’t just about gymnastics. It’s about power and subjugation. It’s about protecting the vulnerable among us all – no matter what sport, industry, or community in which we find ourselves.
It’s a painful lesson that we all must do better.
Catherine is part of the Contributing Writer Network. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click here.
Featured Image via NBC News