Sport Opinion: Gymnasts bare their souls in describing Larry Nassar abuse, but are lawmakers listening?
USA Gymnastics proposed plan has $425 million for Nassar abuse survivors
Hundreds of women have alleged they were abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who is now in prison.A USA Gymnastics reorganization plan includes up to $425 million for survivors who say they were sexually abused by former team doctor and convicted sex offender Larry Nassar.
For several hours, McKayla Maroney sat on her bedroom floor and explained to FBI agents, in graphic detail, the many times she’d been sexually abused by Larry Nassar.
Telling strangers about the worst moments in her life was difficult and uncomfortable. But the Olympic gold medalist did it anyway because she believed it would protect other young women from similar horrors.
She was crying as she finished. On the other end of the phone, dead silence. Until, finally, a question:
“Is that all?”
“Those words in itself were one of the worst moments of this entire process for me,” Maroney recalled Wednesday. “To have my abuse minimized and disregarded by the people who were supposed to protect me, just to feel like my abuse was not enough.”
Unfortunately, it still isn’t.
Powerful as it was to see Maroney, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols in that Senate hearing room and listen to their searing accounts of how they were betrayed and failed by the FBI and others who were supposed to protect them, it also felt hollow. Many of the senators tripping over themselves to express sorrow and empathy for these women are the very same ones who, either by action or inaction, have thought nothing of doing harm to other women.
Healing from Nassar's abuse wasn't easy. These survivors say it made them stronger.
Emily Morales, Megan Ginter and Katelynne Hall were three of the 156 women who gave victim impact statements about Nassar's sexual abuse.Emily Morales, Megan Ginter and Katelynne Hall, all 18 at the time, were three of the 156 women who gave victim impact statements about Nassar's sexual abuse.
They doubted and disparaged the women who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual abuse. They supported President Donald Trump despite more than a dozen credible allegations of abuse. They stood by the past four years as the Department of Education watered down Title IX, making women on university campuses less safe.
And it’s not just them. The same people who express indignation on behalf of Nassar’s most famous survivors rarely muster the same outrage for the hundreds and thousands of anonymous women who are abused, instead asking what they did to put themselves in that situation or wondering why they didn’t report. Those who express disgust at the atmosphere that allowed Nassar to prey on hundreds of girls and young women are silent about the culture of toxic masculinity that created it.
Simone Biles, Aly Raisman to testify before Senate on FBI's Larry Nassar investigation
Elite gymnasts are set to testify before a Senate panel on the FBI's failure to properly investigate sex abuse allegations against Larry Nassar.All four gymnasts said they were victims of Nassar's abuse with Nichols being the first athlete to bring a sexual abuse complaint about Nassar to top officials at USA Gymnastics.
Video: 'I blame an entire system' - Simone Biles (Reuters)
“You’re fighting against a systemic problem in our country that isn’t just in sports,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, said. “We’ve seen it from church institutions to the Boy Scouts – when you talk about pedophilia all the way to sexual assault – we see it in diners, workplaces, factory floors.
“It shouldn’t take something directly happening to us to trigger our empathy and our action,” Booker said. “(In) a country where this violence happens every single day … we are all playing a part in a culture that allows this to happen.”
It is uncomfortable, and for some people will no doubt be inconvenient, to draw comparisons between the compassion shown to the Nassar survivors and the cruelty with which others who’ve been abused are treated. But abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Firing the FBI agent who ignored Maroney’s complaint and then, almost two years later, spun a false narrative out of it, might bring a measure of satisfaction. But it doesn’t change the attitudes that caused it to happen in the first place.
USA gymnasts describe how FBI lied about their allegations against Larry Nassar
Olympic gymnasts McKayla Maroney and Simone Biles ripped the FBI and the Justice Department in Senate testimony Wednesday for how FBI agents mishandled abuse allegations brought against Larry Nassar and then made false statements in the fallout from the botched investigation. © Getty Images "They allowed a child molester to go free for more than a year and this inaction directly allowed Nassar's abuse to continue," Maroney told the Senate Judiciary Committee after recounting the vivid details she provided the agent interviewing her about Nassar's abuse.
Criticizing the U.S. Department of Justice for not having the integrity to show up at the hearing, let alone prosecute the FBI agents involved in the case, might make for good sound bites. But it does nothing to ensure it won’t happen again.
Of course, the Nassar survivors want answers. They are owed that, at the very least.
What they want more, what prompted them to come forward in the first place, was to ensure this doesn’t happen again. To change the culture, in the Olympic movement and beyond, so that women who come forward are trusted and believed.
To re-educate all of society so sexual violence doesn’t occur in the first place.
“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar,” Biles said. “And I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.”
The members of the Judiciary Committee will no doubt be proud of themselves for the hearing, which dominated news coverage throughout the day Wednesday. But did they actually learn anything?
I’m not talking about getting FBI Director Christopher Wray to confirm that Michael Langeman, the lead agent in the Nassar case, had been fired. I’m talking about substantive changes all institutions could implement to make women and children safer and feel more protected.
While a few senators had specific questions for the gymnasts, most seemed more interested in simply hearing themselves talk. Asking Biles, Maroney, Nichols and Raisman to bare their traumas in a nationally televised hearing just so the senators could pontificate on the details felt almost like another form of abuse.
OnPolitics: FBI director apologizes to superstar gymnasts
Elite gymnasts including Simone Biles testified before a Senate panel on FBI failures to investigate 2015 sexual abuse allegations against Larry Nassar.After making early promises about a more inclusive government, the Taliban have returned in some ways to the brutal regime that ruled the country before the American invasion in 2001.
It didn’t go unnoticed that some of the senators so eager to speak when the gymnasts were in front of them were silent when it came to pressing the people actually in a position to do something, Wray and Michael Horowitz, the inspector general of the Justice Department.
“I … know you didn’t come here for our kind words, our empathy,” Booker said. “You came here for justice.”
It has been five years since Nassar’s crimes were revealed publicly, yet the survivors live with that trauma every day. Biles alluded to having to withdraw from several events at the Tokyo Olympics, saying, “The impacts of this man’s abuse are not ever over or forgotten.” It’s the same for every other survivor of sexual violence.
Maybe the next time a woman comes forward to accuse a Supreme Court nominee or a president, a few senators will remember that, and show her the same kind of empathy they were so eager to show at Wednesday's hearing.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY:
Angelina Jolie Says She Was 'Honored' to Meet McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman: 'I'm in Awe of Their Courage' .
McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman were among those who testified on Wednesday's Senate hearing on the FBI's handling of the Larry Nassar investigation . On Thursday, the actress and director, 46, shared a photo of herself posing with some of the former and current athletes who appeared at the hearing to share their stories, including Maroney, Raisman, Maggie Nichols, Kaylee Lorincz, and Jessica Howard. "I was honored to meet with some of the brave US gymnasts who appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday," Jolie captioned the picture on her Instagram.