Athlete A: The truth behind USA Gymnastics

Warning: This article mentions sexual abuse, which may be triggering for some readers. 

The documentary Athlete A came out on Netflix in 2020, and uncovered parts of USA’s renowned Gymnastics team that had been carefully covered up by their organization’s prominent figures. The movie revolves around former team doctor Larry Nassar, who has been convicted of sexually assulting seven young women and accused of assulting over 258 more girls, and why it took so long for him to be convicted for his crimes. Director Bonni Cohen highlights the stories of the survivors and emphasizes how individual and different their experiences were. 

While the news of Larry Nassar was groundbreaking, Athlete A dives deeper into what happens behind closed doors of USA Gymnastics (USAG). This movie enlightened me about just how corrupt the organization was, especially in regards to abuse to their athletes. CEO Steve Penny had previously gotten reports about sexual misconduct regarding Nassar, but instead of turning it to the police, decided to lie and cover it up. 

Athlete A incorporates the stories of multiple gymnasts, including Maggie Nichols, Rachel Denhollander, and Jamie Dantzscher. The name “Athlete A” actually comes from Nichols’s code name back when the story first came out and she was not ready for her identity to be released to the public. Now, however, she feels proud to be a voice speaking up about the abuse she went through. Denhollander was the first to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault. What makes hearing her story interesting is that, while this film focused on USAG, Denhollander herself was not an elite gymnast. She did gymnastics for fun and actually mentions that she was not very good. 

This documentary starts from when the Indianapolis newspaper, IndyStar, decided to write an article on the failure to report sexual abuse scandals in schools. As investigative reporter Marisa Kwiatkowski explored the topic, a source recommended that she look into USA Gymnastics, whose headquarters were actually located in Indianapolis, and how they handle these scandals. She uncovered a pattern of abusive coaches and how USAG would continue to hire them even after being warned of their behavior. This article caused many gymnasts to speak up about the experiences they had in relation to this organization, and the one consistent name was Dr. Larry Nassar. 

Nassar had a successful medical career, earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and then graduating from Michigan State University as a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. His impressive knowledge of sports medicine and anatomy was what allowed him to abuse so many young girls and women, as he claimed it was a part of his physical therapy and that it was helping the gymnasts heal. 

On December 7, 2017, Larry Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography charges. He was also sentenced on January 24, 2018, to up to 175 years in Michigan state prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct. 

Overall, this documentary opened up the public eye to an extremely important subject, and did it in a way that was graphic enough to depict the trauma that these athletes experiences but still sensitive to the audience. I believe it is important for everyone to watch, as I personally learned a lot about what truly happens at corporations that no one knows. USAG had covered up so many scandals and secrets, and the IndyStar exposed the actions of those in power working there. The film focuses on the strength and courage of the survivors, and their voices can really be heard throughout the entire documentary.

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