USA Gymnastics knew that Dr. Larry Nassar was routinely and repeatedly sexually assaulting the many young girls in his care. They knew and they did nothing. They knew and the covered it up. They knew and they kept him in the position, kept sending child gymnasts to him, kept inviting him into their midst. They had a duty to protect their young charges. They had a duty, morally and legally, not only to remove him, but to report him to the police. Rather than doing so, they continued to feed victims into the hands of a known pedophile.
In Jon Stewart’s recent political satire Irresistible, he talks a bit about about the pundit economy, how the news has largely been replaced by talking head opinion. These aren’t journalists, not by a long shot, but they sit behind anchor desks as if they are, injecting issues with their own agendas. It’s a dangerous trend, especially when you consider it took reporters from the Indianapolis Star to expose these crimes and trigger a police investigation. Once the newspaper made the allegations public, women started coming forward. In droves. Hundreds. Newspapers are nearly extinct, but can we afford to lose the last few people dedicated digging for truth and informing the people?
Because USA Gymnastics was never going to do the right thing. In fact, they’d fostered a culture of abuse with coaches like Bela Karolyi who believed dominating and terrorizing young gymnasts was the key to success. USA Gymnastics wasn’t just looking the other way, it was enabling abusers and suppressing evidence because that’s how they kept the sponsorship dollars rolling in.
This is a difficult film to watch, obviously. But directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk deliver on a sense of hope, too. And hope? She’s female. Called Athlete A in the documents, in court, woman after woman stood up, identified themselves, and spoke to the man who’d abused them, and to the judge who would sentence him. And also to all of us. They showed us there is power and dignity in being able to name the crime, and the perpetrator. It takes real courage to do that, but it made me want that same thing for every woman. Many, many, many sexual assault victims don’t get justice. They don’t speak up because they don’t feel they can. Or they are not believed. It took years for these gymnasts to see their day in court, but isn’t justice the very least we can do for these victims?