Gymnast Maroney says she was assaulted by MSU doc

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney joined thousands of other women who have tweeted #MeToo on Wednesday when she posted on Twitter that she was sexually assaulted when she was a young gymnast by former Michigan State University physician Larry Nassar.

She tweeted that she was molested for years by Nassar, the former U.S. Women’s National Gymnastics Team and Olympics team doctor who worked with athletes for nearly 30 years.

Nassar is in jail awaiting sentencing on federal child pornography charges and a trial involving nearly two dozen counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

“Our silence has given the wrong people power for too long,” Maroney tweeted, “and it’s time to take our power back.”

The assaults, according to Maroney’s statement on Twitter, started when she was 13 years old at her first National Team training camps in Texas and didn’t stop until she left the sport.

“Dr. Nassar told me that I was receiving ‘medically necessary treatment that he had been performing on patients for over 30 years,’” wrote Maroney, 21. “It seemed whenever and wherever this man could find the chance, I was ‘treated.’”

Maroney tweeted that one of the treatments happened in London before she and her team won the gold medal at the Summer Olympics in 2012, and it also happened when she won her silver medal during those games.

“For me, the scariest night of my life happened when I was 15 years old,” Maroney tweeted. “I had flown all day and night with the team to get to Tokyo. He’d given me a sleeping pill for the flight, and the next thing I know, I was alone with him in his hotel room getting a ‘treatment.’ I thought I was going to die that night.”

Matt Newburg, an attorney for Nassar, declined to comment Wednesday.

Hundreds of women, mostly young gymnasts, have accused Nassar of sexually assaulting them under the guise of treatment. But Maroney is the most high-profile to speak out so far.

Three former gymnasts appeared on a “60 Minutes” segment in February to discuss abuse allegations.

Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympian; Jessica Howard, a member of the U.S. National Team in the late 1990s, and former national gymnast Jeanette Antolin alleged Nassar sexually abused them during medical treatments at the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center at Karolyi Ranch in Texas.

They said Nassar touched their vaginas during the procedures and massages.

In April, former U.S. gymnastics team member Kamerin Moore posted a seven-minute video on YouTube in which she talks about encounters with Nassar — including one occasion where, Moore said, he asked if he could videotape as he gave her a treatment when she was 13.

Rachael Denhollander — the former gymnast who disclosed her sexual abuse allegations about Nassar to the Indianapolis Star last fall — called Maroney’s move courageous. Denhollander’s account led dozens of other former patients to come forward with accusations against Nassar.

“So grateful they are finally feeling safe enough to speak out,” Denhollander said. “There are many, many more. I hope this unleashes the floodgates for the elites.”

Others lauded Maroney for coming forward.

On Instagram, Kristen Hinkson posted a photo taken of Maroney when she was receiving the silver medal for vault during the 2012 Olympics. Her “not impressed” facial expression was the talk of the games, spawning memes and even an joint scowl later with President Barack Obama while visiting the White House.

On Instagram, Kristen Hinkson posted that photo and said now everyone knows why Maroney had that expression on her face.

Hinkson said now everyone knows why Maroney had that expression on her face.

“I’m so sorry,” she wrote. “Thank you for bravely sharing your story to help other girls be saved from abuse in gymnastics and by coaches in general.”

Things have to change, Maroney said. She called for people to speak out, hold individuals and institutions accountable, educate and take action to prevent sex abuse, and have zero tolerance for abusers and those who protect them.

She signed her tweet #MeToo – a hashtag women have used on social media since Sunday to signify that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted. It followed widespread allegations that film mogul Harvey Weinstein harrassed or abused more than three dozen women.

“People should know this is not just happening in Hollywood,” McKayla said. “This is happening everywhere. Wherever there is a position of power, there seems to be potential for abuse ... Is it possible to put an end to this type of abuse? Is it possible for survivors to speak out, without putting careers and dreams in jeopardy? I hope so.”

Mick Grewal, an Okemos-based attorney representing 34 women in a civil suit against Nassar, said Maroney is right and that people need to speak out.

“It’s not impossible to stop a determined sexual predator and pedophile,” Grewal said. “People need to come forward and people need to be educated that about what is going on society right now. Everyone is downplaying these sexual assault allegation and claims.

“We have to protect our No. 1 natural resource, which is our children,” Grewal continued. “What kind of society are we if we don’t listen to what our children are saying?”

Nassar began working with the U.S. national gymnastics team in 1986. He earned his degree from MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1993.

While Nassar was still in medical school in 1992, he allegedly assaulted one of his earliest victims, according to a complaint in a federal civil lawsuit against him that includes an estimated 125 plaintiffs.

While some women allege they complained about Nassar years ago, it wasn’t until after Denhollander’s story appeared in the newspaper that more than 100 other women filed complaints about him with MSU. Dozens of others have filed civil complaints against him.

State authorities have charged him with 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, with a trial set for Dec. 4. Meanwhile, Nassar pleaded guilty to in July to federal charges of possessing 37,000 images of child pornography found on external hard drives after he turned in his work computer to MSU.

He will be sentenced Nov. 27 in the child porn case, with a prison term ranging from 5 to 60 years. He is in jail without bond.