Olympic gymnast urges changes after abuse claims
Aly Raisman, one of the most decorated American gymnasts, told “60 Minutes” on Sunday that she wants changes in the sport so other athletes aren’t hurt in the future — and that’s why she is speaking about alleged sexual abuse by former Michigan State University physician Larry Nassar.
The six-time Olympic medalist, 23, who competed in the 2012 London and 2016 Rio games, began seeing Nassar eight years ago when she was 15, and he gained her trust by being nice to her, often giving her desserts and gifts.
Though she was not comfortable with the way he touched her, she said she was in denial and believed she was lucky to be treated by Nassar, who also was the national team doctor for USA Gymnastics.
He is now in jail, awaiting sentencing on federal child pornography charges and a December trial involving nearly two dozen counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving young athletes, mostly gymnasts.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2015, a year before the Rio games, when an investigator hired by USA Gymnastics asked her about Nassar’s treatment that she began to put the pieces together.
“His touching makes me uncomfortable but he is so nice to me,” Raisman said she told the investigator. “I don’t think he does it on purpose because I think he cares about me. ... I want people to know just because someone is nice to you and just because everyone is saying they are the best person, it does not make it OK for them to ever make you uncomfortable. Ever.”
Shannon Smith, one of Nassar’s attorneys, declined to comment on the news magazine interview that aired Sunday.
Raisman’s television appearance comes just before the Nov. 14 release of her book, “Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything.” The book title reflects the name of the gymnastics team, “Fierce Five,” which won gold in London in 2012 and for which Raisman served as team captain.
In the book, Raisman writes about her dreams to go to the Olympics and the allegations about Nassar.
After the interview aired Sunday, Indianapolis Star investigative/enterprise reporter Mark Alesia tweeted that the interview was a “book-promoting puff piece” and former gymnast Rachael Denhollander, who told her story about alleged sexual abuse to the newspaper and which led to more than 100 other women coming forward, was the “real hero.” He linked to the newspaper’s story about Denhollander’s allegations against Nassar.
“OK, let’s set the record straight for @60Minutes,” Alesia tweeted, but later deleted. “@Aly_Raisman told her story publicly 14 months after the real hero — Rachael Denhollander — talked to @indystar after our investigation into @usagym. Without her using her name, it would be biz as usual now.”
“Yes, it’s helpful to the greater good that @Aly_Raisman spoke out,” he said in another tweet. “Absolutely, positively. But that book-promoting puff piece by @DrLaPook and @60Minutes ignored @indystar‘s real work. Where was Aly a year ago when it would have helped Rachael Denhollander? So easy to talk now.”
Many responded on twitter, saying his perspective was inappropriate for a journalist, and it’s up to sexual abuse victims to decide when and if they want to come forward.
“They’re BOTH heroes for coming forward as SEXUAL ABUSE VICTIMS,” tweeted @KayleighWalsh. “The fact that you’re pitting them against each other is despicable. Shame on you.”
Alesia later apologized.
“I hear you, gymternet and others” Alesia tweeted. “I apologize to @Aly_Raisman. There is courage and a much greater good that I know better to have ignored. Please judge me by what has been published, not a lapse in judgment. Thank you.”
Raisman, or her representatives, could not be immediately reached.
Late Sunday, Denhollander said she had mixed feelings about the roles of everyone involved in the allegations against Nassar, particularly USA Gymnastics, which now has a new president and CEO, Kerry J. Perry.
“I am grateful to see Aly speaking up and using her voice to advocate for change,” Denhollander said. “I am grieved and angry with her that we are here, more than a year after IndyStar broke the story of Larry’s abuse, and USAG has still failed to accept any responsibility for their actions.
USA Gymnastics has a longtime policy that adults should not be alone with minors, but Nassar allegedly treated her and others in hotel rooms while abroad, according to the television segment. But Raisman said she did not feel protected by USA Gymnastics.
While Raisman declined to detail specifics of how she allegedly was abused by Nassar, many have accused the doctor of digitally penetrating them without gloves, lubrication or consent.
“Nobody ever educated me on make sure you are not alone with an adult, make sure that he is not making you uncomfortable,” Raisman said. “I didn’t know the signs. I didn’t know what sexual abuse really was. And I think that needs to be communicated to all of these athletes, no matter the age.”
In a statement on its website, USA Gymnastics apologized for Nassar’s alleged behavior and said it shared Raisman’s hopes for athletes.
“We are appalled by the conduct of which Larry Nassar is accused, and we are very sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career,” the statement said. “Aly’s passion and concern for athlete safety is shared by USA Gymnastics. Our athletes are our priority, and we are committed to promoting an environment of empowerment that encourages speaking up, especially on difficult topics like abuse, as well the protection of athletes at all levels throughout our gymnastics community.”
Raisman accusations also come a few weeks after her teammate on the “Fierce Five” team, Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney, joined the #MeToo movement, and claimed in a tweet that she was sexually assaulted by Nassar when she was young.
Hundreds of women, mostly young gymnasts, have accused Nassar of sexually assaulting them under the guise of treatment. But Raisman is the most high-profile to speak out.
Three other 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.
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.
Raisman said she wants young girls to have a better understanding of sexual assault than she did. She also wants the questions that are being asked of the women who are stepping forward to change.
“Why are we looking at why didn’t the girls speak up?” said Raisman. “Why not look at: What about the culture? What did USA Gymnastic do and what did Larry Nassar do to manipulate these girls so much that they are afraid to speak up?”
As she works to represent the U.S. for a third time in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, she said she has thought of whether speaking out will work against her chances of getting on the team. But it doesn’t matter.
“This speaking out and creating positive change is more important than any Olympic medal you could ever win,” Raisman said.