(Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you don’t want to know what is depicted in “Athlete A”)
Netflix’s new documentary “Athlete A” delves into the sexual abuse scandals reported within USA Gymnastics and focuses on Larry Nassar, the now-infamous gymnastics doctor who was accused of assaulting at least 250 young women since 1992.
Nassar’s victims include many Olympic and United States women’s national gymnastics team gymnasts, and Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison in 2017 after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. Then, in 2018, he was sentenced to 175 years after pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual assault of minors. Then, a month later, he received another sentencing of 40 to 125 years after pleading guilty to three more counts of sexual assault — he will die in prison for his crimes.
“I wasn’t proud to be an Olympian,” Jamie Dantzscher, former gymnast and part of the bronze-medal-winning American team at the 2000 Olympics, said in the documentary.
The documentary also delves into how USA Gymnastics didn’t report sexual abuse claims, and therefore allowed for more young women and girls to fall victim to predators. In fact, former CEO and President Steve Penny admitted under oath that USA Gymnastics never turned over complaints to authorities, although legally required to do so.
“USA Gymnastics took Maggie’s Olympic dreams away from her,” Maggie Nichols’ mother said in the documentary. Nichols is prominently featured in the documentary and was a contender for the 2016 Olympics team before a knee injury.
While a spokesperson for USA Gymnastics told TheWrap that they have not seen their documentary yet, they said in a more general statement: “We are deeply committed to learning from the mistakes of the past and the mishandling of the horrific abuse perpetrated by Larry Nassar. Because of the bravery of Maggie and other survivors who have come forward, there have been transformational reforms within USA Gymnastics and across the sport. Yet, we recognize that the work is not yet done. We must keep listening, keep evolving and keep improving – and we are committed to doing so.”
See 9 of the most shocking details below.
1. Before Larry Nassar, there were other abuse reports
In 2016, Indy Star reporter Marisa Kwiatkowski was told to look into USA Gymnastics and why no abuse was ever reported as organizations are required to do, and she found a lawsuit against a predatory coach who had moved from gym to gym and was shown to have abused a young gymnast after USA gymnastics had been warned about him. The lawsuit read: “This coach needs to be put in a cage before he rapes someone.” USA Gymnastics did nothing.
USA Gymnastics had complaint files on 54 coaches. Gymnast Jennifer Sey said in the documentary, “there were sexual predators everywhere. Emotional and physical abuse was the norm and we were beaten down by that.” She also said that the accepted methodology was “cruelty.”
2. Complaints were mostly considered “hearsay”
At the time of the lawsuit mentioned above, President and CEO of USA Gymnastics Steve Penny said under oath that he doesn’t turn over complains of abuse to local authorities. That was because complaints were considered “hearsay” unless the complaints were signed by the victim’s parents or an eyewitness to the abuse.
Instead of alerting authorities, Penny hired an outside form to look into Maggie Nichols’ claims. Nothing ever came of the investigation.
3. Overall disbelief
Not only were victims not believed when they complained about abuse, but even injuries were shrugged off.
“Every time I had an injury, it wasn’t believed,” Jamie Dantzscher said.
500 survivors have come forward with allegations against Nassar, including nine Olympians.
4. The Ranch
Gymnasts trained at a ranch run by Bela and Marta Karolyi, Romanian-American gymnastics coaches. They have been credited for transforming gymnastics in the United States, and have been head coaches of the national team as well as coordinators for the team at the Olympics.
At the Karolyi Ranch is where many victims reported to have been abused by Nassar. He reportedly gave them food and candy while the athletes lived under the Karolyi’s strict dietary guidelines.
Maggie Nichols said it was there that Nassar would touch her inappropriately during back therapy. She approached fellow gymnast Aly Raisman about it, who said he would do those things to her as well.
Larry was considered the good guy: “Larry was the only nice adult who was part of USA Gymnastics staff,” Dantzscher said.
Parents were never allowed to go to the ranch, and there was no “cell phone reception.”
The Karolyi’s were highly abusive, according to individuals in the documentary. They would say things like “you are a pig” and “fat cow” to the girls, and slap them to the point where Marta Karolyi’s rings left an imprint on their face.
5. Rachael Denhollander
Rachael Denhollander gives a very graphic account of what happened to her, and she was actually the first person to raise Larry Nassar’s name to the reporters at the Indy Star.
She said she would go to therapy and with his right hand, he did legitimate therapy and with his left, he sexually assaulted her under the towel. He positioned himself in a way so that her mom couldn’t see his other hand. Anal penetration happened over time and at one point, he unhooked her bra and did a breast massage. “He was clearly sexually aroused,” she said. She said she went to the head coach at the facility she was training at, but she was told “no one else is saying what you’re saying” and was cautioned against speaking out.
6. Nassar’s downfall
During the investigation, an FBI investigator asked Nassar whether he ever did vaginal penetration on his patients. He said if the patient reported a Coccyx problem (also known as the tailbone), then he would do a “digital penetration exam.”
When the investigator then asked whether he ever became aroused during these treatments, Nassar became visibly nervous and said, “If there would be arousal… it’d be because of whatever.” When he was pressed over “whatever” meant, he said, “when you’re a guy, you sometimes get an erection.”
In the subsequent article that ran in the Indy Star, his attorney said Nassar had never done intravaginal procedures, which led to his “downfall,” according to one of the reporters, because it led more and more victims to speak out. At first, the journalists received 12 phone calls, then 30 and then 60. “It was going up every day.”
Shockingly, during the investigation, Nassar was running for School Board and received 22% of the votes — accounting for 2,000 votes.
7. USA Gymnastics tried to discredit the gymnasts
When the allegations were published in the article, USA Gymnastics tried to sweep everything under the rug and tried to discredit the gymnasts. According to the documentary, USA Gymnastics called up Danzscher’s ex-boyfriends to try and dig up dirt about her.
Danzscher also received comments like “you’re a whore” and “you’re drunk” on coverage of the abuse, and USA Gymnastics completely left her to fend for herself.
It later came out that gymnast McKayla Maroney was forced to sign an NDA, and USA Gymnastics wanted to “minimize damage” wherever possible.
8. Child pornography
When two victims came forward and said Nassar sexually abused them (they were not his medical patients), authorities were able to get a search warrant and found several hard drives inside a trash can that contained 37,000 images of child pornography, according to the documentary.
Nassar pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography and tampering with evidence, and part of his plea deal was that he had to listen to every victim’s statement should they decide to speak out sentencing. One victim said that she told Michigan State University, where Nassar worked, about the abuse in 1997, and nothing was done.
9. Steve Penny
Penny, who was president and CEO of USA Gymnastics from 2005 to 2017, was a marketing expert, so he was “so busy selling those brands that they didn’t have time for those girls.”
However, he was a key figure in the scandal because he testified that USA Gymnastics rarely forward sexual abuse allegations, which was a direct violation of Indiana state law. He is alleged to have tampered with evidence during the investigation into Nassar.
During a hearing, he asserted his Fifth Amendment right for all questions. The Indy Star later published a story that said Penny had a relationship with law enforcement during the investigation and even offered an FBI agent a job at the organization.