It has been over a month since former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing more than 200 gymnasts. While we can all rest assured that this child molester will rot behind bars for the rest of his life, Nassar’s conviction continues to send ripples of change through the gymnastics community.
Although Nassar was the perpetrator, in no way was he the only authority figure to commit wrongdoing. During her impact statement in court, former U.S. National Team member Mattie Larson revealed that Valeri Liukin added to the culture of emotional abuse and made her feel invisible. When Larson was on the national team, Liukin was coaching his daughter, 2008 Olympic champion Nastia Liukin, as well as several other athletes on the team. Years later, in 2016, he was promoted to the role of U.S. Women’s National Team coordinator.
Singling Liukin out was a bold and critical move. Ten days after Larson gave her statement, Liukin resigned from the position, explaining that “the present climate causes me…far too much stress, difficulty, and uncertainty.” It’s certainly audacious of him to cite “stress” as his reason for stepping down, considering the amount of stress the survivors were under – partially at his own hands. What exactly is this “present climate” he speaks of? It’s the “climate” created when he got outed as emotionally abusive and cold. Parents don’t want to send their little girls to train with a man who doesn’t care about their wellbeing. Liukin has realized that his time is up, and the gymnasts will be better off in his absence.
Another coach whose corruption was exposed during Nassar’s trial is John Geddert, who coached at Twistars Gymnastics in Michigan and was the head coach of the 2012 women’s Olympic gymnastics team, of which his student Jordyn Wieber was a member. Geddert and Nassar were old friends, and Geddert referred all of his gymnasts to the skeevy doctor. During the victim-impact statements, several gymnasts claimed that Geddert would physically abuse them, which only caused them to have to visit Nassar and receive his “special treatments” more often.
Thankfully, Geddert was suspended by USA Gymnastics following these statements, and he subsequently announced his retirement to his clients at Twistars. Geddert denied that he had done anything to create an unsafe environment at the gym, but his gymnasts say otherwise. He allegedly told one young woman to kill herself on multiple occasions, he pushed one gymnast so hard that she sustained stomach injuries, and he forced another girl who had just broken a bone to get up and keep practicing.
Police had investigated Geddert twice in the past on reports of physical assault, but no arrests ever occurred. Part of that is Nassar’s doing: He convinced one of the gymnasts to retract her complaint. After all, the injuries Geddert inflicted gave Nassar extra opportunities to grope the athletes under the guise of “treatment.”
We can’t just be thankful that Geddert was suspended from USAG and leave it there, however. Why isn’t he being re-investigated by police? It’d be foolish to assume that Liukin and Geddert are the only two coaches in the country who have physically or emotionally abused their athletes. The recent revelations in the wake of the trial have exposed a problem that extends far beyond Larry Nassar.
The sport of gymnastics is rife with hidden abuse. Over the years, various young athletes (particularly girls) have spoken about being forced to keep training despite serious injuries, being forced to lose weight, and being humiliated in front of their teammates. This is all happening to very young girls; gymnasts typically peak around age 15 and rarely continue the sport into their 20s. Unlike with football or baseball or other elite professional sports, the gymnasts who captivate us on television screens and feel the pressure to win Olympic gold aren’t adults.
USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee need must held accountable in creating a new culture that places athletes’ physical and mental wellbeing at the forefront. When little girls are treated as robots before human beings, it will only be easier for manipulators like Larry Nassar to groom them and lure them into their seemingly comforting arms. The horrifying history of USAG cannot be rewritten, but the future can.