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Mental Health

The dark side of sports: How USA Gymnasts are changing the narrative

Edited by Megan Cambruzzi

On September 13th of 2021, USA elite gymnasts Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Maggie Nichols testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing on the FBI’s role and complacency in the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case. These four athletes handed their harrowing experiences over for the world to know, in hopes of having justice delivered on alleged accomplices and enablers to Larry Nassar. Their accounts of the inaction of authorities around them who knew about the sexual abuse occuring are deeply saddening, but unfortunately, not unique. 

For years, gymnastics, as well as other aesthetically-oriented sports, have been notorious for their cutthroat practices. In 1996, the world gasped and cheered as they watched Kerri Strug land her vault on one leg after injuring her ankle in a previous event. Shortly after, Strug’s career was over. In 2014, 15 year old Yulia Lipnitskaia, or “the girl in the red dress,” was hailed as one of the brightest young talents of women’s figure skating. Less than three years later, she retired to enter treatment for anorexia. Today, over 500 women and girls – including many elite, world-ranked gymnasts – have come forward about their sexual abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar.

Many athletes, especially women, experience some form of abuse from coaches in their sporting careers. Often, this abuse is brushed aside as “normal training” or as an “overreaction”. By excusing abusive training practices under the guise of shaping future champions, we forfeit the health, safety, and happiness of our athletes.

 Millions around the world watch sports every day. We love to admire the skill of veteran olympians and the potential of young stars. We boast about our children making varsity or winning first at their weekend competition. And yet, abuse is rampant, even normalized, in sports. 

This investigation marks more than just USAG, the FBI, and Larry Nassar being held accountable for the abuse they inflicted and enabled. It also marks a fundamental shift in how women’s testimonies and safety in sports is viewed and addressed. The voices of Biles, Raisman, Maroney, and Nichols are heard loud and clear around the globe, and their message is clear: It’s time to begin putting as much attention, pride, and effort into ensuring that our athletes are well-treated and respected as we do in our love for their art. It’s time to treat them as humans instead of commodities. Most importantly, it’s time for change.

Madeleine Brown is a 3rd year student at the University of Toronto St George campus, specializing in English with a minor in Biology. Outside of HerCampus, Maddie is an officer of Alpha Omicron Pi’s Beta Tau chapter and tutors English as a second language, which she hopes to continue doing around the world post-graduation. Maddie hails from Bellevue, Washington, and enjoys music, cats, and long hikes.
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