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As Long As We Win – Aly Raisman on USA Gymnastics Culture

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend an event on the LSU campus featuring Olympic champion, and sexual abuse survivor, Aly Raisman. I hadn’t gone in to the evening expecting to write a blog post on my sports blog about it, but something she said made me take a long hard look at sports culture.

Not only that, but she also shared that people outside of the gymnastics world had asked her, and her teammates, why they were complaining, since they did win gold medals after all.

I think there’s something seriously wrong with sports fans if that’s our attitudes. I know I often roll my eyes at the fans who take to twitter to lambast professional athletes who dare complain about anything, after all they get paid millions of dollars to play a game, and we would all do anything to be in their shoes. Be that as it may, these are still human beings that we are talking about, and in the case of USA gymnasts, USA swimmers, UK and Argentine youth footballers, we are talking about children.

I do not think it’s appropriate to ignore sexual abuse, or mock mental health problems, or to dismiss real world problems because they are happening to people who happen to be the best athletes in the world. Yes, they’ve been lucky to have such physical talent, but it hardly makes it OK for them to be mistreated. The fact that the USA gymnastics team has been so successful does not mean that we can ignore the many, many people who harmed these girls by not taking accusations against Larry Nasser seriously. Aly had some very strong words for the administrators at Michigan State, the USOC and USA Gymnastics who did not investigate what was going on 20 years ago when the first rumors came out about Dr. Nasser. I can’t blame her. She’s 23 years old. If someone back then had done the right thing by these girls instead of ignoring it during the pursuit of Olympic glory, maybe she doesn’t have a sexual abuse survivor story to tell. I have no doubt, based on her brutal honesty about how much telling this story costs her, that she would love to not be in the spotlight over this. We should be amazed at her willingness to do it anyway, but we also shouldn’t forget that she shouldn’t have to. The adults in these organizations failed her, and every other gymnast who was abused in the ensuing years by Nasser.

And we failed them too, by thinking that anything that happens in the pursuit of a gold medal is “worth it” if they win in the end. That’s not a moral compass, that’s inviting athletes to be taken advantage of.

We need to be better than that as parents, as fans, and as human beings.