Olympian McKayla Maroney Says Team Doctor Molested Her for Years
Over the last two weeks, women around the world have been saying “me too” and sharing stories of sexual harassment and assault that many have kept quiet for years.
On Tuesday, Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney joined several other celebrities and public figures who have come forward with their own stories of sexual assault in the workplace. For her, the abuse allegedly occurred when she was still a child.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the 21-year-old gold medalist detailed the alleged abuse she endured for years — starting at age 13 — at the hands of the former US Women’s National Gymnastics Team and Olympic Team doctor, Larry Nassar.
“I was molested by Dr. Larry Nassar,” Maroney wrote. Nassar told Maroney he was giving her “medically necessary treatment that he had been performing on patients for over 30 years,” she explained.
Maroney described one instance in which Nassar allegedly gave her a sleeping pill on a flight to Tokyo. When she regained consciousness, she was alone with Nassar in his hotel room. He was “treating” her. Just 15 at the time, Maroney said it was “the scariest night of [her] life.”
“I thought I was going to die that night,” she wrote.
Nassar was arrested last year and charged with possession of child pornography, according to NBC News – to which he pleaded guilty, Time reported. In March, Nassar was charged with 22 additional counts of sexual assault and is currently awaiting his trial, ESPN reported. There are 125 different women also suing him for sexual abuse, according to ESPN, though Maroney is not among them.
Nassar has been accused of assaulting girls and young women throughout his career, according to CNN. He resigned from the USA Gymnastics Team in 2015 and was fired from Michigan State University after sexual abuse allegations against him became public.
“The things that I had to endure to get [to her Olympic dream], were unnecessary, and disgusting," Maroney said.
Maroney is not the only gymnast to have suffered chasing her dreams. Last August, an Indianapolis Star investigative report revealed that USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for gymnastics, failed to report over 50 sexual abuse allegations to law enforcement over several years.
But sexual abuse isn’t just an issue for gymnasts — it’s a problem that many female athletes across different sports have struggled with.
Yasmin Brown, a taekwondo athlete, accused her coach of raping and sexually abusing her over three years — her trauma ultimately derailed her Olympic dreams. Former Olympic swimmer Katherine Starr also says she was abused by her coach. Her experience led her to found Safe4Athletes, a nonprofit that supports abused athletes.
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Athletes, particularly elite athletes, often become serious about their sport at a young age, meaning they may form close relationships with coaches and authority figures substantially older than them. This puts young female athletes in especially vulnerable positions — whether that means not know who to report sexual abuse to, having allegations dismissed, or being intimidated into not reporting at all.
One gymnast who says she was abused told the Indianapolis Star that her coach threatened to destroy her career, her teammates’ careers, and threatened to kill himself if she wouldn’t “be his girlfriend.”
Dozens of swim coaches have been banned for life by USA Swimming, the national governing body for swimming, for sexual misconduct, including one coach who secretly taped his female swimmers in the locker room in 2010, ABC News reported.
While USA Gymnastics failed to report allegations of sexual abuse to authorities and failed to raise the concern to higher authorities, USA Swimming actually wrote to the US Olympic Committee in 2004 and 2005, asking them to address the widespread sexual abuse of athletes, Vice reported. The committee declined to take action, saying that it was up to local clubs and organizations to conduct background checks.
More than 500,000 women tweeted messages and stories of harassment and assault, especially in the workplace, using the hashtag #MeToo this week. And following the New York Times’ investigative report that highlighted women’s accounts of being sexually harassed by Hollywood giant Harvey Weinstein, actresses like Rose McGowan and “Game of Thrones” star Lena Headey have also shared their experiences on Twitter.
Maroney says she was inspired by everyone’s words to tell her story now.
USA Gymnastics commended Maroney’s courage, saying that because of her “strength in coming forward, predators can be held accountable for their actions,” in a statement on Wednesday. Maroney’s former Olympic teammates have also tweeted in support of her statement.
100% support you. SO proud of you and your strength. Love you like a sister!! https://t.co/1VHb79a7lx— Alexandra Raisman (@Aly_Raisman) October 18, 2017
So sad and heartbreaking that this happened to you Mack. I'm here for you and I support you https://t.co/LXA1Yf04FC— Jordyn Wieber (@jordyn_wieber) October 18, 2017
“Our silence has given the wrong people power for too long, and it’s time to take our power back,” Maroney said. “It’s never too late to speak up.”