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Film Review: Netflix’s “Athlete A” Reveals the Experiences of Gymnasts Who Were Sexually Assaulted as Young Girls

BY REAGAN GOLDBERG, BLOGGER

The documentary “Athlete A” was finally released on Netflix on June 24, 2020. Going into this documentary, many were expecting it to be about the U.S.A gymnastics team doctor, Dr. Larry Nassar, and while this documentary did go into much detail on his case it also uncovered how USAG has been covering up for him for years. 

This documentary follows the story of the IndyStar and how their reporters were able to not only bring to light the amount of sexual assault that was going on amongst young female gymnasts and Dr. Larry Nassar, but also the toxicity of USAG. 265 people have come forward as victims of Nassar, according to the judge of Nassar’s final hearing. 

Nassar’s victims were female gymnasts from USAG and women from Michigan State University, where Nassar was employed. The names of some of his victims that came forward are Jeanette Antolin, Simone Biles, Rachael Denhollander, Gabby Douglas, Jessica Howard, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Maggie Nichols. This hearing ended with Nassar being sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison, otherwise described as his “death warrant”

Photo from Netflix

Maggie Nichols’ story is where not just the IndyStar, but others as well started suspecting that USAG was covering up sexual assault/harassment cases. In 2015, Maggie was on her way to be a part of the USAG team. She was invited to the Karolyi Ranch with the other gymnasts that were in the running for the Olympic team such as Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, and so on. 

The Karolyi Ranch is where the gymnasts are trained and observed by Bela and Marta Karolyi. Nassar sexually assaulted Maggie at this camp. Her coach got in touch with the Vice President of USAG, Rhonda Faehn, and the next day Maggie’s parents got a call from Steve Penny, the President of USAG. He said he would take care of everything. In actuality, the IndyStar found out that he did not report this incident until five weeks later, which is against Texas law because the law states you have to report it directly after finding out of a situation like this. 

Nassar was never called into question. USAG did not report it after it happened. USAG did nothing. They kept telling the parents that they could not talk to the authorities or it would ruin the current ongoing investigation when in actuality there was no investigation. Maggie Nichols was referred to as “Athlete A” in court documents when she first reported the incident, but now she has come forward as Athlete A; and she has shared her story. 

Photo from Netflix

The documentary includes a video clip of Steve Penny’s deposition on November 19, 2014, and when asked, “If you receive a complaint of sexual misconduct, … do you turn it over to local authorities?” Penny responded saying, “No,” unless the complaints were signed by a victim or a victim’s parent. This shows that  “… the USAG had a policy of not reporting all allegations to authorities,” as said by Marisa Kwiatkowski, an investigative reporter for the IndyStar.

Today, USAG is under investigation. The victims have been heard and justice has been served. With USAG and it’s staff being questioned and investigated, it leads us all to wonder what the future of USAG is; and it makes us wonder just how much the USAG has been covering up and for how long. 

If nothing else, “Athlete A” is a prime example of how the systemic cover up of sexual abuse allows offenders to continue to hold powers of position which allows them to repeat the offense over and over again.

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