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We need to talk about the message "Athlete A" sends about sexual assault allegations

For some heinous reason, society has a difficult time believing powerful men to be capable of committing rape. Or worse, go through great lengths to conceal it.

We need to talk about the message "Athlete A" sends about sexual assault allegations

Netflix's "Athlete A"

Photo credit: Netflix

Lately I've been on a Netflix binge. We can blame the current state of the world for my newfound entertainment habits. It seems I've willingly stumbled down a Netflix rabbit hole, devouring a new series or film each day. My latest obsession is "Athlete A," the documentary surrounding the sexual assault allegations against Larry Nassar, the former doctor for USA Gymnastics.


Considering the documentary was released in June, it's safe to say I'm a little late in viewing it. However, I remember following the 2016 trail unfold with absolute horror and disbelief. I was dumfounded that something so sinister had occurred in total ubiquity... and no one did anything to stop it.

Nassar was accused of sexually assaulting several young girls during a prolonged period of time, while employed as a doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. It is, without doubt, the largest sexual assault scandal to occur within the realm of U.S. sports. Told through a series of interviews with investigative journalists at the Indianapolis Star - the first to break the story - and multiple survivors from Nassar's abuse, the documentary unfolds rather quickly.

"Athlete A" in question refers to Maggie Nichols, who was the first gymnast to file a complaint against Nassar. Her claims were reluctantly ignored, inevitably costing Nichols a spot on the USA Gymnastics Olympics team, despite coming in 5th at the Olympic Team Trails. The overall documentary is disturbing and raw.

There's no doubt the series was heavy to digest. Especially considering the allegations occurred before the #MeToo movement had fully taken off, when women's assault stories were treated differently than they are today. Watching the survivors courageously retell their account of Nassar's abuse, along with the overall mistreatment of gymnasts from USA Gymnastics': my heart instantaneously broke in two.

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What frustrated me most was USA Gymnastics did absolutely nothing to protect these girls. And when allegations were made, they were ignored. The terrifying thing about Nassar was his ability to appear non-threatening to these girls. He wasn't like Weinstein or Epstein, intact with a personality that overflowed with narcissism.

Nassar was the scariest kind of predator. The kind who hid behind a veil of tenderness and compassion. He carefully burrowed his way into these gymnasts lives, providing them with a sense of solace within an environment lacking empathy. In a realm that prioritizes winning at all costs, Nassar appeared to these girls as a kind figure, whom many referred to as "quirky" and "nice."

In essence, Nassar was a predacious wolf in sheep's clothing.

He could've been your quirky, high school teacher or church minister. But what continues to frustrate me about the documentary is USA Gymnastics' reluctancy to address the allegations surrounding Nassar. In fact, USA Gymnastics knew about Nassar's behavior from earlier allegations, but concealed it. This inevitably led to the indictment and resignation of USA Olympics President, Steve Penny.

It's unfathomable to me how complaints about Nassar were dismissed for so long. But this isn't new within our culture. Time and time again, we witness women come forward with sexual assault allegations, only to be belittled or undermined. We witnessed it with Anita Hill, we witnessed it with Christine Blasey Ford, and we witnessed it throughout the Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein trails.

For some heinous reason, society has a difficult time believing powerful men to be capable of committing rape. Or worse, go through great lengths to conceal it. How can we expect women to come forward with their sexual assault stories when they're immediately ignored or persecuted once they do? This is a vicious cycle assault survivors are put through and it must be stopped.

When we intentionally ignore survivors stories, it sabotages any chance of healing. To disregard a sexual assault claim is one of the most damaging things you can to a survivor: both mentally and emotionally. We need a better justice system that not only listens to women's allegations, but believes them regardless of their race or background. But in order to do that, we must dismantle the way view and listen to survivors stories.

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