This NWSL story, sadly, sounds familiar to gym fans – Other gym news – (More!) Thoughts from Grace McCallum

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, Oct. 8, 2022

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CW: Sexual abuse, verbal abuse

This week began with the news of the Sally Yates report on abuse and sexual misconduct in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). My colleague Annie Peterson covered this for The IX as well as for the Associated Press. You should read Annie’s coverage, but the TL;DR is that the NWSL was found to have aided and abetted verbal abuse by coaches and inappropriate relationships between coaches and athletes by, basically, ignoring it any time it was reported and refusing to investigate any allegations.

Sound familiar?

It’s pretty much the same story we heard in the Ropes & Gray Report that uncovered the failure of USA Gymnastics, the USOPC, the FBI, and Michigan State to act on reports of Larry Nassar’s abuse of athletes.

Then on Wednesday, the Indy Star – the same newspaper that broke the Nassar news – published a blockbuster investigative report on sexual abuse and doping in the track and field and cross country program at Huntington University in Indiana. (You’ll hit a paywall on the Indy Star piece; here is a free but less comprehensive story from WISH in Fort Wayne, Ind.)

At Huntington, university officials looked the other way as head coach Nick Johnson gave athletes massages described in a lawsuit filed by two athletes as “Nassaresque,” admitted to having sex with the same two athletes, and was convicted of identity misrepresentation in a case where he also kidnapped, traveled across state lines with, and raped a high school student who believed he was a female recruiter for the University of Oregon (those charges were dropped in what must have been a hell of a plea deal). They did fire him after his conviction, but then they hired his wife to replace him, and he stayed involved with the team.

Remind you of the Karolyis?

Bela Karolyi was fired as national team coordinator for the U.S. after the 2000 Olympic team returned from Sydney without any medals. He was replaced by his wife Martha but maintained a position of power within the sport.

The Nassar scandal in gymnastics opened the door for so many athletes to report abuse and be heard. Sunlight spared no corner of the sport, from the lowest competitive levels to the Olympians, from developmental programs to elite to NCAA. And beyond gymnastics, the reverberations of the Nassar case reached other sports. I mentioned soccer and track and field above; we have seen similar reckonings in cheer, taekwondo, judo, swimming, equestrian sports, figure skating and snowboarding, to name a few.

And it still is not enough. Certainly, over the last several years, athletes have been emboldened by the success of other athletes in bringing their abusers to light, having them banned from coaching or even prosecuted. But for every case we hear about, there are doubtless many others who stay silent, fearing retribution, blame, and/or the loss of a scholarship or income.

At the core of it all is a refusal to believe women. Start by Believing is the name of a book by John Barr and Dan Murphy, subtitled Larry Nassar’s Crimes, the Institutions that Enabled Him, and the Brave Women Who Stopped a Monster. They detail gymnasts’ first encounters with the people who finally believed their accusations against Nassar and were able to give them the power to take him on: a lawyer, a detective, an attorney general, a newspaper reporter.

And Believed is the name of a podcast about the Nassar case, produced by Michigan Radio and NPR. Survivors of Nassar’s abuse are interviewed about their repeated attempts to tell their stories against the backdrop of Nassar’s ascent through the ranks of Michigan State and USAG.

All too often, abusers perpetuate their crimes by convincing their victims that they, and only they, can be trusted. You heard it in the stories of the women who testified against Nassar. You hear it in the women interviewed in the Yates Report. You hear it in the lawsuit filed against Huntington University. When we refuse to believe survivors, we are sending them back into that false trust. We are perpetuating the cycle. You can see that elements of these stories repeat themselves, over and over again. Like the book’s title says: Start by believing. Like the podcast’s title says: Let the victims be believed.

Other gym news and links

See the results from the Szombathely World Challenge Cup here, courtesy of Lauren Hopkins at The Gymternet. Addison Fatta won gold on vault, debuting a second vault that she’d apparently been keeping a secret from us (but maybe not from second-vault enthusiast and USAG strategic lead Alicia Sacramone). Fatta followed that win up with a bronze on bars. Katelyn Jong won gold on floor. Levi Jung-Ruivivar, the third U.S. gymnast in attendance, qualified in third to the floor final and finished sixth. (Her toe point remains a thing of beauty.)

Lauren also gives us a breakdown of worlds teams by country.

Spencer at The Balance Beam Situation gives us a review of the gymnastics-themed Lifetime movie Dying to Win.

Katelyn Jong insisted that she and Tim Daggett were cool after she won floor in Szombathely despite Daggett’s protestations at nationals that she was too slight to pull off the kind of tumbling that would put her on a podium. I, meanwhile, shall maintain my beef.

Konnor McClain will not be competing for a spot on the U.S. worlds team, as she’s down with a back injury.

Four gymnasts are in the top 10 female NIL valuations: Livvy Dunne (#1), Suni Lee (#2), Jade Carey (#9) and Grace McCallum (#10). When you factor in dude sports, Dunne (#5) and Lee (#10) remain in the top 10. We love to see it.

The average NIL deal for a female gymnast netted her $7,054, per Greg Marsden.

Suni Lee debuts a casual Moors in a training video. Pardon the language, but, it’s also kinda accurate.

Fisk spotlighted their all-Black, all-female coaching staff on IG.

CW: Sexual abuse

Camp Woodward will cease all gymnastics and cheer programming at all locations. The camp is the subject of two lawsuits in the last year accusing it of overlooking sexual abuse by a gymnastics coach.

Eythora Thorsdottir won the all-around at the Dutch world trials competition.

GymCastic will do a live show from worlds in Liverpool, England, on November 5 with guest stars Becky Downie and Danusia Francis (!). You can buy virtual or in-person tickets here.

NCAA commitments of the week

Lexi Zeiss committed to LSU:

Sydney Barros committed to UCLA:

Alyssa Orgen committed to Florida: 

Five at The IX: Grace McCallum, Part II, Gymnastics Boogaloo

Just when I thought it could not get better than the video I posted last week, Grace McCallum posted a second installation of her GRWM/Random Facts series. (I’m calling it a series. Grace, please make this a series.)
Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Lela Moore