It doesn’t take a village
What has transpired in the USA Gymnastics program isn’t about gymnastics. It’s not about gymnastics culture, or even sports. It’s about protecting children, being decent and that shouldn’t be too much to ask. As with any institution its culture isn’t an insular thing. A significant number of adults had the same information to remove a pedophile from the ranks dating back 15-years and chose not to.
They were enablers soused with power. They were blinded and then led by hopes of gold medals, and rewarded with monetary gains along the way. Unfortunately, there isn’t an institutional monopoly on nefarious behavior. It can breed anywhere and as we learned with Jerry Sandusky and Penn State, predators can inveigle girls and boys.
This week it was revealed former USA Gymnastics Olympic team coach John Geddert is being investigated as part of the Nassar scandal. Geddert coached the 2012 women’s gold medal team. He also owned Twistars, the gym near Lansing, Michigan, where Nassar treated athletes including Ali Raisman.
As Eaton County Sheriff’s Office confirmed an investigation into Geddert’s involvement, he transferred ownership to his wife. He’s since been suspended by USA Gymnastics even though he sent a letter to his clients at Twistars announcing “retirement.”
Nassar and Geddert were friends and business associates for over 20 years. The two had a perverse good cop, bad cop relationship. One in which young girls were berated and abused in the gym by Geddert, and sent to Nassar to be “fixed.”
“(Geddert’s) abuse was your fuel,” Bailey Lorencen said to Nassar during her victim’s impact statement. “You used his abuse to mask your own pathetic pleasure.” According to ESPN, Geddert has been investigated twice for physical assault. Lorencen along with fellow gymnast Makayla Thrush were among those athletes mocked by Geddert upon suffering career ending injuries in his gym.
“You told me to kill myself not just once, but many other times,” Thrush added about Geddert. “After you ended my career, I tried.”
“We would talk about it amongst ourselves,” Ali Raisman told CNN. “And one of my teammates described in graphic detail what Nassar had done to her the night before. And John Geddert was in the car with us and he just didn’t say anything.”
Dominique Moceanu, 1996 Olympic gold medal gymnast, posted an email on Twitter that she alleges was sent by Geddert to her in 2008. The email was sent after her memoir “Off Balance” was released. Moceanu, who was 14 at the time she competed on the sport’s biggest stage, called USA Gymnastics a “culture of physical and emotional abuse.”
The email she alleges is from Geddert asks Moceanu why she would “stab this sport in the back” and says “the system you malign is the same system that ‘petitioned’ you onto the 96 team. The coaches that you malign are the very coaches responsible for your fame and notoriety.”
USA Gymnastics executives repeatedly failed to forward allegations of abuse at its member clubs to law enforcement authorities. Instead, the organization hunkered down behind an opaque curtain deciding against alerting authorities unless allegations came directly from an athlete or an athlete’s parent or guardian, according to court testimony.
For the record, even though the Olympic committee refers to them as women, athletes as young as six years old, most between 10 and 12, are not women. These were young, very young, girls.
Whereas ‘Me Too’ and ‘Times Up’ help to stretch dialog into places necessary for change, we can’t simplify how caustic a will to win assuages the guilt of willful sacrifice of countless tomorrows stolen from young lives.
“Everyone has to care,” Raisman said. “It’s just unacceptable to me,” she said. This should have never ever happened. You know, if one adult listened or had the character to act… We would have never met him.”
Change doesn’t take a village. It also doesn’t take an army of victims. It takes just one person to waive off self-interest and preservation. It took over a year for this story to find any sort of prominence in national news. We, yes, we, have to do better.