comscore ‘Me Too’ movement inevitably spills into sports | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

‘Me Too’ movement inevitably spills into sports


    U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney poses after completing her routine on the vault during the Artistic Gymnastic women’s qualifications at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

There were more names. Of course there were.

In gymnastics and in so many other sports — swimming and judo and hockey and basketball — there are always more girls, more women, more names.

This time, the brave athlete stepping forward was McKayla Maroney, an Olympic champion who posted a Twitter message on Wednesday morning that was shocking, yet — sadly — not so shocking at all.

“I was molested by Dr. Larry Nassar, the team doctor for the US Women’s National Gymnastics Team, and Olympic Team,” Maroney wrote, adding her name to the growing list of gymnasts who have accused Nassar of abusing them, and to the growing list of women deciding to share their stories.

“People should know that this is not just happening in Hollywood,” Maroney wrote, a reference to the Harvey Weinstein revelations that have become a “Me Too” phenomenon on social media. “This is happening everywhere.”

I have my own “Me Too” stories. Many women do. And to be crystal clear, my experiences were very different from what Maroney and the other gymnasts have described, which includes accusations of serious crimes: a doctor molesting dozens of minors during his long career. But distinguishing levels of harassment, or abuse, or rape is not the point of any of this. The point is to stop this — all of this.

So far, more than 140 women, including athletes who competed at the highest levels of gymnastics, have come forward to say that Nassar had touched them inappropriately during medical appointments. Unlike Weinstein, Nassar is in jail, awaiting trial on multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct. He already has pleaded guilty to child pornography charges — he denies the many accusations of sexual assault — and faces decades of prison time.

Regardless of how many charges are leveled, or how many lawsuits are filed, we might never know how many young gymnasts have stories similar to the one Maroney told on Wednesday. It sickens me to consider that there are probably many, many more. But now we know Maroney was one of them, and odds are she won’t be the last to raise her hand to say, “Me Too.”

Maroney, 21, said her abuse at the hands of Nassar began when she was 13. On Tuesday, the former Soviet gymnast and Olympic gold medalist Tatiana Gutsu also said, “Me, too.” Gutsu did so on Facebook, accusing not a doctor but an ex-Olympic teammate, Vitaly Scherbo, of raping her in 1991, when she was 15.

“This is me being brave after 27 years,” Gutsu wrote. She called Scherbo a “monster who kept me in my own prison to be afraid for so many years.”

If you’re taken aback by this wave of raw honesty, and surprised by the sheer numbers of “Me Too” posts out there, then you’re probably not a woman. To so many of us, too many of us, none of this is new.

During a congressional hearing about sexual abuse in sports in March, Rick Adams, the chief of Paralympic sports for the U.S. Olympic Committee, sat between two gymnasts and testified that the “Olympic community failed the people it’s supposed to protect.”

Those people who remained unprotected were athletes. Young ones. Older ones. Ones who have had to carry the burden of abuse for years, their lips zipped and their hearts heavy. Ones whose parents had entrusted them to coaches, adults who were supposed to keep those children safe. Ones who attended national gymnastics team training camps at Bela and Martha Karolyi’s rural Texas ranch, where Nassar often met with the gymnasts in their rooms, alone, and molested them.

Some of the athletes whispered among themselves that they felt uncomfortable with Nassar’s so-called techniques. But the stories stayed secrets. The gymnasts’ careers were on the line.

“Wherever there is a position of power, there seems to be potential for abuse,” Maroney wrote. “I had a dream to go to the Olympics, and the things that I had to endure to get there were unnecessary and disgusting.”

The Nassars and the Weinsteins of the world who haven’t been outed yet should be worried about “Me Too.” Because now that women can see that they’re not alone, more will speak up, because so many of them have stories to tell. Like me.

There was the time when I covered NASCAR in the 1990s and was cornered by a top driver in the back of his trailer while trying to conduct an interview. As the cars roared around the racetrack, he blocked the door and said he wouldn’t let me leave unless I kissed him. The team’s publicist saved me by knocking on the door.

Or the time when another driver kept putting his hand on my leg as I sat next to him during a group interview. Or the meeting at the Olympics where a man in public relations threw himself at me, hands grabbing, as soon as he closed his office door, forcing me to talk my way out of the room.

I thought all of those experiences were just par for the course for a woman in sports, and, in many ways, it turns out they were. But those moments were degrading and frustrating and isolating — after all, I just wanted to do my job, like anyone else — and so I never shared those details. I couldn’t believe that I’d ended up in those situations, and was embarrassed.

Without the boldness of so many other women, as so many of them join hands to pull back the curtain on this problem, I still might have preferred to say nothing.

That silence is exactly what abusers are counting on. They can’t count on it anymore.

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