Op Ed – Learn and Grow

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Dr. Larry Nassar
Photo: heavy.com

It has been about 8 months since the news broke about Dr. Larry Nassar and his involvement in the sex abuse scandal that has affected many US female gymnasts and many more woman that he has been in contact with through Michigan State University.

We first starting hearing the news during the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio when the Indystar published an investigative report on August 4, 2016 called, “A blind eye to sexual abuse: How USA Gymnastics failed to report cases.”

In this report, the Indystar states that USA Gymnastics failed to report to authorities or take action on cases of sexual abuse that had been brought to their attention by coaches, parents, and/or gymnasts.

Since then numerous articles have been published and news pieces aired on television reporting on Dr. Larry Nassar’s alleged sexual assault and also on USA Gymnastics’ failure to take action to protect it’s athletes.

Jamie Dantzscher (L), Jessica Howard (C), Jeanette Antolin (R)
Photo: CBS News

One of these news pieces included a 60 Minutes segment on February 19, 2017 where three former US National Team Members; Jessica Howard, Jamie Dantzscher, and Jeanette Antolin, recalled their experiences by the hands of Nassar.

Then Olympic Gold Medalist, Dominique Moceanu publically called for the resignation of Steve Penny, CEO and President of USA Gymnastics.

The US Olympic Committee also got involved and made “recommendations” to the USA Gymnastics board about what might be best for the organization.

Penny has been the target of a lot of criticism for not allegedly doing enough to protect the gymnasts affected by Nassar and other sexual predators.

On March 16, Penny informed the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors that he would be resigning from his position, effective immediately.

So now what?

What do we do now as a community of coaches, parents, gymnasts, and fans?

We continue to learn and grow so we may move forward!

We look internally at our sport and look at what is broken, why it is broken, and then we fix it.

Part of continuing to move forward is education.

Parents and coaches need to become better educated on the warnings signs of sexual abuse.

Parents, coaches, and gym owners need to fully understand their roles in protecting gymnasts from predators.

Another thing we need try to do is change the mindset of some parents, athletes, and coaches that “winning at no cost” is not the only option.

In an article by Wendy Bruce Martin called “The Cult Culture” she writes,

The cult culture of Gymnastics convinces gymnasts that there is nothing more important than their gymnastics. This thinking creates a mindset of knowing that they will sacrifice, they will abide, they will do what they are told, they will always come second, and they will only be valuable if they succeed.

It convinces parents to turn a blind eye to questionable coaches, misconduct, overtraining, or allowing their children to be mistreated. …12 rope climbs, 3 minute handstands, 1 hour of running laps, or spending an entire workout on beam…

The gymnasts are willing to sacrifice, and they are willing to be mistreated or abused to achieve their goals. Many times they don’t even know they shouldn’t be abused.

If the parents let this happen, it must be okay. The abuse must be needed for success. The success must be important.

This is NOT the case!

Abuse does not lead to success!  It leads to short and long term emotional, physical, and psychological failure.

We also need to feel comfortable reporting any abusive behavior!

Parents, athletes, coaches, judges, and gymnastics fans need to feel confident with their voices so they report individuals that may be using abusive behavior when working with young athletes.

Photo: SafeSport.org

Recently the U.S. Center for SafeSport opened and is responsible for educating, investigating, and resolving alleged reports of abuse, bullying, and hazing in all of the US Olympic Committee’s National Governing Bodies which includes USA Gymnastics.

SafeSport is charged with educating the sports community about abuse, bullying, and hazing.

In addition, and possibly the most important, is that SafeSport will be responsible for investigating and resolving all reports of abuse, bullying, and hazing!

In the past, individual governing bodies were responsible for doing this themselves.  Now the individual governing bodies will no longer be responsible for this!

Although according to USA Gymnastics, “The Center will have the exclusive authority to investigate and resolve alleged SafeSport Code violations involving sexual misconduct.  USA Gymnastics will retain the authority to investigate and resolve alleged SafeSport code violations that are non-sexual in nature.  Although, at USA Gymnastics’ request, the Center may exercise the discretionary authority to take on cases of this nature.

USA Gymnastics goes on to say, “Reporting alleged criminal conduct to USA Gymnastics or the Center will not satisfy any individual mandatory reporting requirements under state or federal law. Visit www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/lawspolicies/state/ to view state-by-state mandatory reporting laws to determine your reporting obligations and options.

So what have we learned?

  1. Education plays a BIG role in stopping the abuse that is within our sport
  2. Change the mindset that “winning at no cost” is not an option
  3. Report those that may be using abusive coaching tactics so that they are stopped

The more voices that are heard by those that govern our sport, the more they are pressed to take action to fix the problem!

Source: safesport.org, Indystar.com, cbsnews.com, usagym.org

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