On September 15, four United States Olympic gymnasts—Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Maggie Nichols and McKayla Maroney, testified against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for its mishandling of reports of abuse from Larry Nassar in 2015.
In July 2021, Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General of the US Department of Justice, issued a report that detailed the FBI’s failure to handle the allegations, prompting the gymnasts’ condemnation of the FBI, USA Gymnastics, and Larry Nassar on September 15.
With immense courage and vulnerability, the gymnasts recounted their experiences, explaining the mental and physical effects of abuse that still linger today.
“We have been failed and we deserve answers,” says Simone Biles. “The scars of this horrific abuse continue to live with all of us,” she says. “The impacts of this man’s abuse are not ever over or forgotten.”
According to NPR, the FBI Director Christopher Wray told the gymnasts he was “deeply and profoundly sorry that so many people let [them] down over and over again,” and added “that on no planet is what happened in this case acceptable.”
In 2017, Larry Nassar was the focal point of the issue, but today, it is a different case.
“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, but I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” Simone Biles said.
Larry Nassar, the former national team doctor and a professor at Michigan State University (MSU), abused hundreds of women, including almost every gymnast on the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. He is now serving 175 years in prison.
The women are still filled with frustration and confusion. “It disgusts me that we are still fighting for the most basic answers and accountability over six years later.” Aly Raisman.
Six years ago, Maroney, who won a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games, decided enough was enough. Nineteen at the time, she called the FBI from her bedroom floor in September 2015. According to the New York Times, Maroney told the FBI about Nassar’s abuse before she told her mother.
After a three-hour phone call where she explicitly explained the abuse she faced, the agent, now identified as Michael Langeman, on the opposite end of the phone indifferently said, “Is that all?”
After Maroney’s phone interview, the FBI failed to share this information about Nassar with local and state officials, thus allowing Nassar to continue his trail of destruction. The FBI knew about Nassar and the danger he posed and made the deliberate decision to not act urgently.
The FBI did not document Maroney’s report until February 2017, almost 17 months later, giving Nassar an extra year and a half to hurt an additional 70 girls and women. These girls and women could have been spared had the FBI acted promptly.
During the September 15 hearing, Maroney said that Nassar “turned out to be more of a pedophile than he was a doctor.”
To add to the abuse the women faced, when Michael Langeman documented the report, he told lies, choosing to protect Nassar over the gymnasts.
Interestingly, Maroney’s interview was not the first time the FBI had heard about Nassar. In July 2015, Stephen Penny, CEO of USA Gymnastics, reported allegations against Nassar to the FBI’s Indianapolis field office. This field office did not formally open an investigation.
W. Jay Abbot was the Special Agent in Charge of the Indianapolis field office. According to CBS News and the New York Times, at the time Maroney’s report came in, he was simultaneously discussing a possible job with the US Olympic Committee. Abbot resigned in 2018.
More women began to speak out against Nassar after the Indianapolis Star published an article on August 4, 2016, just in time for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic games. This article exposed USA Gymnastics’ “long-standing policy of not reporting child sex abuse allegations to law enforcement or child welfare, unless the complaints came directly from athletes or their parents,” according to the Washington Post.
Following this article, in August and September 2016, Rachel Denhollander, a former gymnast and victim of Nassar, not only filed a police report against Nassar, but also worked alongside another USA gymnast to publish an article for the Indianapolis Star that publicly accused Nassar of abuse.
Denhollander’s testimony circulated the country and over 150 victims of Nassar’s abuse came forward, telling their stories and uniting against their abuser.
When the FBI, USA Gymnastics and MSU would not work to stop Nassar, the Indianapolis Star would.
By June 2017, there were over 100 federally filed complaints against Nassar and by January 2018, Raisman, Biles and Gabby Douglas publicly joined in the fight against Nassar.
But it was not until February 28, 2018, that Nassar was sentenced for 125 years in prison. Today, his sentence has been increased to 175 years.
On September 15, the senators on the panel supported the gymnasts and admit that the system failed them; however, Langeman and Abbott were not prosecuted.
Today, the four gymnasts request that Congress dissolve the board of directors of the US Olympic Committee, saying “we make this request after years of patience, deliberation, and unrequited commitment to learn from our suffering and make amateur sports safe for future generations.”