McKayla Maroney transformed into a household name almost six years ago. Sure, the gymnastics community knew her name, but with an infamous facial expression Maroney hit superstardom. With one eyebrow raised and a twist of the mouth, the former gymnast silently displayed frustration over winning the silver medal instead of gold for her most prized competition—the vault in the 2012 Olympics.
We all laughed. Former President Barack Obama posed with Maroney, mimicking the expression. Late-night comedy shows invited her on and Internet memes proliferated. But it turns out Maroney was fighting a much deeper frustration invisible to the eye.
Maroney, one of the “Fierce Five” gymnasts, was fiercer than ever imaginable. She was a victim of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who was found guilty of child pornography charges and sexual assault. This week, scores of young women testified at Nassar’s criminal sentencing hearing, recounting sexual assault that occurred under the guise of medical treatment. More than 150 such young women are also suing Nassar, his former employer Michigan State University, and other entities in a federal lawsuit.
Pay to Play with a Whole New Meaning
While those women speak, the same young star we championed will sit silent. Why? Not only did USA Gymnastics allow a pervert to violate Maroney on their watch and dime, they used a non-disclosure agreement to silence her. USA Gymnastics settled with Maroney for $1.25 million in exchange for not revealing her story.
Chrissy Teigen, a model and Internet star, offered to pay the $100,000 fine so Maroney can come forward without financial consequences. But there’s no price tag on the emotional consequences Maroney suffered.
Shortly after the Olympics, with her newfound fame as a successful Olympian and viral star, Maroney began posting risqué photos of herself on Instagram. Often, these photos received criticism from media outlets. Headlines like “Mckayla Maroney Hits Back at Critics After Sharing Sexy Thong video” popped up in her Google search and on social media.
At the time, some assumed Maroney had a bit of a rebellious side, amplified by her teenage years. We did, after all, see a young girl grow up in the national spotlight. The people who called her photos “slutty” or “too provocative” never stopped to think perhaps Maroney’s self-worth was damaged. That maybe, just maybe, Maroney couldn’t look at herself as deserving more because she had been exposed in unthinkable ways.
I was one of those people who judged Maroney, chalking it up to yet another young star who went off the tracks from having too much, too soon. She did. Maroney endured too much, too soon, and I offer the most sincere apology to her for any shortsighted, ignorant misjudgment.
I can never look at USA Gymnastics the same again. There is absolutely no excuse for enabling a sick, deranged man unfettered access to young women and to do so for more than 20 years.
USA Gymnastics, You Were Complicit
Remember the iconic image of Kerri Strug being carted to the Olympic podium in 1996, the image that inspired hundreds of thousands of little girls to pursue their athletic dreams? This writer does, because she was one of those little girls.
Now, as an adult, I and women across the country must face the blight of that memory. Nassar, the national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics, was the man who helped Strug to the bench. As we cheered from our couches, for our country and for those young women, a sexual miscreant stood alongside them.
Generally, people who come clean about bad behavior should receive forgiveness. But there isn’t just one case to forgive, as despicable as coming to terms with that sounds. There are 150 (and counting) living, breathing humans forever scarred by a pedophile. Based on the sheer volume of women who’ve come forward, along with the severity of the allegations, there is no denying that USA Gymnastics was oblivious to Nassar’s alleged wrongdoings.
Turning a blind eye does not exonerate the organization of guilt. In fact, it only amplifies wrongdoing because, at some level, no matter how basic or innocent the governing body might claim to be, officials leading the future of a sport and a generation of young women were complicit in allowing atrocities.
At a time when political divisiveness has ripped into the social fabric of society, we can all agree on this: Nassar’s punishment should be swift and severe. Stand for the American flag and the athletes who represent its values, not the corrupt organization that forgot it.