Queens You Should Know: A Celebration of African American Gymnasts

Nia Dennis

Queens You Should Know, in this case, let’s celebrate the many great American gymnasts of African descent; these women have done so much for their country, teams, and sport. For this year’s Black History Month I wanted to highlight contributions made by African American women to gymnastics in the US.

Dominique Dawes

Black gymnasts often suffer from discrimination and racism from coaches, judges, competitors, and viewers. Historically underrepresented in the sport, Black gymnasts have fought for their place on American teams, with Dominique Dawes and Betty Okino becoming the first African American women to win an Olympic medal in gymnastics when the team placed third at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Simone Biles

The sport is now dominated by Simone Biles, who has revolutionized gymnastics due to her mastery of seemingly-impossible skills and impeccable form. With more medals than any other gymnast in history, Simone is the Greatest Of All Time. Off the mat, she has used her position to fight for survivors of sexual abuse. Many of the athletes in this post came out as survivors of The Guy I Won’t Name Here; they won despite an immense amount of abuse at the hands of a predator, coaches that enabled him, and an organization that valued medals over their well-being.

Gabby Douglas

While I profiled many gymnasts here, I of course can’t cover all of the greats in one post. I’ve highlighted a number of elite and NCAA athletes who made history in the sport with milestone wins, as well as a couple of my favorites that set the bar with their creative skills and innovative choreography.

There are also so many wonderful athletes currently competing at the elite level and in the NCAA; I definitely encourage anyone remotely interested in the sport to get into NCAA (SO MUCH FUN) and follow elite this year during the lead-up to the Tokyo Games.

A note before we get into this celebration for those that may be unfamiliar with the sport:

  • Elite is the highest level of competition in gymnastics. Think Olympic and World Championship skills and composition. In the United States, the elite level is divided by age–juniors are below the age of 16 and seniors are older than 16 in the competition year.
  • Level 10 is one step below elite. These athletes still adhere to the “perfect 10” scoring guidelines. NCAA athletes also use this Code of Points.
  • Most (99%) athletes compete elite and then NCAA if they retain their status as a an amateur athlete. For gymnasts like Simone Biles or Gabby Douglas, who went professional (earned money through endorsements, etc), they are unable to compete in the NCAA (I think this is extremely unfair but this is another rant for a different post). Some athletes choose to return to elite following the end of their NCAA careers, but this is rare. Equally rare is to compete in both the NCAA and elite simultaneously; this means athletes have to learn routines to two different Code of Points standards while adhering to the very strict NCAA limited training hours.
  • Other questions? Leave a comment and I’ll try to answer!

Luci Collins:

Luci Collins is the first Black American gymnast to be named to an Olympic team (1980). Although the US boycotted the Moscow Games that year she still earned her spot, and along with Ron Galimore for the men’s team, were the first Black American athletes on Olympic Teams for gymnastics. Born in Los Angeles to Creole parents, Luci was deemed “too light” to be considered African American and although her local community celebrated her success, the national coverage for her milestone was largely ignored due to her skin color.

See her floor routine at the 1980 National Championships:

“At the 1980 Olympic trials, there was a lot of attention on Ron (being the first black Olympian) but not a mention of me as African-American. I was devastated by the non-coverage because of the way it affected the little community (Inglewood) that strongly supported me…

Dominique and Betty and all who followed me have created a wave of cultural support in the African-American community and a wave of African-American youth to dare to dream of trying gymnastics.”

Hersh, Philip. 2016. “Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas are just the Latest and Greatest Heroes in a Storied History of African-American Gymnasts.” Available here.

Dianne Durham:

In 1983 Dianne Durham became the first African American gymnast to win the all-around title at the US National Championships. Later that year, Dianne beat future 1984 Olympic Champion Mary Lou Retton at the McDonalds International Gymnastics Championships. A knee injury would prevent her from competing at the World Championships that year, although her ultimate goal was to make the Olympic Team in 1984. Finally healthy, Dianne placed sixth on the first day of US Team Trials, but injured her ankle on the second day of the competition. Under the assumption that she could petition onto the team due to her past successes, she learned after the competition that she was ineligible due to the fact that did not compete at the World Championships the prior year; she did not know at the time that the only way to be considered for the Olympic Team was to finish the trials on an injured ankle. Dianne retired from the sport in 1985.

Here is Dianne on bars in 1983:

Mounting with a FRONT PIKE

And on beam in 1984 before her ankle injury:

Sadly, Dianne passed away this month. But her contribution to the sport and the inspiration she gave to the generations of girls competing after her of course continues her legacy.

Betty Okino:

Born in Uganda, Betty moved to the United States and began the sport at the age of nine. Only four years later (!!!) she made her way to the highest level of competition (elite) and as a senior athlete, placed second in the all-around at the 1990 National Championships. Betty is the first Black woman of any nationality to win multiple individual medals in gymnastics, an accomplishment completed in 1991 (bronze on balance beam) and 1992 (balance beam silver). Despite a very serious spinal injury that kept her from competing at the National Championships and Trials, Betty (along with teammate Dominique Dawes) became the first African American gymnasts to win an Olympic medal when they helped the team place third (also the first US team medal in a fully attended Olympics) in 1992.

Betty is known for the incredibly difficult triple turning pirouette on balance beam, a skill that is rated at one of the highest difficulty levels (E) even today. Only a handful of athletes have ever successfully competed the Okino.

Here is Betty competing her famous skill for the first time:

Dominique Dawes:

Known as “Awesome Dawesome”, Dominique Dawes is one of the greatest gymnasts to compete for the United States. Along with her historic medal with Betty Okino in 1992, Dominique is the first African American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in the sport, the first Black person of any nationality to win a gymnastics Olympic gold medal, as well as one of only three American gymnasts to compete in three Olympics, winning medals in each team competition. Dawes has a number of amazing performances including sweeping the all around and all four events at the National Championships in 1994–the first woman to do so since 1969–although she could never put together an error-free all-around competition at the World Championship level.

That first tumbling pass though!

After placing second in the 1996 Olympic Team Final, Dominique had a legitimate chance to win the all-around title. Leading after two events, Dominique fell on floor, thus taking her out of the top ten; she later came back to win an individual bronze on the event, her first in a World or Olympic competition. In 2000, she returned to competition and earned a spot on the Olympic Team, where she helped the US win a bronze medal.

She is known for her incredible series of back handspring to three layouts, a combination rarely competed today, along with two back-handsprings to a full twisting double back somersault (competed today by Simone Biles for reference).

“I only take pride in knowing that I was blessed to have opened doors for other minorities to see the sport of gymnastics as an avenue for them to reach their full potential in sport and later in life.”

— Dominique Dawes

Andreé Pickens:

Alternate to the 1995 World Championships, Andreé competed at the 1996 Olympic Trials, finishing 12th. After finishing her elite career, she competed for the University of Alabama, becoming one of the most decorated gymnasts in the history of the program. Andreé is a two-time NCAA Champion, 2002 SEC Female Athlete of the Year, and was the NCAA Regional Gymnast of the Year all four years she competed for Alabama.

Here she is competing a MASSIVE vault at the 2002 SEC Championships:

Tasha Schwikert:

A teammate of Dominique Dawes, Schwikert was a last minute addition to the 2000 Olympic Team. After being named as a second alternate weeks following Olympic Trials, Schwikert was substituted into the competition for an injured teammate (Morgan White), jumping the named alternate, Alyssa Beckerman. During the Sydney Olympics, Tasha competed exceptionally and delivered for her team, eventually earning a bronze medal. In 2020 Tasha’s coach Cassie Rice noted that Tasha, then age 15, had competed on a torn hamstring after National Team Coordinator and child abuser Bela Karolyi pushed her down so violently into an split that the muscle completely ripped, an injury unknown to anyone outside of the training staff at the time

Here is Tasha on beam during the Team Final:

Tasha later became one of the leaders of the American squad between 2001-2003 when the team won two World Championships medals. In the leadup to the 2004 Olympics, Tasha unfortunately injured her ankle and was named an alternate to the team. Following her elite career, she won a number of NCAA titles for the UCLA Bruins including two individual all-around titles.

Known for her unique style, Tasha had one of the most fun elite floor routines ever:

Tasha later came forward to describe the racism and abuse she suffered at the National Training Camps at the Karolyi Ranch. At the time Bela Karolyi was given complete control of the team, their training, and who would ultimately compete for the United States in 2000:

“We were all sitting around after a practice and Bela stood up. A gymnast who was very, very thin at the time and said, ‘I want all of you guys to look like her.’ She had a thigh gap. I remember her standing there and you could like see through her, her thighs when she did gymnastics. She had very thin lines. They always thought my lines weren’t as straight. And, you know, my gymnastics wasn’t as pretty, because  an upside down handstand should look like a straight line. Well, my line would be, there’d be a little curve where my butt is and there might be a little curve where my chest is. So, my straight line naturally is just very different from some of my white teammate’s straight lines. And so I internalized that and I’m like, ‘gosh, like, you know, I guess I’m just not good enough.’ I wish I could go back in time and say, ‘Hey, look, 15 year old Tasha, you are half African-American. You have different genetics. You will never have a thigh gap and that’s okay.’

ESPN. 2020. “The Karolyi Way.” Available here.

Ashley Miles:

Asley Miles burst onto the elite scene and earned a spot on the 2001 World Championship Team, where she won a team bronze medal. In 2003, she began competing for the University of Alabama, where she won the NCAA National Vault Title in 2003, 2004, and 2005. She was named the National Collegiate Gymnast of the Year in 2006; Ashley earned eleven perfect tens in her career and helped her team earn second place in the 2003 and 2005 National Championships.

Here she is just casually being perfect at the NCAA National Championships:

Ashley Postell:

A member of the National Team from 1997-2004, Ashley Postell was the first woman of African American descent to win a world title, earning the gold on balance beam at the 2002 World Championships.

Here is Ashley winning her title, only the second woman for the US to do so:

Known for her unique skills and gorgeous form, Ashley was also the first African American gymnast to compete for the University of Utah (2005). During her career she earned a record 20 All-American awards and finished in the top three of each year she competed at the NCAA Championships.

Annia Hatch:

Born in Cuba, Annia Hatch won her first Cuban National Championship at the age of 10 (!!) and would later win the title seven times over her career. She became the first Cuban gymnast to win a World Championship individual medal in 1996 and qualified for the Olympic Games in Atlanta, but lack of funding prevented her from competing. After retiring the following year, she married an American and moved to the United States, where she became a part owner of a gym and coach; in 2001, she earned her American citizenship and decided to start training as a gymnast once again.

Just a year later, Annia won the US Classic, beating Olympian and National Champion Tasha Schwikert; she was also one of the best vaulters in the world at the time. Although a US citizen, Annia was unable to compete internationally as Cuba refused to grant her permission as needed by Olympic regulations. In 2003, Annia earned a spot on the World Championship team, but tore her ACL before the start of the competition. Remarkably, she was able to recover from her injury, competed in all four events at the US Nationals in 2004, and was named to the Olympic Team. In Athens, AT AGE 26 (!!) Annia competed on only vault, and won a team silver and individual silver on the event; this was the first American Olympic medal on vault in twenty years (Mary Lou earned a silver in 1984, although that was not a fully attended Olympics).

Here is Annia’s vault event final in 2004:

Just immensely talented on vault!

Kayla Williams:

In 2009, Kayla Williams was still a Level 10 athlete, one level below elite; later that year she later moved up to elite, winning the vault title at the National Championships and earning a spot on the World Championships team. There, she became the first American gymnast ever to win a World title on the event.

Here is Kayla’s historic World Championship win:

Kayla retired from elite in 2010 and competed for the University of Alabama, where she helped the team earn their second consecutive National Championship in 2012.

Mattie Larson:

Born in 1992, Mattie began her senior career in 2008, placing seventh all-around at the National Championships qualifying for Olympic Trials, and later the team selection camp. Hindered by a a leg injury, Mattie didn’t make the team and injuries kept her from competing for a spot at the 2009 World Championships. In 2010, Mattie placed second in the all-around and first on floor, earning a spot to the World Championship Team.

Mattie competed one of my favorite floor routines of all time at the 2010 National Championships:

Absolutely amazing.

Unfortunately, at the World Championships, Mattie fell in both the team qualification and finals. She was essentially shunned by the National Team staff and retired soon after the competition. She competed as a Bruin for two years before retiring from the sport completely. In 2018, Mattie read her victim impact statement, where she told her story of extreme mental, physical, and sexual abuse suffered as a member of the National Team. This statement helped lead to further investigation into the Karolyis, her coaches, and USA Gymnastics staff. You can watch her harrowing statement here.

Kytra Hunter:

As an elite athlete Kytra was known for her floor exercise and intense tumbling. In 2009 and 2010, she finished fourth all-around at the National Championships, but did not make either World Championship team. In 2011, Kytra began her reign at the University of Florida, where she became a TWENTY-FIVE time All-American and FOUR-TIME National Champion, including winning two all-around titles and national vault and floor gold medals.

Here is Kytra killin it on floor:

This. First. Pass. Tho.

Kennedy Baker:

Kennedy Baker competed as an elite from 2009-2013 and finished eighth in the all-around at the 2012 Olympic Trials, although she was not named to the team. In 2015, Kennedy started her NCAA career with the University of Florida. Known for her power, including her amazing floor exercise, where she competed the incredibly difficult double Arabian in the piked position (double salto with a half twist in the first salto, legs straight); it is rare to see at the elite level, much less in the NCAA. Kennedy competes one of the best of all time.

Here is Kennedy earning a perfect ten on floor:

THAT FIRST PASS

As a Florida Gator, Kennedy is an 11-time All American, three time SEC champion (all-around, vault, and floor) and was the 2015 SEC Freshman of the Year. Unfortunately, her career was cut short when she ruptured her Achilles tendon while competing floor against the University of Arkansas.

In 2020, Kennedy, along with fellow UF athlete Kytra Hunter, came forward with experiences of racism during her time as a Gator:

“During Baker’s freshman season, she described an incident in a car when a teammate called her a racial epithet, with several other teammates also in the vehicle.

‘I froze in complete disbelief,’ she wrote. ‘Did she really say that? I looked around the car, almost all upperclassmen, and no one said a word. They awkwardly laughed, and then we drove in radio silence after that. I immediately notified Rhonda after the incident occurred and she put together a ‘meeting.’ In this meeting, one of the first things that was said was, ‘What is said in this meeting should not leave this meeting,’ immediately silencing me, and my fellow teammate Kytra [Hunter].'”

2020. ESPN. “Ex-Florida Gymnast Kennedy Baker Details Alleged Racism in Social Media Post.” ESPN. Available here.

She also shared her experiences at the gym Texas Dreams. Kennedy, along with former TD gymnast Ashton Kim, stated that their coach repeatedly made racist jokes toward their athletes. Kennedy detailed this horrifying incident with head coach Kim Zmeskal:

“My first championships of the USA was in Dallas Texas… I was sleeping, when Kim shook me awake and demanded that I start getting ready for the competition. She was so pissed, and just started going off, and I remember I was so confused and didn’t understand what I did wrong. Then, she took me in the bathroom, and grabbed a pair of scissors. She told me that she thought my hair was too long for the meet, and she cut my braids, without my consent.”

Baker, Kennedy. 2020. “An Open Letter to My Gymnastics Experience.” Available here.

Alicia Boren:

Four time Junior Olympic Level 10 National Champion (2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015) Alicia Boren is one of the most successful gymnasts for the University of Florida. Known for her power, Alicia was the 2019 NCAA National Champion on floor exercise, earned two bronze medals with the team (2017 and 2018) and ended her career as an 18-time All-American.

Here is Alicia winning floor exercise in her final performance as a Florida Gator:

The first pass. The dance. Just incredible.

Elizabeth Price:

Elizabeth “Ebee” Price was a member of the elite Senior National Team from 2012-2014. In 2012, Ebee finished a surprise fourth place all-around at the Olympic Trials and was chosen as an alternate for the London Team.

This amazing vault.

Known for her power on vault and wonderful form on bars, Ebee won the 2014 American Cup before retiring from elite competition. She began her NCAA career at Stanford University in 2015 and was one of the most (if not THE most) successful gymnast in the history of the program. The National Champion on bars (2018) and vault (2015), she is also a 19-time All-American and the winner of the AAII Award (2018) for most outstanding female senior in the country.

Here is Ebee earning a perfect ten and winning bars in her final competition:

Gabby Douglas:

Gabby Douglas is the first African American gymnast to win the Olympic All-Around, a feat she accomplished in 2012. Also at the London Olympics, Gabby became the first U.S. gymnast ever to earn gold medals in the Team and All-Around.

Gabby finishing an incredible four event performance to win the All-Around in 2012:

During the London Games Gabby was criticized mostly for her hair as “unkempt” and “messy”, even as her white team members had similar buns. Gabby later had to explain that the sport has ruined her natural hair.

After taking a break from the sport, Gabby returned to elite in 2015, placing second to Simone Biles at the World Championships that year; she later earned a spot on the Olympic Team. One of the few American athletes to ever compete in two Olympics, Gabby also became only the second reigning Olympic All-Around Champion to return to her second Olympic Games (the first being Nadia Comaneci) and the first American (and currently only) gymnast to do so. Placing third in the world, Gabby was unfortunately unable to compete in the all-around final as only two athletes per country can qualify. She also suffered an onslaught of racist and sexist backlash during these Games, as she was accused of not being patriotic enough, smiling enough, or providing enough support to her teammates. I wrote about her unfair treatment here.

Gabby performed one of the most beautiful and intricate bar routines in 2016:

Queen Status

Kyla Ross:

Kyla “Boss” Ross is one of the most successful gymnasts in elite and NCAA history. Born in Hawaii (her mom is Filipino, German, and Puerto Rican, while her did is of African American and Japanese descent), Kyla was a member of the National Team from 2009 to 2016. She earned a spot on the 2012 Olympic Team and competed for the US in the Team Final on uneven bars and balance beam.

Here is Kyla on beam, competing like a badass in her first big international competition:

Following the London Games, Kyla continued to compete as an elite, earning three silvers in the 2013 World Championships (all-around, bars, beam) and a bronze in 2014 (all-around); this is the beginning of the Simone Biles reign and even with her much lower difficulty, Kyla was able to consistently remain one of the top gymnasts in the world. Due a number of factors, including her height–gymnasts are not allowed to raise the height of the uneven bars at the elite level, making the event increasingly difficult for a 5 ft 7 in athlete–Kyle retired from elite and focused on NCAA in 2016. During her time at UCLA, she earned the fourth most perfect 10s in NCAA history, She is only the second NCAA gymnast to earn two “Gym Slams”, a perfect ten on all four events. Unfortunately her NCAA career was cut short in 2020, when her senior year ended early due to Covid-19. With NCAA titles on all four events, Kyla is one of the most successful athletes to compete in both elite and NCAA.

Here are all of Kyla’s perfect routines:

Kyla is the first female gymnast to win a World, Olympic, and NCAA championship title.

Lloiminicia Hall:

Known for her incredible and unique floor chorography, Lloimincia Hall competed as a level 10 gymnast before starting her career at LSU in 2011. She became one of the most accomplished floor workers in the school’s history including four straight SEC titles on the event and seven perfect 10s. Truly one of the most creative and engaging performers in NCAA history.

Here is Lloiminicia’s amazing routine where she earned a perfect 10:

I. Love. Lloiminicia. Hall.

Just bringing the crowd to their feet in 2015:

Sophina DeJesus:

Born to an African American mom and Puerto Rican dad, Sophina DeJesus is known for one of the first viral floor routines. Prior to her NCAA career, Sophina was named to the Junior National Team in 2009 and later competed elite before deciding to start for UCLA in 2013. As a Bruin, Sophina is a three-time All-American on the uneven bars and had one of the most popular NCAA floor routines in 2016.

The eyeliner. The hair. Obsessed.

Hallie Mossett:

Hallie Mosseett is one of my favorite NCAA gymnasts of all time. A member of the National Team in 2008 and 2011, she started competing for UCLA in 2014. As a Bruin, Hallie was known for her beam and floor routines, including Beyonce-inspired choreography in 2017:

AJ Jackson:

Before her career at the University of Oklahoma, AJ Jackson was the Junior Olympic National Champion on vault three years in a row, and earned a bronze in the all-around, bars and floor. Known for her vault and floor, AJ earned the Big 12 Event Specialist of the Year in 2015, the first and only freshman to win the title. Throughout her career, AJ continued to win titles on her specialty events and finished as a six-time All-American and two-time Big 12 Champion on vault.

Here is AJ competing floor, with her signature “chalk blow” at the beginning of her routine (this was later banned by the NCAA, although crowds at home competitions would continue imitating her iconic choreography):

Kennedi Edney:

One of the most successful gymnasts in LSU history, Kennedi Edney won a number of Junior Olympic Level 10 National Championships including beam (2013), all-around (2014, 2015), vault (2015), and floor (2015). In 2017, she became the first freshman in LSU history to win multiple national championships and ended her career with the fifth highest number of national titles. She is an 18-time All-American (fourth in school history) and she won vault in both 2017 and 2019, along with silvers with her team.

Here she is on vault at the 2019 National Championships:

Nia Dennis:

Niaaaaaaaa! One of my favorites competing today, Nia is known for her big personality and unique floor choreography. As an elite gymnast she was a member of the National Team from 2012-2016. After turning senior in 2015, Nia finished ninth at the 2015 National Championships and in 2016, was chosen to compete at the Stuttgart World Cup. Early that year however, she tore her Achilles and was forced to withdraw from the competition. Despite this potentially career-ending injury, Nia was able to compete on the uneven bars at the National Championships later in the year, although she was unable to move forward to the Olympic Trials.

After retiring from elite, Nia began her NCAA career with the UCLA Bruins. Currently a senior, Nia won gold with her team at the PAC-12 Championships (2018, 2019), a gold at the 2018 National Championships, and silver in 2019 (team).

Here is Nia’s incredible (and now viral) 2021 floor routine:

Margzetta Frazier:

A National Team member from 2017-2018, Margzetta “Marz” Frazier won a silver at the 2018 Birmingham World Cup before committing to competing for the UCLA Bruins later that year. At the request of National Team Coordinator Tom Forster, who felt the team needed her on the elite squad for that season, Marz un-retired and competed at the National Championships in 2018, accompanied by her coaches from UCLA. Limited to mostly bars and floor for the Bruins in 2018, Marz helped her team earn a bronze at the NCAA National Championships.

Here is Marz’s “vogue” routine from 2019:

Trinity Thomas:

Trinity Thomas is one of the few gymnasts in US history that competes in both the NCAA and at the elite level simultaneously. Currently competing for the University of Florida AND making a run for the 2021 Olympics, Trinity is an incredibly talented athlete with great power and gorgeous form. The ability to compete under two different Code of Points in addition to full college classes is impressive and insanely difficult; she is the only gymnast currently competing both today.

Check out the height on this first pass:

A fou-r time member of the National Team, Trinity won a silver in the all-around at the 2018 Tokyo World Cup before going on to win vault in the 2019 SEC Championships. Hard to pick just one event for Trin, so here she is earning an incredible 39.9 (highest she can have is 40.0) in the all-around:

Simone Biles:

Simone Biles is the greatest gymnast of all time and one of the best of any sport in history. I’m ending with Simone because there is just so much to say about her incredible skill and form; she has absolutely revolutionized the sport. With 30 Olympic and World Championship medals, Simone has more World Championship medals than any other athlete, along with the most golds and most individual all-around titles. Unbeaten in the all-around since 2013, Simone can essentially fall a number of times and still win a competition; she demonstrated this in 2018 as she won her title while suffering from kidney stones (she still managed to compete a new skill and one of the hardest vaults in history).

Here are Simone’s original skills:

Tied for the most difficult vault in the Code of Points: round-off half on, layout double full.
The most difficult dismount in the history of the sport: a double twisting double back tuck. Unfairly given the extremely low rating of an H, a decision made to discourage gymnasts from competing this dangerous skill, although easy for Simone and unfortunate she isn’t rewarded for it.
Simone’s double layout with a half twist in the second flip.
The most difficult tumbling pass in gymnastics, the triple twisting double back was awarded an unprecedented J rating in the Code of Points.

In her first Olympic Games Simone won the all-around, vault, and floor finals, a bronze on beam, and a gold with her team. Here is her incredible all-around performance:

Even Simone hasn’t been immune to racist comments in the sport. During her first world championships–the first Black woman to win the all-around title–Italian gymnast Carlotta Ferlito alleged in a racist comment that Simone’s wins were related only to her skin color: “I told Vanny (Ferrari) that next time we should also paint our skin black, so then we could win too”. While she later apologized after her statement received a ton of criticism, her federation doubled down on the racism: “Carlotta was referring to a trend in gymnastics at this moment, which is going towards a technique that opens up new chances to athletes of color (well-known for power) while penalizing the more artistic Eastern European style that allowed Russians and Romanians to dominate the sport for years. Why aren’t there blacks in swimming? Because the sport doesn’t suit their physical characteristics. Is gymnastics becoming the same thing, to the point of wanting to be colored?” Just, ugh. In 2013.

Simone responded in 2020:

“Other than that, it happens every day, and I feel like every Black athlete or colored athlete can say that they’ve experienced it through their career. But you just have to keep going for those little ones looking up to us. It doesn’t matter what you look like. You can strive for greatness, and you can be great.”

Roscher, Liz. 2020. “Simone Biles Opens Up About her First Brush with Racism in Gymnastics.” Yahoo Sports. Available here.

In addiition to her amazing athleticism, Simone has advocated for survivors of sexual assault and held USAG responsible for their role in allowing predatory behavior to thrive in the sport. She has spoken out against the continued use of Karolyi Ranch as the National Training Center (later closed), the CEO of USA Gymnastics, and protecting athletes.

Simone has said that she will retire after her second Olympics, so enjoy watching the GOAT compete while you can.

Here is Simone competing at the 2019 World Championships:

❤ ❤

How can you advocate for Black gymnasts? Be an ally and call out racist comments if you hear them in the gym, reject commentary that prefers “the European look”, and advocate for NCAA programs at HBCU colleges. There are currently zero in the United States!

UCLA

Currently:
Reading: His Only Wife (Peace Adzo Medie)
Listening: Ok Computer (Radiohead)
Watching; The Americans Season 1 (Netflix)

“How About You Amaze Me and Do the Right Thing… Have an Independent Investigation”: March Update on MSU, the USOPC, & USAG

“How about you amaze me and do the right thing… have an independent investigation.”

(Simone Biles in response to a tweet by USA Gymnastics wishing her a happy birthday– essentially in less than fifteen words also restoring my faith in the world again).

Chavez, Nicole. 2020. “Simone Biles Claps Back at USA Gymnastics After They Wish her a Happy Birthday.” CNN Online. Available here.

Need to catch up? You can read my last post here.

A lot has happened in the last month and a half. It’s only MARCH? SIXTEENTH?! But here we are.

Me, currently.

The biggest news to come out since January is the absolutely atrocious-I-can’t-believe-they-thought-this-would-work settlement offer USA Gymnastics attempted to pass off as somewhat appropriate for the hundreds of survivors currently suing their organization. In the settlement, some plantiffs would receive less than $100,000, oh and super casual, but agreeing to the terms meant that USA Gymnastics, the USOPC, Steve Penny, and every other X-Men-esque villain apparently hired to conduct business for USAG would be off the hook. No documents released. No mandatory structural changes. Oh, and the USOPC would pay nothing.

It would be laughable if it wasn’t so true.

2012 and 2016 Olympic Champion Aly Raisman made an appearance on The Today Show, expressing understandable outrage about how the organization could bungle a settlement proposal so badly, especially as their athletes are preparing for this year’s summer games. Simone Biles, on her way to USAG’s mandatory training camp, tweeted:

Friendly reminder: Simone continues to compete FOR and earn money FOR an organization that has yet to independently investigate how they allowed a serial molester to sexually abuse her, her teammates, and hundreds of others. Absolutely unbelievable.

Rachael Denhollander also posted online:

“Your words of change and care are utterly meaningless because your ACTIONS stand in direct contrast to those platitudes. To even ask for a release of the USOPC, Penny and Karolyis after the 100s of children they destroyed is galling beyond what I can express.

Shame on you. I don’t want to hear one more word about care and change from any of you. You are refusing responsibility for the damage to hundreds of children and asking us to ignore it too.

You can choose a blind eye. But know this: we never will. And your complete lack of care will do nothing more that motivate us to fight that much harder for justice and truth. The answer is no.”

What else? Kathie Klages was found guilty and Nassar’s appeal was denied, but unfortunately, there are a ton of how-have-you-not-learned-anything moments since my last post.

Let’s get into it:

Michigan State University:

Tiffany Thomas Lopez reads her victim impact statement on January 17th, 2018 to Larry Nassar.
  • Former Michigan State University Dean of the College of Oseeopathic Medicine will be released from prison in April. William Strampel was found guilty of willful neglect of duty and misconduct in office in relation to the mishandling of Larry Nassar last year. Strampel, Nassar’s boss, allowed the former doctor to continue seeing patients without ensuring policies set by a Title IX complaint were enforced, along with a number of other issues including sexually harassing co-workers and students. Originally given a one-year sentence for his crimes, Strampel will be released early for good behavior after serving eight months.
  • Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Joyce Draganchuk allowed a request made by attorneys of former MSU Head Coach Kathie Klagies to ban Lindsey Lemke, one of her gymnasts, from testifying in court. Klages, who faces two charges of lying to police, did not want Lemke to testify as a witness as the MSU and Twistars athlete has repeatedly stated that Klages knew of Nassar’s abuse, but failed to report him to police. Larissa Boyce, one of the athletes that reported Nassar’s abuse to Klages in 1997, along with a teammate who chose to remain anonymous, were allowed to testify.
  • On February 14th, Kathie Klages was found guilty of two counts of lying to police. The former MSU Head Coach for the Women’s Gymnastics Program, Klages repeatedly stated she did not know of Nassar’s abuse–even after two gymnasts told her that the former doctor was sexually assaulting them in 1997 (Boyce and an unnamed athlete) and one athlete (Lemke) disclosed the same story twenty years later–also forced her team to sign a card of support for the now disgraced former physician. She faces up to four years in prison and sentencing will take place on April 15th.
  • Former Michigan State softball player and survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse, Tiffany Thomas Lopez, urged two athletic trainers still employed by the university to “listen and say something”. Lopez, who testified this week at hearings “related to the potential sanctions” against Destiny Teachnor-Hauk and Lianna Hadden, says she and another athlete, Jennifer Bedford, notified the trainers over twenty years ago that the former doctor was sexually abusing them under the guise of medical treatment. Prosecutors are currently reviewing complaints made against the athletic trainers that could result in revoking their licenses.

“Lopez testified Hadden told her to talk to Teachnor-Hauk. 

Though Lopez had other conversations with Hadden about being uncomfortable, she said she didn’t speak with Teachnor-Hauk until closer to the end of her softball career. 

‘It took me a long time to say something to her,’ Lopez testified. ‘I was intimidated and scared and I still didn’t know whether to believe it or not.’

Teachnor-Hauk gave her options, Lopez said, but told her that if she filed a complaint, ‘everyone would know,’ and ‘in doing that I may stir up controversy for the university, for my recently widowed father and especially for the doctor.’

Teachnor-Hauk again defended Nassar’s actions as medical treatment, Lopez said, adding she ‘left Michigan State believing what the ladies had told me.’

Lopez said, while people have told her Hadden and Teachnor-Hauk failed her, that’s hard for her to believe. She doesn’t blame them ‘for any of this at all.’

Banta, Megan. 2020. “Former Michigan State Athlete, Nassar Survivor, Urges Trainers to Listen, ‘Say Something.'” Lansing State Journal. Available here.
  • While the two trainers do not face any criminal charges, the result of the investigation could include fines, suspension, or even loss of their licenses. A decision could take months to conclude.
  • Four MSU survivors stood in solidarity with three men who came forward against University of Michigan doctor Robert Anderson. Anderson (who died in 2008), as well as the university, are currently under investigation for abuse that occurred for decades in Ann Arbor. Amanda Thomashaw noted: “U-M created a safe place and the predators flourished… You’ve seen the damage (non-transparency) has done to me and my sister survivors.”

USA Gymnastics and The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee:

  • Maggie Haney, coach of 2016 Olympian Laurie Hernandez and current National Team Member Riley McCusker was suspended by USA Gymnastics in relation to complaints of physical and emotional abuse in her New Jersey gym; Hernandez and “at least half a dozen families” filed complaints against Haney. She is now suspended from all contact with minors.
  • On January 30th, USA Gymnastics released their plan to emerge from bankruptcy by providing $215 million to survivors of abuse. The plan gave survivors two choices: as a group, accept the $215 million and settle every claim OR continue lawsuits against the organization. Most laughed at the settlement amount, which for example, is less than half paid out by Michigan State University. The $215 million would be distributed as a tier system, with Olympic athletes receiving more; the bottom tier plaintiffs would be given less than $100,000. The OC Register states that the average payout would be $250-300,000 per survivor, less than the current salary for the CEO of USA Gymnastics. The plan was met with outrage from survivors. John C. Manly, who represents over 200 of the plaintiffs, noted:

“This proposed plan does not include the critical structural changes necessary to ensure the safety of girls moving forward, nor does it appropriately address the myriad physical and emotional challenges the victims face as a result of these crimes. Most disturbingly, this proposed plan attempts to absolve USOPC of any responsibility for these crimes which were committed under its watch. This plan from USAG is not just unworkable. It is unconscionable.”

Whatron, David. 2020. “USA Gymnastics Issues Plan to Emerge from Bankruptcy and Settle Nassar Lawsuit.” Los Angeles Times. Available here.
  • The proposed settlement does not “address providing documents detailing the extent the national governing body knew of sexual abuse of young athletes and the lengths USA Gymnastics and other organizations went to conceal the abuse”. In addition to the lack of documents released, and any requirement for the implementation of new structures, the proposal also limits the liability of the USOPC. Under this plan, the USOPC would not have to admit to any wrong-doing or pay any money to the 500+ survivors:

“The opposition to the settlement proposal is wide ranging, with survivors and their supporters highlighting that the deal releases the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny, former national team directors Bela and Martha Karolyi, former U.S. Olympic coach Don Peters and other USA Gymnastics and USOPC officials and coaches from all claims, does not take into account the nature and frequency of each survivors’ abuse and contains no provision for USA Gymnastics and the USOPC to release documents and other information detailing the extent to which officials were aware of the predatory behavior of Nassar, Peters and others.”

Reid, Scott M. 2020. “Survivors Overwhelmingly Reject USA Gymnastics Settlement Offer.” The Orange County Register. Available here.
  • Alexandra Bourque’s personal story demonstrates how short-minded and insulting the proposal is for survivors. Bourque was only eleven years old when Larry Nassar began abusing her. The former doctor encouraged her to remain in gymnastics as she struggled to overcome a number of injuries including a cracked tailbone and broken hip. He continually abused her for another four years, when at age 15, she says his abuse became “aggressively worse”. Bouroque was also simultaneously abused by her former coach, Don Peters, who was banned for life by USA Gymnastics in 2011 for sexually abusing athletes. Under the tier system proposed by USAG in their settlement offer, Bourque would receive a settlement of $82,000, an amount that would not even cover her current medical treatments; she was diagnosed with endometriosis and post-traumatic stress disorder, which, doctors state, are correlated to the years of abuse by Nassar. The settlement would also not require the organization to release documents related to Nassar or Don Peters.
  • This weekend USA Gymnastics tweeted a happy birthday message to Simone Biles, who turned 23 on Saturday. The organization wished her (well, they tagged the wrong Twitter handle) a happy birthday along with “We know you will only continue to amaze us and make history!” to which Simone responded:
We stan a queen.
  • Last week, Larry Nassar’s final appeal was denied by Michigan’s attorney general’s office. Nassar’s attorneys argued that Judge Rosemarie Aquilinia was not impartial in her decision to sentence him to the maximum 175 years in prison. The state’s AG office found that Judge Aquilina may have made ill-advised comments, but did not demonstrate judicial bias. Nassar’s appeals for the 60 year sentence for child pornography and 125 years for sexual assault have also been denied.

Currently:
Reading: Start by Believing: Larry Nassar’s Crimes, the Institutions that Enabled Him, and the Brave Women Who Stopped a Monster (John Barr and Dan Murphy)
Watching: Broad City Season 5 (Comedy Central)

2019 Year in Review: AllThe[Travel]Things

2019 was a busy travel year for me! I was lucky enough to visit amazing new places and return to a couple of my favorite cities. As potentially my last full year abroad, I wanted to make the most of my time in Europe and I definitely accomplished that goal this year.

I tried to be as present in the moment as I could; mindfulness has always been a struggle for me–I’m always on to the next thing–but I am getting better at taking time to enjoy just being here.

My super fun murder mystery birthday party! LOOK AT THAT CARROT CAKE CHEESECAKE.

In Classic Ashlyn style, I wanted my travel post to include all my favorites: new and old places, landscapes wandered, and the best libraries I visited in 2019. I also had AMAZING experiences including traveling in Warsaw during the 75th anniversary of the Uprising, petting reindeer above the Arctic Circle, and attending a World Cup match in Paris.

Here’s a (mostly photo) overview of AllTheThings2019: travel, libraries, sports, experiences, and of course, dogs.

AllThe[NewPlace]Things:

Bran Castle, Romania:

Brașov, Romania:

Chernobyl, Ukraine:

Cluj-Napoca, Romania:

Esztergom, Hungary:

Gdańsk, Poland:

Glasgow, Scotland:

Kyiv, Ukraine:

Mindszentkálla, Hungary:

Örebro, Sweden:

Pannonhalma, Hungary:

Paris, France:

Peleș Castle, Romania:

Pripyat, Ukraine:

Stockholm, Sweden:

Stuttgart, Germany:

Tromsø, Norway:

Versailles, France:

Warsaw, Poland:

AllThe[ReturnTrip]Things:

Bratislava, Slovakia:

Hungarian Countryside:

Somló Mountain during poppy season.

Kraków, Poland:

London, England:

AllThe[Scenery]Things:

Cluj-Napoca, Romania:

Hoia-Baciu Forest

Fertorákos, Hungary:

Fertőrákosi Steinbruch (Quarry)

Gdańsk, Poland:

Westerplatte

Kraków, Poland:

Ojcow National Park

Örebro, Sweden:

Oset and Rynningeviken Nature Preserve

Stockholm, Sweden:

Rosendals Trädgård

Stuttgart, Germany:

Schlossgarten

Tromsø, Norway:

Lake Prestvannet
Folkeparken

Vallejo, California:

Blue Rock Springs Park

Warsaw, Poland:

Palace on the Isle (Pałac Łazienkowski) in Royal Baths Park

AllThe[Library]Things:

London, England:

The British Library ❤ ❤

Örebro, Sweden:

Pannonhalma, Hungary:

Archabbey Library

Stuttgart, Germany:

Tromsø, Norway:

Warsaw, Poland:

Warsaw University Library ❤ ❤
One of my favorite places in the world. Books + Rooftop garden!

AllThe[Fun]Things:

Budapest, Hungary:

Budapest Beer Week
New Years!
Buda Castle Wine Festival

Gdańsk, Poland:

St. Dominic’s Fair (held every year for the last 756 years!)
Pierogi-making class

Tromsø, Norway:

Meeting new friends at a Sami reindeer camp ❤ ❤
Hiking frozen lakes above the Arctic Circle

Versailles, France:

Wandering through the Queen’s Hamlet

Warsaw, Poland:

In Warsaw for the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.

AllThe[Sports]Things:

Győr, Hungary:

First ever Junior World Championships!
Team Russia
Team Hungary
Team USA

Paris, France:

THE WORLD CUP I’M STILL NOT OVER THIS

Stuttgart, Germany:

Stuttgart World Cup!
Aliya Mustafina, Russia
Simone Biles, USA

Warsaw, Poland:

⚽⚽⚽

AllThe[Dog]Things ♥:

Porkchop in Budapest
Arya Tonks judging your life choices

🤍🤍🤍🤍

I’m so thankful for everything I had the opportunity to see and do last year.

Egészségedre to making 2020 all you hope it to be!

Currently:
Listening Moon: The Original Soundtrack (Clint Mansell)

“It was more of the same”: November Update on MSU, the USOC, and USAG

“The only way you’re going to change this culture of abuse is to start putting behind bars the people who enabled and covered up that abuse.” –Robert Allard, an attorney who has represented a number of sexual abuse victims in several Olympic sports.

Reid, Scott M. 2019. “Justice Department, IRS Investigating USOPC, USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming.” The Orange County Register. Available here.

Need to catch up? You can read my last post here.

Lou Anna Simon in court (2018).

Right now the biggest update in the fallout from the Nassar sentencing is the continued shirking of responsibility by Michigan State University; the institution has not only hurt the state investigation into the enablers and policies that allowed the abuse, but have also failed to actually accept responsibility and create change to stop sexual assault from occurring on campus.

“Attorney general Dana Nessel’s office has requested more than 7,000 documents from MSU in its investigation into how Nassar assaulted hundreds of patients on MSU campus for almost 20 years. The investigation looks at who knew what and when, but the office asserts that MSU has ‘stonewalled’ the investigation at every turn. Currently, MSU retains around 6,000 of the requested documents claiming attorney-client privilege.”

Nichols, Anna Liz. 2019. “One MSU Trustee is not Enough: Sexual Ause Advocates Call on Governor to Step in.” Michigan Advance. Available here.

Bryan Tarrant, a parent of a survivor, hoped that the display of luminaries in front of the East Lansing Library–one for each of the hundreds of girls and women subjected to the former doctor’s abuse–would help demonstrate the need for support and policy change by current MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr.

‘But, as he anticipated, Tarrant left disappointed with the talk.

“It was more of the same,” he said. “We still want MSU to come forward and do the things we’ve been asking them to do all along.”‘

Johnson, Mark. 2019. “Nassar survivors met with MSU President Stanley. They left disappointed.” Lansing State Journal. Available here.
Luminaries lighting the front of East Lansing Library. More than 500 were lit to remind Michigan State University of the effects of sexual abuse.

Let’s get into it:

Michigan State University:

  • Michigan State University set the record for most rapes ever reported by an institution of higher learning on their (required) Clery Act report. Reporter David Jesse notes that “there were 933 reports of rape and 137 reports of fondling attributed to Nassar in 2018 on non-campus property”.
  • Last month the US Department of Education charged MSU with a $4.5M fine for the university’s failure to comply with sexual assault and discrimination standards as set by the federal government in the Clery Act. This is the largest fine ever administrated under this policy. The DOE found that Michigan State failed to properly classify incidents of assault, compile and publish accurate statistics, issue warnings, and notify authorities. June Youatt, the Provost for the university, immediately resigned.
  • In September, four trustees–Dianne Byrum, Brianna Scott, Joel Ferguson, and Melanie Foster–“stalled and blocked an independent investigation into MSU’s handling of the [Larry Nassar] scandal”. Last year Michigan Attorney General Special Independent Counsel William Forsyth called for this investigation after the university continued to block meaningful inquiries into the institution. The Board continues to refuse to release at least SIX THOUSAND DOCUMENTS related to Nassar.
  • Last week, an Ingham County judge denied requests to suppress evidence against former MSU Gymnastics Coach Kathie Klages. Klages has been charged with one felony and one misdemeanor count of lying to police. She has not yet been charged with being a generally shitty person–remember that she forced her athletes (many also survivors) to make a card supporting Nassar. She also threatened gymnasts to not file charges against the doctor.
  • Michigan’s Attorney General’s office has repeatedly requested an interview with former Interim President John Engler about his involvement in the Larry Nassar case. Engler faced harsh criticism for his disrespectful treatment of survivors, lack of transparency, and failure to create meaningful policy following the resignation of President Lou Anna Simon. Engler resigned after the Board of Trustees threatened to fire him.
  • Former President Lou Anna Simon has been ordered by Eaton County District Court Judge Julie Reinke to stand trial for two felonies and two misdemeanors for lying to police about when she first knew of the allegations made against Nassar. Simon, whose court costs and attorney fees are paid for by the university, denies the charges. Her attorney stated: “They already destroyed her life. What more do they want?” To which I have to say, get.the.fuck.out.of.here.with.this.nonsense. Engler also received a $2.45M retirement salary.
  • Ronan Farrow’s book, Catch and Kill discloses that Kroll, the firm used by Michigan State to handle Title IX sexual assault allegations, was also employed by Harvey Weinstein. MSU worked with Kroll in 2018 and was later fired by the university.
  • In October, Board of Trustees member Nancy Sclichting resigned due to the university’s lack of transparency. She was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in December and was welcomed by campus advocates–both Democrat and Republican–as she was seen as a representative without a large connection to Michigan State. Sclichting stated:

“… I joined the board to help change the attitudes and beliefs of the legacy board members towards the extraordinary young women who have survived sexual assault by Larry Nassar, and to support the survivors in every way I could… During the last year, though, it has become very clear to me that my commitment to have an independent review of the Nassar situation, and to waive privilege so the truth can come out, is not shared by the MSU board chair [Dianne Byrum], legacy board members and some newer trustees.”

Jesse, David. 2019. “MSU Trustee Schlichting Resigns, Cites Frustration with Secrecy on Board.” Detroit Free Press. Available here.

USA Gymnastics & The United States Olympic Committee:

  • Transfers of funds made by USA Gymnastics are currently under investigation. The organization moved millions of dollars into “linked” accounts prior to legal action taken against USAG by survivors of sexual abuse. According to Rachael Denhollander, in previous years USAG channeled roughly $100,000 annually into the foundation, not millions. It is important to note that USAG filed for bankruptcy before moving funds and survivors are not able to access any money from this foundation.
  • Leslie King, the Vice President of Communications for USAG, was seen pushing the 👑 Simone Biles toward interviewers following a competition at the World Championships this October. King, who helped cover up Nassar’s abuse to the public, was also one of their employees to receive a 2019 bonus while the organization is in the midst of bankruptcy.
  • A positive update: The Game Over Commission, established by Marci Hamilton, CEO of Child USA, is creating the first comprehensive database of documents related to the Larry Nassar case: “We wanted to make sure everything was not just going to disappear. We want to preserve all the information and and make sure it is accessible by the public.”
  • The US Department of Justice is investigating several sports under the umbrella of the US Olympic Committee for their handling of sexual abuse allegations. USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming, and USA Taekwondo, along with the USOC, are currently under review. Athletes have testified before a grand jury in DC and both California and Indiana (home of USAG) have opened their own inquiries into these governing bodies of sport.
  • In addition to the investigation of the USOC and USA Gymnastics by the US Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service is also in the middle of a federal investigation into the finances of USAG, along with USA Swimming and USA Taekwondo.
  • This fall, USA Gymnastics hired 2012 Olympic Alternate Anna Li to serve on the Athlete’s Council for the organization; Li and her mother, Jiani Wu, faced allegations of emotional and physical abuse of young athletes, leading to Li’s resignation. In October it was revealed that USA Gymnastics CEO Li Li Leung knew of the abusive reports before naming Li to the Council, allegations she previously denied. Emails sent in 2017 show that USA Gymnastics knew of the reports but in August of 2019, Leung denied that the organization was aware made against Li and Wu.
  • USA Gymnastics has filed a request for a 60-day extension to its bankruptcy exclusive period. The request states that the organization “does not expect it will have a plan soon that sexual abuse victims and other parties in its bankruptcy can support.”

USA Gymnastics again benefited from its athletes at the World Championships held last month. Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in history (male or female) and the team won more medals than any other country.

Again, they achieved this in spite of these organizations, not because of them.

Currently:

Reading: How to be an Antiracist (Ibram X. Kendi)
Watching: Catherine the Great (HBO)
Listening: 1619 (The New York Times)

Library, Pub, & Gymnastics: Stuttgart, Germany

Hi beautiful place.

This spring we traveled to Stuttgart, Germany to attend the FIG World Cup for my birthday. My first time in Stuttgart, the trip included three of my travel favorites: library, pubs, and a cemetery (plus bonus this time–my first elite gymnastics competition). I saw the queens of the sport (Simone Biles AND Aliya Mustafina) along with wandering this beautiful city.

Simone being a badass as always.

We stayed a little outside the very center of Stuttgart and I preferred that location over the touristy area of Schlossplatz. Our street had so many adorable restaurants and shops–definitely recommend staying near the Lehen neighborhood if you don’t mind putting in the extra steps on your Fitbit.

We loved our Airbnb! Woke up to fresh flowers each day.

Pro tip: Stuttgart (and Germany in general) has great public transport available and journeys are MUCH cheaper than an Uber ride (save that money for extra spätzle!) Our way home was pure Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: bus to the train station, train to the airport, plane to Vienna, car from Vienna to Hungary. All a part of the lovely adventure.

Hard to choose just one gif from this iconic film.

Where are we?

The sixth largest city in Germany, the area of Stuttgart is spread across a number of hills. Commonly described as “zwischen Wald und Reben” (“between forest and vines”) due to the close proximity of the Black Forest and the city’s numerous wineries, Stuttgart is definitely a walkable city with some elevation–getting those calf muscles working!

The Stiftskirche (Collegiate Church)

Stuttgart was founded in 950 AD by Duke Liudolf of Swabia (the root of the name derives from the Swabian word Stuotgarten meaning “stud farm”) for the purpose of breeding warhorses. Swabians are Germanic peoples native to the Swabian region of Germany, an area that is now present-day Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria.

Like most German cities, the population and physical landscape drastically changed during WWII. In 1933 the Gestapo occupied Hotel Silber, a site used to torture, detain, and transport political prisoners. The Old Synagogue was destroyed during Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) and in 1934, the Nazis began to arrest members of the Jewish population of Stuttgart; many were deported to the prison camp in Welzheim or to the Dachau concentration camp. From 1941-1945, more than 2,000 Jews were sent to Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Riga, and Izbica; only 180 survived the war.

Stuttgart was heavily bombed by Allied forces throughout the war. On September 12th, 1944, the Royal Air Force dropped over 184,000 bombs on the city. The attack completely destroyed Stuttgart’s center and killed 957 people. Overall, the city was hit by 53 bombing raids, which leveled nearly sixty percent of the city and killed 4,477 of Stuttgart’s inhabitants. Following the end of the war, the rubble in the city was used to build Birkenhopf, an artificial hill that is now the highest point in Stuttgart and a memorial to those who died during WWII.

We we only had a weekend in Stuttgart, but I think you could spend at least a week in the city and still not see everything on your list. I was bummed to miss the botanical gardens in Wilhema and the Ludwigsburg Residential Palace, but incredibly thankful for the opportunity to see all we did during our visit.

The Sites:

Public Library:

The cube building created for Stuttgart’s Municipal Library was absolutely intentional: “the dimensioning and positioning, detached from their urban context, are a symbol of the significance of the library as a new intellectual and cultural center”. The nine story building was designed by Eun Young Yi and was completed in 2011.
The space is breathtaking to see in person! This is a shot of the “heart” a representation of the meditative center point.
I love this quote from the city: “In earlier years, it was a church or palace that marked the centre point of a town. But in a modern society, it is the significance of a place for individual knowledge and enrichment of experience that takes centre stage. And that is how the library gains more and more significance for society. “
Photo via Totems

Schlossgarten:

Loved taking a walk through this beautiful park in the center of the city! Definitely has some GoT Kingsroad vibes.

Schlossplatz:

Schlossplatz (Palace Square)
Neue Schloss (New Palace) was completed in 1807.
Charles Eugene moved the seat of power back to Stuttgart when he assumed the throne in 1744. The palace was built near the old castle in Schlossplatz.
Allied forces almost completely burned Neue Schloss to the ground in 1944, leaving only the facade. Reconstruction on the building began in 1958 and is currently used by the state government to house the State Ministries of Finance and Education.
Kunstgebäude Gallery featuring the the stag–the state symbol of Württemberg.
View from the Old Palace. Today the area is central to shopping, bars, and restaurants.

Pragfriedhof:

Pragfriedhof is the third largest cemetery in Stuttgart and opened in 1873. We walked the quiet area for about an hour.
The Jewish Cemetery is separate from the larger cemetery (on the outside portion of the fence above). In 1873, following the influx of the Jewish population in Stuttgart, the community was forced to find additional space after the Hoppenlau cemetery was full.
A quiet moment from the busy city, Pragfriedhof is a beautiful place for a break and learn more about the people who once lived here.

Stiftskirche:

Remains of a Romanesque church dating all the way back to the 10th century are currently the structures of the Stitskirche (Collegiate Church). Over time, the building changed and grew; following the end of WWII, the church was rebuilt after it was heavily damaged by bombing raids.

Karlshöhe:

The Karlshöhe area includes a large and beautiful park, along with coffee shops, restaurants, and historical buildings. St. Maria Church is one the highlights of this part of the city.
St. Maria Church was built in 1879. The towers barely survived WWII and were rebuilt in 1949.
Translates to “What’s happening?”
The Stadtlücken initiative is an awesome project by a couple of non-profits in Stuttgart that encourage citizens to be more active in “shaping spaces” within the city as the “city belongs to the people”. This underpass was the site of a couple of different workshops and street art displays while we visited Stuttgart. From their site: “It is a place of coexistence, exchange, culture and conviviality – a place for all, where everyone can contribute, use and shape. ” ❤ ❤ ❤

Restaurants & Pubs:

Kraftpaule:

Stuttgart’s first craft beer bar, Kraftpaule, has a huge selection of their own brews along with beer from all of the world. Their bar is modern and cozy, and includes a solid pub menu featuring nachos and sandwiches.

Ribingurūmu:

A little difficult to find initially, Ribingurūmu is an awesome ruin-bar-esque pub located a short walk from Schlossplatz. The interior is your grandad’s den meets sewing shop/library—obviously my aesthetic.
Photo via Geheimtipp Stuttgart
Also, pomegranates in a vodka/soda? Be still my heart!

Paul & George:

I love finding secret speakeasies! Paul & George is a gorgeous must-visit in Stuttgart. As always, the entrance is a little difficult to find, but worth the extra sleuthing. We both had the espresso martini (inching up the list to become one of my favorite cocktails lately) and one of their specials.
Photo via Julia
Nice to have a little fancy cocktail every so often!

Mata Hari:

Mata Hari is a spacious pub located in the center of Stuttgart. The interior has that same grandad den feel (you’re seeing a pattern here, I’m a old man at heart, clearly) but with a secret skateboard mini ramp in the basement. With both indoor and outdoor space, Mata Hara is a good location for late night (it does fill up quickly) and boasts a solid menu with both meat and veg options.
Photo via Yelp

Misch Misch Coffee:

Hailed as one of the best locations for coffee, we spent a few hours at Misch Misch for breakfast and to get a little work finished. The cafe is gorgeous and their coffee was great. On the smaller side, know you might have to wait for a seat, but with the motto of “let’s fill this town with good coffee” you can’t miss it.

Brauhaus Schönbuch:

Located right on the Palace Square, Brauhaus Schönbuch is a great stop for a solid German lunch or dinner. I ordered spätzle (of course) and Chris had the pork schnitzel.

Kleinigkeit:

We LOVED Kleinigkeit! This adorable cafe offers a small, but awesome breakfast menu (we both ordered eggs benedict) with really great service. They were booked with reservations when we arrived, but allowed us to sit outside and have breakfast. They fill up fast, so make a reservation if you can!

List Cafe:

List Cafe was our final breakfast stop before leaving Stuttgart. A nice cafe with both a German and English menu, we ordered eggs (mine with onion, Chris with ham) and salad. Both were great! Our server was so sweet and gave us extra chocolate “for the trip home” when she saw our bags.

Little Italy Stuttgart:

Hi, can I live here?
I know, I know, Italian food while you’re in Germany? But we couldn’t say no to our Airbnb host’s recommendation of two of her favorite restaurants: Little Italy and Sultan Suray (below).
We don’t have many authentic pizza options in Hungary so this was an awesome treat. Chris and I ordered bruschetta (the best) and pizzas. Best part? Our server wrapped our leftovers for our trip the following day. Loved this place and pizza for the plane.

Sultan Saray:

Here’s the thing: Chris and I absolutely love Turkish food, especially late night Turkish food. We actually had dinner at Sultan Saray twice #sorrynotsorry while in Stuttgart–the dishes are THAT good. They serve authentic Turkish options and a couple of international favorites as well; lots of dishes for vegetarians too!
Photo via Sultan Saray

Shops:

Leckerli Stuttgart:

We happened to randomly walk past Leckerli Stuttgart on our way into the center center. This adorable pet shop has everything from organic pet food and homemade treats to pet beds and bandannas. I picked up a couple of dog suckers, which Porkchop promptly devoured and Arya held onto for dear life.
Arya: “What is this treat and how do I keep my big brother from stealing it?”

Cosima Chiton:

I absolutely adored this little fabric and stationary shop! Cosima Chiton is located in the south of Stuttgart and sells unique sewing supplies, postcards, and writing accessories.
Photo via Prinz Stuttgart

Bonus: Stuttgart World Cup

We attended my first ever elite competition while in Stuttgart (best birthday present ever, Chris!) The World Cup was AMAZING and our seats were great. Unfortunately, my camera is terrible, so these potato-quality photos don’t really do the event justice. In an effort to practice mindfulness and being present, I also only took a a few photos. I’m always trying to document everything, so I tried my best to relax and enjoy the event in real time. I’m.so.glad.I.did.

The competitors included Simone Biles (USA), Ana Padurariu (Canada), Elisabeth Seitz (Germany), Lorette Charpy (France), Aliya Mustafina (Russia), Hitomi Hatakeda (Japan), Kim Bui (Germany), Zsofia Kovacs (Hungary), and Carolyne Pedro (Brazil).

Warm-ups prior to the start of the competition. Simone Biles (in blue) next to one of her coaches, Laurent Landi, Kim Bui (in red and white) with her back to the picture, Aliya Mustafina (in red, speaking to her coach), and Lorette Charpy (in blue) taking a turn on vault.

This competition was so fun to experience in person! Of course it was amazing to see Olympic champions Biles and Mustafina compete–Simone literally tumbles feet higher than anyone else and Aliya’s bars are one of the prettiest routines in the world–but also so cool to see athletes newer to the scene (Padurariu’s beam was fantastic and she looked as if she was having the time of her life, Charpy’s beam and bars were awesome, and the powerful Pedro finished her day with a great floor performance).

Biles (in blue) warms up on bars alongside 2016 Olympian Zsofia Kovacs (Hungary).

For me, I loved seeing the German athletes compete in their home country. Two-time Olympian Bui is still competing (and looking amazing, especially on bars) at AGE THIRTY. She is currently earning her Master’s Thesis in–wait for it–immunotherapy treatments for cancer patients, specifically engineering protein cells to combat the disease (!!). Elisabeth Seitz, a two time Olympian herself, rocked the arena on both bars and floor to take the bronze medal.

I’m also so thankful for the opportunity to see Kovacs compete in person. The sole Hungarian Olympian for Women’s Gymnastics in 2016, I watched her compete in Rio my very first week in Hungary (thankfully, the hotel we were living in was playing the Olympic Games). She’s had a couple of unfortunate injuries, but hoping to try to help secure a full team for Hungary for the 2020 Tokyo Games at the upcoming World Championships this October.
Aliya, the two time Olympic Champion on bars, gave birth to a baby girl in 2017. She is currently making her elite comeback and looking AMAZING. Her bars are all the heart in the eyes emojis.

❤ Stuttgart. So, so thankful.

The Neckar River
❤ ❤ ❤

Currently:

Reading: Every Day is for the Thief
(Teju Cole)
Watching: The Case Against Adnan Syed
(HBO)
Listening: Reveal: Lasting Impact
(Center for Investigative Reporting)

Simone Biles (Continues to be) The Hero We Don’t Deserve: August Update on MSU, The USOC, & USAG

“Larry Nassar … was far from a lone wolf… He was enabled by others and if they lied about it and if they obstructed the investigation, if they destroyed documents then they should be held accountable.”

Fitzpatrick, Sarah, Tom Costello, and Adiel Kaplan. 2019. “Congress: U.S. Olympic Committee, FBI Failed to Protect Athletes from Larry Nassar’s Abuse.” NBC News. Available here.

This is a continuing series of posts on how Michigan State University, the United States Olympic Committee, and USA Gymnastics are changing (or not) following the largest sexual abuse case in the history of sport in the US. Need a recap on how we got here? Check out my last post here.

As always, there’s a ton of developments to unpack, including just two weeks ago when a congressional report found that the USOC, USA Gymnastics, MSU, AND the FBI all “had opportunities to stop Nassar but failed to do so”.

I’ll be posting a review of the report, which includes damning evidence of both individual and organizational cover-ups, as well as prioritizing institutional protection over athlete safety, in a separate post.

Simone Biles at the 2019 US National Championships

These organizations are (still) failing at creating meaningful change. Just last week at the US Championships, where Simone “greatest of all time” Biles won her historic sixth all-around title (along with unveiling two of the most difficult skills in gymnastics history, tearfully addressed the short-comings of the USOC and USA Gymnastics. Both organizations failed to protect her from sexual abuse; she currently still competes under these institutions, who also make money off of her domination of the sport:

“But it’s hard coming here for an organization having had them fail us so many times. And we had one goal and we’ve done everything that they’ve asked us for, even when we didn’t want to and they couldn’t do one damn job. You had one job. You literally had one job and you couldn’t protect us…. How can we trust them?”

The Associated Press. 2019. “‘You had One Job’: Tearful Simone Biles Attacks USAG over Nassar Scandal.” The Guardian UK. Available here.

Biles shut down the Ranch, USAG trash CEOs, and continues to speak out against the organizations that allowed Nassar to abuse hundreds of children and women. The truth is that she doesn’t have to keep holding USAG and the USOC accountable–I can’t imagine the emotional and mental toll it takes to continuously do so while competing–but she does. Biles is providing a voice to the many who aren’t heard and because she is absolutely the best there is, forces people (and organizations) to listen. As Nastia Liukin said on day two of the US Championships broadcast: “Simone’s got enough gold medals at home. Someone give this girl a crown.”

Let’s get into it:

Michigan State University

Dr. Samuel Stanley Jr
  • In May, MSU named former Stony Brook University president Samuel L. Stanley as the new president for Michigan State. He was unanimously voted into the position by the MSU Board of Trustees following the resignation of Lou Anna Simon in January 2018 and the term of controversial interim president John Engler ended. Stanley served on the NCAA Division I Board of Directors from 2014-2018 and the NCAA Division I Board of Governors from 2016-2018. Remember that last year the NCAA cleared MSU of any wrongdoing concerning Larry Nassar, as well as the abuse allegations made against the university’s football and basketball teams. His salary could include up to $5.3M by 2024; he started at the university on August 1st.
  • June Youatt, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at MSU, testified at former Michigan State University Dean (and Nassar’s boss) William Strampel’s court hearing. She stated that she:

“was aware of complaints about Strampel making inappropriate or sexual comments, but recommended he stay on as dean after confronting him about the alleged behavior… [She] testified Friday that a number of anonymous comments collected as part of the university’s five-year review process for deans ‘indicated that there had been some sexual comments made.'”

Gibbons, Lauren. 2019. “MSU Provost Recommended William Strampel Stay on as Dean Despite Complaints of Inappropriate Behavior.” Michigan Live. Available here.

June Youatt is still employed at MSU and continues to hold the position of Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs.

William Strampel (left)
  • In June, William Strampel was found guilty of misconduct in office, as well as two charges of willful neglect of duty in relation to his role as Larry Nassar’s supervisor at Michigan State University (he was found not guilty of second-degree criminal sexual conduct.) This month he was sentenced to 11 months in prison. Strampel is the first person to be sentenced for his role in enabling Nassar.
  • Former MSU president Lou Anna Simon was charged in November 2018 with lying to police; her trial finished in July 2019. Eaton County District Court Judge Julie Reincke will announce a ruling later this year.
  • Kathy Klages, former Head Coach for the MSU Women’s Gymnastics Team, was also charged with lying to police for failing to report allegations of abuse against Nassar. Her case is still pending.

“MSU is paying the full costs of Simon and Klages’ defenses. The university is paying for half of Strampel’s defense, since only two of his charges related to the Nassar scandal.”

Banta, Megan. 2019. “Former MSU Dean William Strampel Sentenced to One Year in Jail.” Lansing State Journal. Available here.
  • On June 20th the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill to add athletic trainers and physical therapists to the state’s list of mandatory reporters of child abuse. This is the direct result of survivors pushing for legislation to create stricter laws for protecting victims.
  • Michigan State University has yet to respond to a January report by the US Department of Education. The report found that the institution continuously violated federal law that requires universities to publicly report safety issues.
  • In June, the MSU Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approve an independent investigation of how the institution allowed Nassar to abuse women. MSU will hire an outside firm to conduct the research, specifically non-criminal actions, including the culture of the campus and administration, with the goal of:

“helping the Board of Trustees to identify who knew what about Nassar, how he was able to abuse and identify actions that might have involved neglect, violations of university protocol or other behaviors that need to be addressed.”

Kozlowski, Kim. 2019. “MSU to Launch Independent Investigation in Nassar Scandal.” The Detroit News. Available here.

Chicago-based firm McDermott Will & Emery will conduct the investigation. The decision was met with approval from Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly come forward against Nassar:

“It’s truly independent. MSU has not done an independent review of everything that’s happened. And they’ve worked directly with survivors in selecting a firm…that really emphasizes the importance of accountability and transparency and independence from the board… It’s exactly what we’ve been asking for, what I’ve been asking for, for the last three years. “

Wells, Kate. 2019. “MSU Promises New Nassar Investigation is the Real Deal This Time.” Michigan Public Radio. Available here.

USA Gymnastics & United States Olympic Committee:

(center three): Tasha Schwikert, Alyssa Baumann , and Jordan Schwikert
  • This May, three former USAG athletes testified to the Texas Senate committee to provide more time for for abuse victims to take legal action against their perpetrators, including institutions. 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Tasha Schwikert, her sister and national team member Jordan, and World medalist Alyssa Baumann expressed concern that the law needed to expand to include a longer statue of limitations, as well as the inclusion of legal action against organizations that enable abuse, a policy that was originally in the bill, but was quietly removed by Craig Goldman, who introduced the legislation. All three athletes were abused at the former National Training Center in Texas. Tasha, now a lawyer, stated: “I was just there doing gymnastics, trying to live out my dream of being an Olympian, and they allowed this child molester to abuse hundreds of gymnasts doing the same.” The bill passed in late May, now allowing victims of abuse to file lawsuits up to thirty years after they turn 18; legislation also included the provision allowing victims to bring charges against institutions as well.
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, USA Gymnastics is now facing over $1 billion in claims from former athletes.
  • Former Olympian Terin Humphrey, a representative on the USA Gymnastics Athletes’ Council, was removed from her position following controversial comments on recognizing abuse in the gym. The Athletes’ Council is the voice of the gymnasts within USA Gymnastics.
  • Humphrey was then replaced by former 2012 Olympic alternate Anna Li, who, along with her mother Jiani Wu, is facing allegations of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse of athletes in her gym. Complaints filed with USA Gymnastics contend that the coaches screamed obscenities and pulled the hair of athletes. This week Li resigned from the position; Li’s resignation is the fifth USAG official to do so in less than twelve months.
Former USOC CEO Scott Blackmun
  • Administrative costs for the US Olympic Committee doubled from 2017-2018, including a $5.2 million investigation into the organization’s handling of Nassar abuse cases and a $2.4 million severance provided to former CEO Scott Blackmun. Blackmun was notified of Nassar’s abuse in 2015 by former USAG CEO Steve Penny. An independent investigation found that Blackmun never disclosed this information to anyone at the USOC and failed to ensure the complaints were reported to law enforcement. The report also found that Blackmun put the interests of the institution over athletes, athletes that helped earn the USOC $323 million in 2018. The $2.4 million given to Blackmun is more than the USOC provided to fund SafeSport, the organization tasked with investigating abuse allegations.
  • In response to Simone Biles’ criticism of the organization last week, USAG CEO Li Li Leung stated that they “are working to foster a safe, positive, and encouraging environment where athlete voices are heard.” Yet, there has been little, if any, substantial policy changes or structures in place since Leung was hired.

“Denhollander said it’s ‘an incredible burden that none of these athletes deserve… it’s unconscionable,’ she said, calling Biles’ and her teammates’ circumstances ‘manifestly unfair.'”

Svokos, Alexandra. 2019. “With Nationals Underway a Year Before Olympics, USA Gymnastics Still Struggles to Earn Trust.” ABC News. Available here.

While many critics claim this is “just” a gymnastics problem–some even calling to end the sport–the issue is that perpetrators of sexual abuse are everywhere. It’s not a “Nassar” problem; it is a cultural and policy issue:

  • In May, Ohio State University found that a team doctor abused at least 177 men during his time at the institution. OSU staff knew of the abuse as early as 1979, but instead chose to protect the institution over athlete safety.
  • In June, former Olympic track athlete Conrad Mainwaring was arrested for felony sexual battery. An ESPN investigation found that the coach had molested at least thirty men during his time working at a high school in Los Angeles.
  • MSU physiology professor Robert Wiseman was suspended for six weeks after MSU found he had sexually harassed six women over twenty years. The first woman filed a report in January 18th and Wiseman was suspended over a year later. He finished his suspension on April 4th and has resumed his position at Michigan State.
  • US Champion Chris Riegel stated that he was sexually assaulted by his coach from 1973-1981; he reported the abuse to the USOC and USGF (the organization replaced by USA Gymnastics) but the reports were ignored.

Simone, and all of the other former and current athletes that have and continue to compete for the USOC and USAG deserve better. I can’t imagine competing and earning money for organizations that not only enabled abusers to assault athletes, but seemingly still are unwilling to enact tangible policies to address these issues. Less talk, more action.

Required Reading: Larry Nassar’s Digital Ghosts (Mary Pilon) available here.

Required Viewing:

Simone debuts the most difficult balance beam dismount ever performed: a double twisting double somersault

Currently:

Reading: Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
Watching: Dexter Season 2 (Showtime)
Listening: White Lies (National Public Radio)

“It’s the ones who covered it up that made it worse”: April 2019 Update on MSU, the USOC, and USAG

“We demonize the Nassars & the Sanduskys and they’ve done horrible things, but it’s the ones who covered it up that made it worse & created more victims.”

At the Heart of Gold Documentary

If you need a recap, check out my previous blog.

Whelp, bad news if you opened this link thinking: “It’s been over a year since the sentencing. USAG has a new CEO and that At the Heart of Gold documentary I saw on HBO waiting for the new Game of Thrones episode seemed really positive. Surely, we are moving in the right direction!” Unfortunately for all of us, there’s a lot to unpack here. Grab a snack and take a seat as this is a long post.

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I have news for you, friends.

This quote from ESPN sums it up:

For a moment, it felt like gymnastics was turning a corner. After three years of turmoil, and hundreds of accusers detailing Nassar’s sexual assaults, the sport and its amazing athletes were finally starting to be back in focus.

But then USAG’s new president and CEO had to remind everyone just how much work there is left to do to save the sport in this country.

Maine, D’Arcy. 24 April 2019. “Just When Gymnastics Started to Seem Right Again, Enter Li Li Leung and her Unthinkable Answer.” ESPN W. http://www.espn.com/espnw/voices/article/26595072/just-gymnastics-started-seem-right-again-enter-li-li-leung-unthinkable-answer.

Here is part “who even knows at this point” of my ongoing (and looks to be never-ending) series: “How Institutions Totally Mess Up Actually Holding Themselves Responsible for Enabling Sexual Predators and Make False Promises to Create Meaningful Change”.

Michigan State University

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Part of the new MSU exhibit: “Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak”.
  • On April 3rd the Michigan Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Larry Nassar; his forty year sentence will still be carried out. However, the state appeals court is still reviewing Nassar’s separate appeal based on the grounds that his rights were “violated” by statements made by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.
  • In late March Detective Andrew McCready of Meridian Township, Michigan, formally apologized to Brianne Randall-Gray, a survivor of Nassar’s abuse. McCready was tasked with investigating Nassar in 2004 and admitted that he was fooled by the former doctor; he sided with him over Randall-Gray, who filed the complaint after she was molested during a scoliosis exam. The police launched their own independent investigation and Randall-Gray stated that, “They made a mistake, a mistake that they will live with the rest of their lives. I offered my forgiveness in the past and I continue to extend my forgiveness to them.”
Wow. A positive step? Accountability? Moving forward to enact policies toward change? What a concept.
  • Christine Moore, MSU’s Title IX investigator for the 2014 complaint by Amanda Thomashaw against Larry Nassar defended her actions and findings in court on April 8th: “I did the best I could at the time.” The Title IX conclusion favored Nassar; two reports were generated (one for Nassar and one for Thomashaw), which was the first in the history of the university. Moore is now an MSU assistant general counsel. She stated that she never informed then-president Lou Anna Simon of the complaint, although she did notify her supervisor, MSU police, and MSU general counsel.
  • MSU Assistant Chief Valerie O’Brien and Detective JJ Bradoc, a married couple employed at the university, were placed on paid leave administrative leave. O’Brien oversees the investigative division for Michigan State, which includes sexual misconduct. O’Brien handled the Title IX investigation brought against Nassar in 2014 by Amanda Thomashaw.
  • During a hearing to determine whether former MSU president Lou Anna Simon knew more about the complaints against Larry Nassar than she originally told police, Paulette Granberry Russell stated that she “cannot recall stating to President Simon a matter involving Larry Nassar” but:

Sometime between May 14 and May 19, 2014, Paulette Granberry Russell created an agenda for a meeting she would have with then-President Lou Anna Simon, was notified of a sexual assault complaint against Larry Nassar, exchanged emails with university officials about that complaint and other ongoing issues and met with Simon.

Banta, Megan and Carol Thompson. 15 April 2019. “MSU Official Says She Can’t Recall 6-Day Span Around When She Learned of Nassar Complaint.” Lansing State Journal. https://eu.lansingstatejournal.com/story/news/local/2019/04/09/msu-michigan-state-lou-anna-simon-nassar-lying-to-police-president/3244731002/
  • Prosecutors believe Granberry Russell (senior adviser in the university’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives) and Simon discussed the Title IX case against Nassar during a meeting in 2014.
  • “Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak”, an exhibition in special collaboration with sexual assault survivors, was opened on April 16th at Michigan State. The exhibit includes a wall of 505 titles (one for each known survivor), a timeline of the abuse, sculptures, and a triptych by sister survivor Jordyn Fishman. The exhibit will be on display until 2020. It’s a beautiful and impactful exhibit.

USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee:

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  • On April 24th, new CEO Li Li Leung stated in an interview with NBC News that she too was treated by Larry Nassar but that she wasn’t abused because her coach was present. This is a troubling statement because many of the women assaulted by the former doctor had parents, coaches, and other athletes present at the time. Remember: your own experience does not mean that others did not suffer in a similar environment. As CEO, this is insulting to all the athletes she clearly hasn’t listened to enough:

While it’s a relief Leung didn’t have to experience the horror and trauma, it’s astonishing how tone-deaf she sounds. So many of the survivors had parents or coaches in the room with them while their abuse happened, so to say that’s all that’s needed to prevent this is frankly insulting to all those who have come forward. Did she not take the time to watch any of the victim statements? So many of them talked about that very detail at great lengths.

Maine, D’Arcy. 24 April 2019. “Just When Gymnastics Started to Seem Right Again, Enter Li Li Leung and her Unthinkable Answer.” ESPN W. http://www.espn.com/espnw/voices/article/26595072/just-gymnastics-started-seem-right-again-enter-li-li-leung-unthinkable-answer.
  • After outrage over her comments intensified, Leung tweeted:

I understand how my comment seems insensitive to the survivors and their families, and I apologize. My intent was not to diminish what they’ve been through. I should have clarified that my experience was completely different from theirs and it is wrong to suggest I could have a solution based on my experience alone. I cannot know all necessary steps to take until I hear their stories, and hope they will have a dialogue with us regarding athlete safety and well-being going forward.

https://twitter.com/Li_Li_Leung
  • 1984 Olympic All Around Champion Mary Lou Retton furthered the terrible-ness that is tone-deaf commenting with your foot in your mouth by saying that athletes could avoid sexual assault “by going to a reputable gym.” What. Does. That. Even. Mean. The top elite athletes from the very top gyms in the country–Madison Kocian/WOGA, Gabby Douglas-Chow’s Gymnastics, Aly Raisman/Brestyan’s, Jordyn Wieber/Twistars, Simone Biles/Aimee Boorman–were abused at the National Training Center, ran by Retton’s old personal coaches, Bela and Marta Karolyi. The Karolyis are still under investigation for their involvement and “reputable” coach John Geddert has been abused by numerous athletes for allowing, and being a part of, abusive practices. The fact that Retton mentioned she had a call with Li Li to “pick her brain” when the CEO has yet to speak to Aly Raisman or Simone Biles speaks volumes.
  • On April 23rd, Senator Chuck Grassley formerly asked the United States Olympic Committee for more information on the halting of the decertification process against USA Gymnastics. In the letter, Grassley references the idea that USAG filed for bankruptcy as a way to stop decertification and gave them until May 10th to respond. The bankruptcy also places a hold on any lawsuits against USAG.
via Gymcastic Twitter
  • Last month USAG paid a total of $1.4 million in legal expenses (including $700,000 in legal fees to six law firms).
  • Nearly 200 girls assaulted by Larry Nassar at the Twistars Gym owned by the now-disgraced John Geddert, settled with the 2012 Olympic head coach for $2.12 million, the maximum payout allowed by Geddert’s insurance coverage. Remember that Geddert was a long-time friend and supporter of Nassar, who walked in on the former doctor abusing an athlete and responded by laughing at the gymnast’s discomfort.
  • On April 29th, the Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company filed a lawsuit in Denver against the the USOC stating that leaders of the organization knew of prevalent sexual abuse since at least 2010 but claim they had no cases brought forward by athletes; the insurance company believes they are not liable to cover the Larry Nassar lawsuits against the USOC because the organization “denied it had ever had an allegation or claim of sexual abuse” when filing for insurance coverage in 2015. This is counter to 2010 USOC documents that state: “the issue of sexual abuse is very real in sport and that a call to action is needed”. Sexual abuse claims were filed in the sports of gymnastics, field hockey, karate, swimming, curling, archery, rugby, rowing, snowboarding, and skiing.
USOC. WTF.
  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stated that she can not meet with survivors of Nassar’s abuse due to a “legal conflict.” DeVos was under scrutiny, particularly in Michigan, due to her changes in how sexual abuse cases and Title IX complaints are handled at the collegiate level.

But DeVos, who is from the Grand Rapids area, rejected the request to meet with Nassar victims until after the changes to Title IX are finalized, Slotkin said. 

“Therefore, I want to thank you for your request that I meet with Michigan State University Title IX survivor-advocates to hear about their experiences and views on how to prevent sexual assault on college campuses,” DeVos wrote. 

“However, as you are no doubt aware, the law prevents me from doing so at this time.” 

DeVos has criticized campus sexual misconduct rules established by the Obama administration and said her proposal is meant in part to be more fair to students who are accused of misconduct, saying one person denied due process is one too many.

She stressed that confronting sexual abuse on campus “head on” is one of her highest priorities as secretary. 

Burke, Melissa Nann. 8 May 2019. “DeVos: ‘Inappropriate’ to Meet Nassar Victims Due to Legal Conflict.” The Detroit News. https://eu.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/08/devos-hasnt-met-nassar-victims/1140848001/.
  • Women’s Athlete Representative and a member of the selection committee for competitions for USAG, 2004 Olympic medalist Terin Humphrey, posted online that “what some consider coaching, others consider abuse.” The meme further stated that athletes should “get ready” to be screamed at by coaches. 1984 Olympian Kathy Johnson Clarke replied: “Yes, at times elite athletes need to be called out for a myriad of ineffective, unproductive, behaviors, but in your face “ass-chewing” is abusive & destructive.”
  • USAG named Dr. Edward Nyman as the first full-time Director of Sports Medicine and Science for the organization. There was an almost immediate backlash from survivors and athletes (most notably Simone Biles, who tweeted: “I’m sorry…. what”). No real communication was made on what that job entailed or how the new director would interact with athletes. For the record, this position was purely administrative; he would not have been treating gymnasts personally, although no one knew that at the time.
  • The following day, USAG stated that “Dr. Nyman’s employment will not continue due to a conflict of interest, and we will immediately renew our search to identify a qualified individual to lead our sports medicine and research efforts.” They further replied: “To provide clarity, the decision to terminate Dr. Nyman’s employment was not based on any comments made on social media platforms or anywhere else. In accordance with our employment policies, we cannot comment further on this personnel matter.” WHAT. THE. HELL. What kind of disqualification does a director of sports medicine have and how did you not catch this before offering him the position?
  • USAG then stated on May 7th that Nyman was terminated “for his failure to disclose athlete safety complaints involving the club with which he is affiliated to USA Gymnastics.” His wife, Amy, owns the New Heights Gymnastics Club in Ohio and USAG has known of allegations of misconduct against the club (including intoxication of coaches in front of athletes) since at least 2017. The complaints are bad enough that USAG referred the club to the U.S. Center for SafeSport in February 2019. That’s right, THIS FEBRUARY. AS IN THREE MONTHS AGO FEBRUARY. Nyman countered that he discussed these complains with USAG in-house counsel Mark Busby before being hired by the organization. USAG released a statement citing:

“This demonstrated poor judgment and created a conflict of interest that disqualified him from serving in this important role. We are confident this was the best decision for the welfare of ‘our athletes and our community… We have learned through this process and received important feedback from our community about this position. Athlete safety is our north star and it will guide us to make the right decisions, no matter how difficult or how they may be perceived.”

Reid, Scott M. 7 May 2019. “USA Gymnastics was Aware of Allegations Against Nyman’s Gym Since 2017.” The Orange County Register. https://www.ocregister.com/2019/05/07/directory-of-sports-medicine-was-fired-by-usa-gymnastics-for-failing-to-disclose-safety-complaints-at-club-owned-by-his-wife/.

Wait, where have we heard that statement before? Right. Every. Single. Damn. Statement. Released. By. USAG.

  • Nyman then countered with his own statement explaining that he was open about the allegations and goes into detail on A LOT of issues he reportedly saw in his 24 hours working for the organization (no one is concerned with athlete safety, Li Li is focused on the image of USAG, and that the “change” he advocated for “scared” those at the top of the organization). If what he is saying is true (are we really surprised by them?) then USAG is in even worse shape than we thought. Nyman was tenured assistant professor at the University of Findlay and he states, he didn’t “need” to take on the role. The issue is the lack of communication and transparency here where USAG releases vague press releases and those wanting to tell their story are forced to do so through a Facebook post (rant).
  • His statement also mentions, by name, yet another potential case coming out of USAG: trainer Stephanie Peters’ complaint against a male national team member. Is a Facebook post the best way to “out” this information? Yikes. Double Yikes.
  • Nyman says he is not the co-owner of New Heights. But that has also been a source of controversy (yes, even more), considering he was listed as such in a BGSU press release.

The point here is simply WTF. The back and forth between Nyman and USAG demonstrates the serious lack of ability of USA Gymnastics to successfully investigate and hire someone in a position as important as head of sports medicine in the aftermath of the largest case of sexual abuse in the history of sports in the United States. On top of that, the failure to communicate the position and how this person would interact with athletes–some of whom are survivors still competing for the organization–is baffling to to me. Firing Nyman makes sense; but the point here is how the hell was he even hired in the first place? How inept and incompetent can you be?

If, and that’s a big if, USA Gymnastics is decertified, the big question is who will be in charge of not just the national teams, but the hundreds of clubs that make up the organization of the sport of gymnastics in the United States. At this point, could anyone or literally any other governing body do a worse job at mismanaging communication, athlete well-being, and safety? Even the mess that would be left in the wake of a decertified USAG would be better than the dumpster fire that is currently running the show. Can we truly trust an organization that has failed to learn from its mistakes? Is the USOC even capable of overseeing these governing bodies when they have allowed this abuse and mismanagement to thrive?

Remember that this goes beyond Larry Nassar. Shenea Booth, a gymnast who was abused by her coach over 200 times, starting at the age of fifteen, stated:

“Everything should change about USAG,” she wrote in a survey submitted to the organization last year. “The focus needs to be on the safety and well being of the athletes.”

Meanwhile, she wants to make sure the public knows that the problems with USA Gymnastics go beyond Larry Nassar — and didn’t end just because he went to prison.

“Unless people continue to speak… there’s a lot of stuff that could just kind of fall away.”

North, Anna. 30 April 2019. “Beyond Larry Nassar: Hundreds of Athletes are Fighting USA Gymnastics in Court Over Abuse.” Vox. https://www.vox.com/2019/4/30/18287522/larry-nassar-usa-gymnastics-bankruptcy-usag-assault

Taking a page from My Favorite Murder, here are the fucking hooray moments to get us through all this negativity:

  • The Believed Podcast won a Peabody Award.
  • Maggie Nichols (Athlete A, who originally started the investigation into Larry Nassar) won the 2019 All Around NCAA National Championship and won the Honda Award.
  • Trinea Gonczar and Amanda Thomashaw created Survivor Strong, an organization to advocate for survivors of sexual abuse and educate institutions on creating change.
  • Simone Biles is in the current issue of Sports Illustrated looking (and feeling) AMAZING.

Who needs a rage nap?

Currently:

Reading: What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (Carolyn Forché)

Watching: At the Heart of Gold (HBO Documentaries)

Larry Nassar Abuse at USAG & MSU: March 2019 Update

Check out my latest update here if you need a recap of where we currently stand in the wake of Larry Nassar’s abuse.

Ready for the next steps in our continued journey of “how institutions totally mess up actually holding themselves responsible for enabling sexual predators and make false promises to create meaningful change”?

Michigan State University

Survivors and supporters gather outside the Hannah Administration Building on Michigan State’s East Lansing campus.
  • In January, the U.S. Department of Education found Michigan State University in violation of federal law “by failing to comply with requirements that aim to ensure a safe campus, systemically underreported crime statistics, and — in the handling of sexual assault allegations against former athletics physician Larry Nassar — demonstrated ‘lack of institutional control’.” These violations of the Clery Act (passed in 1990) spread across MSU and included Greek Life, athletics, residence halls, and others; the report found that the university did not even have a “minimally adequate” system in place to report sexual abuse. Some of the violations include:
    • (2016) A strength and conditioning coach failed to report a call from a former MSU athlete detailing how Nassar had “touched her inappropriately.” Rather than adhere to the rules required to report abuse, the trainer instead brought the report to an associate athletic director. Neither the coach nor the associate athletic director reported the incident to area police or MSU’s Title IX office.
    • (2016) MSU’s Sexual Assault Program did not know they were required by federal law to report abuse on campus. As a result, the crimes reported to SAP were never included in the campus’s safety statistics. Additionally, “the Sexual Assault Program couldn’t give federal investigators any documentation at all about the crimes reported to them because ‘the University stated that the SAP office did not maintain such records’.”
    • (2014) Mandatory Reporting Training is basically, yikes. In 2014, the institution could not identify who on their staff qualifies as a a campus security authority. This designation is important because federal law requires anyone considered “campus security authorities” to report any serious crimes that occur at the university. MSU records state that they believed there were 50 such staff members at the time (today that number is 1,500). The training for a CSA included a Powerpoint and quiz that is emailed to the employee; however, the university “has no way of knowing whether the CSAs complete the training and quiz, and thus, no assurances that the CSAs are capable of performing their assigned duties”.
  • The Clery Act requires institutions to report accurate crime statistics including publishing reports of sexual abuse. Currently MSU’s application for recertification is on hold while they work to actually adhere to the requirements of the law. Their punishment includes lack of federal financial aid ($423 million dollars in federal funding per year) and fines per violation. It is important to note that the largest fine charged was the $2.4 million levied against Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky abuse was reported.
  • On February 28th, MSU opened a temporary fund for survivors of abuse and their parents. To receive funding for counseling and mental health services, the abuse had to occur either at MSU or to an MSU student-athlete. Remember that the old fund was halted in July of 2018 amid concerns over “possible fraudulent claims”. Then-president John Engler stated that the money set aside for the fund could be used instead for lawsuit payouts.
  • The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs filed complaints against two MIchigan State University trainers for “giving false statements to police about their knowledge of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar”. Destiny Teachnor-Hauk and Lianna Hadden (who both still work for MSU) can face fines and have their licenses suspended or revoked. Remember that Teachnor-Hauk failed to report abuse stated by softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez and also was one of the medical experts interviewed for the 2014 Title IX investigation of Nassar, an investigation which eventually cleared him of all charges. Two student athletes disclosed abuse to Hadden in 2000. Teachnor-Hauk was her supervisor at the time.
  • Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel stated in her first news conference on February 22nd that “a full and complete cooperation of MSU, frankly, continues to be a challenge… They have fought us every step of the way. It’s time for Michigan State University to do the right thing.” The university did not turn over 7,000 documents to her office; a portion of the documents (1,000) were eventually given after the state took MSU to court. Nessel further pleaded with the Board of Trustees to promote transparency and help with the investigation.
  • Former Michigan State student and athlete Nicole Casady, shared her story of abuse by Larry Nassar. First assaulted at a training camp and later at the university, she said she abused over sixty times.
  • The preliminary hearing for former MSU president Lou Anna Simon, charged with lying to police about her knowledge of Nassar’s abuse on campus began on February 5th.
  • Kathie Klages, former MSU gymnastics coach and one of Larry Nassar’s longtime friends, is currently awaiting trial for two counts of lying to police (seeing a trend here?). On February 7th, she filed a motion to “prohibit the release of certain personal information”.

USA Gymnastics

Li Li Leung is the new CEO of USA Gymnastics and is the fourth person in the position in two years.
  • Li Li Leung was named the new CEO of USA Gymnastics. Leung is a former gymnast at the University of Michigan and a vice president for the NBA. She also has a sports marketing background. She replaces Mary Bono, who resigned after four days in the role.
  • On March 5th, USAG filed a motion in bankruptcy court to pay Leung an annual salary $450,000 plus discretionary annual performance bonuses and a moving allowance of $15,000. It is important to note that USAG “forgot” to pay salary claims made by 2018 world championship coaches.
  • Leung’s announcement was met with controversy from survivors who found her background too similar to former CEO Kerry Perry and her work with the NBA (an organization with its own issues of abuse by athletes and staff) discouraging. Many were not happy that they were not represented in the hiring process.
  • USAG is suing 30 of their insurers for failing to pay the organization’s legal costs related to the 100 lawsuits brought against them by 300 women and girls relating to Nassar’s abuse. The battle over their insurance coverage (and whether their insurers will foot the $150 million bill) is related to the organization’s decision to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court is now responsible for deciding whether USAG had the proper coverage and if the organization was negligent in their responsibilities to their insurers: “the potential ultimate payouts to the victims is complicated by the mix of negligence and fraud claims USAG faces. Fraud and other intentional conduct claims are usually not covered under typical general liability insurance policies, experts said. USA Gymnastics is suing over both comprehensive general liability policies and directors and officers policies, according to its complaint”. They certainly failed the responsibilities they had to keep athletes safe.
  • During the bankruptcy hearing, survivors Rachel Denhollander, Tasha Schwikert, and Sarah Klein questioned the CFO of USAG, Scott Shollenbarger on the process. He could not answer many of the questions raised; Schwikert, the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, called the meeting “one big I-don’t-know.”
  • The deadline to file claims against USA Gymnastics was extended to April 26th.
  • The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) will double the funding to the organization’s Safe Sport program to $6.2 million annually. Safe Sport is funded by the Olympic governing bodies in the US and is charged with investigating any reports of sexual abuse.
  • One of the USOC’s insurers, Arch Specialty, claims that the organization knew about the Larry Nassar abuse in USA Gymnastics before applying for their $8 million policy in 2017 (!!). In a Colorado court Arch Specialty reports that their policy only covers sexual abuse that could not have been foreseen by the organization and they are therefore not liable to pay out for any settlements related to Nassar’s abuse.
  • As of March 8th, the USOC has paused steps to decertify USA Gymnastics as the governing body for the sport. USOC chief executive Sarah Hirshland stated: “We believe that USA Gymnastics’ intention in filing bankruptcy was an attempt to resolve litigation they are facing in an expedited and organised way… We believe that is a really important step for USA Gymnastics and don’t think disrupting that in any way by pursuing the section eight hearing at this point is helpful to that process”.
  • A bill extending the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases an additional three years in Indiana was stalled at the statehouse last month. The bill, designed to give survivors of abuse more time to file reports, was developed after Indianapolis based USAG was found to have allowed years of abuse of athletes. The Judiciary Committee’s Chair, Sen. Randall Head, sent the bill to a summer study committee stating: “The topic of statute of limitations have some implications that have not been testified about this morning. If we open the statute of limitations for everyone until 2022, it’s possible that victims could get justice. But then 10 years after that there could be other people that say, ‘Wait, you need to open it up again.’… I don’t think we’re ready in this committee this morning to make a decision regarding the statutes of limitations and all of those implications”.
  • Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also stated that her office will investigate former coach and 2012 Olympic Team Head Coach John Geddert. Eaton County began an investigation into Geddert after multiple survivors came forward with stories of physical and mental abuse in his gym, Twistars; “no timeline” was determined for when that investigation would be completed. Nessel has now taken over the case and put prosecutor Danielle Hagaman-Clark in charge of leading the investigation and that “any and all potential crimes will be pursued”.
SAME.

For all of our sanities, I want to end on a high note.

This quote by Simone Biles will hopefully get you through this madness:

“A badass is a woman who has confidence in herself, along with a bit of attitude and some swag.”

https://www.instyle.com/news/simone-biles-badass-woman

Currently–

Reading: The Marrow Thieves (Cherie Dimaline)

Watching: Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

Listening: Lux Prima (Karen O & Danger Mouse)

Extra special thank you to Gymcastic for all of their continued coverage.

Post-Nassar Fallout Continues: October Updates on MSU and USAG.

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The US Women’s Team (from left to right) Ragan Smith, Morgan Hurd, Simone Biles, Kara Eaker, Riley McCusker, and Grace McCallum

This week the United States women and men compete at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Doha, Qatar. These athletes are competing amid new controversy and unrest (what a surprise, oh wait, no this is the new norm) surrounding the leadership at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.

Here we go:

Larry Nassar recorded himself drugging and raping a student-athlete; MSU covered up the abuse.

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Larry Nassar in 2018.

As the September 10th deadline for lawsuits approached, a shocking (or at this point is it?) account was filed that detailed the drugging, rape, and as a result, impregnation of former Michigan State University field hockey player Erika Davis by Larry Nassar. The assault occurred in 1992 and the university, even when presented with video evidence, not only refused to fire Nassar, but also forced Davis and her coach to resign.

Davis was 17 when she was seen by Nassar for “treatment” after injuring her knee. Nassar, not a licensed physician at the time, was working as an athletic trainer and a student at MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. During her examination, he used his mouth and hands on her breasts while be recorded by an unnamed man in the room. At the following appointment, Davis states that she was given a crushed pill without explanation; this made her immobile and. a short time later, realized that Nassar was raping her.

Davis then reported the rape to two close friends and her coach, Martha Ludwig, who confronted Nassar in May of 1991. George Perles, the Athletic Director for MSU at the time, forced Ludwig to return the tape, drop her complaint, and sign a non-disclosure agreement. Davis then reported the abuse to a “dorm mom” after realizing she was pregnant with Nassar’s child as a result of the rape. Following a miscarriage, Davis, along with two friends, reported the rape to Michigan State University. According to the lawsuit:

“The police told them that since she was an athlete, she had to report it to the athletic department. The detective explicitly told them that he was powerless to investigate anything that takes place to the athletic department and to go to the athletic department.

Davis also alleges that the sergeant who gave her this information called Perles a ‘powerful man’ and suggested she drop the issue. Perles took over as the university’s athletic director in 1990. He stayed on as the football coach through 1994, but stepped down from his post as athletic director in May 1992, around the same time that Ludwig approached him, according to the lawsuit.”

Davis lost her athletic scholarship shortly after reporting the abuse. Ludwig was forced to resign. Perles is currently a trustee on MSU’s Board. In August, the NCAA cleared Michigan State of any violations after allegations of assault were made against the university’s football and basketball teams (see this post for more information on those claims).

MSU Victim Fund Temporarily Halted

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Michigan State University established a counseling fund for the survivors of Nassar’s assault in early 2018. Former MSU student-athletes, health clinic patients, and parents of survivors had access to the fund to pay for counseling, mental health services, as well as reimbursement for past appointments. This counseling fund is separate from the settlement made by MSU to the over 300 survivors.

Payments from the $10 million fund have been halted after a concern over “possible fraudulent claims” were made in July. Details on the alleged fraud, how the investigation will be carried out, and the length of time payments will be unavailable were not made public. Survivor Trinea Gonczar stated:

“’It’s almost like we’re back at square one, and you feel like you’re starting over and you’re re-victimized and you’re back in the trenches all over again,’ said Gonczar.

University officials said in July they’re stopping payments from the healing assistance fund over fraud concerns.

‘There’s no allegation that’s actually a victim, or a survivor,’ said MSU Interim President John Engler.”

Former & Current MSU Employees Under Investigation

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A protest outside of Michigan State University

A number of current and former Michigan State University employees are under investigation for their involvement with Nassar’s abuse:

  • Former MSU Psychologist Gary Stollak surrendered his psychology license after failing to report Nassar to authorities following a 2004 session with survivor Kyle Stephens. After telling her parents about Nassar’s molestation in their family home, Stollack brought Stephens, her parents, and Nassar into a session in which her parents were convinced that Kyle, six years old at the time, was lying. Nassar abused her for the following six years. Her father later committed suicide. One of the few women abused in a non-medical setting, Kyle was the first survivor to read her statement during Nassar’s hearing.
  • Sports Trainer Lianna Hadden is under investigation while still employed at the University. Two survivors (Tiffany Thomas Lopez and Jennifer Rood Beford) reportedly spoke of Nassar’s abuse to Hadden in the 2000s.
  • Destiny Teachnor-Hauk (still an athletic trainer for the gymnastics team) and Dr. Brooke Lemmen, (no longer employed) are currently under investigation as they contributed to the 2014 Title IX complaint against Nassar. Their medical testimonies helped clear the former doctor of any abuse. Lemmen also removed patient files from Nassar’s work computer.
  • Dr. William Strampel, the former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Nassar’s boss, was charged with felony misconduct, fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, and two counts of willful neglect of duty that occurred while Nassar was being investigated.
  • Kathie Klages, former Head Coach for the women’s gymnastics program, was arrested for lying to police during the Nassar investigation. Klages has also been accused of failing to report Nassar’s abuse on multiple occasions: two women told investigators that they informed Klages of the molestation in 1997. During the investigation, Klages told the mother of a survivor that the thousands of child pornography images found on Nassar’s computer was planted, as well as forced her athletes to write the former doctor a support letter after he was arrested.

More Survivors Come Forward

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Tasha Schwikert is the tenth Olympian to come forward as a survivor. From left to right, top to bottom: Tasha Schwikert (2000), Jordyn Wieber (2012). Aly Raisman (2012 and 2016), Jamie Dantzscher (2000), Simone Biles (2016), McKayla Maroney (2012), Madison Kocian (2016), Gabrielle Douglas (2012 and 2016) and Kyla Ross (2012). Not pictured: Morgan White (2000).

Last week Olympic and World medalist Tasha Schwikert came forward as a survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse. The 2000 Olympian tweeted:

“’After months of grappling with the decision, I have decided to come forward as a victim of Larry Nassar. I want to join my former teammates and fellow survivors to help enact REAL change at @USAGym and @TeamUSA. #MeToo.

“I refuse to remain a victim. It is time for @USAGym and @TeamUSA to come clean and be held accountable for the toxic environment that enabled Nassar’s abuse. Only then will we see REAL change.”

Tasha’s sister, Jordan,  a former USA Gymnastics athlete and UCLA Bruin, also stated that Nassar abused her as well.

Schwikert is now the second member of the bronze medal-winning Olympic team to come forward; she was the youngest athlete to compete for any sport at the 2000 Olympics.

Schwikert noted that former USAG president and CEO Steve Penny pressured her to publicly support USAG while the Nassar abuse story began to gain traction with the mainstream media:

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Tasha’s statement posted on USAG’s Twitter account at the same time her former teammates were interviewed by 60 Minutes.

There are now more than 333 survivors that have publicly come forward.

Interim CEO Mary Bono Resigns

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Former California Representative Mary Bono.

Interim USA Gymnastics CEO Mary Bono resigned last week after only five days in the position. The decision to appoint Bono as CEO was problematic as she formerly worked for Faegre Baker Daniels, the law firm that represented USA Gymnastics against the athletes that filed charges against the organization during the Nassar investigation.

The decision outraged many former and current gymnasts including Aly Raisman:

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While the law firm is global and represents a number of clients, the choice to appoint a former attorney that worked for an organization paid to cover up Nassar’s abuse proved to be too big of an issue to overcome.

In addition to the concerns over her work with Faegre Baker Daniels, Bono also tweeted her opposition to Nike’s decision to create a campaign with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the civil protest of kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness for racial injustice and police brutality. In her tweet, Bono posted a picture of herself covering the Nike swoosh with a permanent marker.

Simone Biles, in her first year competing since the 2016 Olympics, is a Nike representative, survivor, and current National Champion. She tweeted:

“’mouth drop don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything.’

USA Gymnastics has been without an apparel sponsor since Under Armour announced that it was ending its partnership with the organization in December.”

Bono resigned less than a week after being named to the position.

Former USAG CEO Steve Penny Arrested

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Steve Penny’s mugshot following his arrest.

On October 18th, former president and CEO of USA Gymnastics Steve Penny was arrested after a grand jury indicted him for tampering with evidence related to the Nassar investigation. The third-degree felony states that Penny ordered documents from the Karolyi Ranch (the US Olympic Training Center) illegally be removed and brought to USA Gymnastics headquarters in Indianapolis:

“The removal of the documents was done for the purpose of impairing the ongoing investigation by destroying or hiding the documents.

[…]

The Texas Rangers and the detectives believe that those records are material to their investigation and that the removal of the records by Penny prevented them from reviewing documents that would have helped in their investigation of Nassar as well as assisted with the investigation of other offenses that may have occurred at the Karolyi ranch.”

Penny, who resigned from USA Gymnastics in March 2017, received a severance package from the now near-bankrupt organization of over $1 million dollars. When testifying before the Senate earlier this year, Penny pleaded the fifth and walked out of the hearing. Former Senior Vice President of the Women’s Program, Rhonda Faehn, also testified at the hearing; she stated that medical records had been removed from the Karolyi Ranch. Former World, Olympic, and National Champion Jordyn Wieber stated in her lawsuit against USAG that her medical files were missing.

_____

The US women compete in the qualifying competition of the 2018 World Championships tomorrow and are expected to win. If they do, they will have done so despite their governing organization, which has proven repeatedly that they are incapable of appointing qualified leaders to the highest positions.

Simone Biles has proved to be the most important person in USA Gymnastics and has seemed to find her voice in this role. During the National Championships, Simone publicly criticized then CEO Kerry Perry for her lack of leadership while also wearing a teal leotard to support victims of sexual assault. As the greatest gymnast of any generation, she singlehandedly closed down the Karolyi Ranch as the National Training Center. On how she disagreed with the appointment of Bono as the interim CEO Biles stated: “I said what I said. Maybe after Doha, I’ll be open to more questions about that.”

The fact that the team is currently at the World Championships, training well and seemingly positive, while the chaos of USAG ensues, is a testament to their mental and emotional strength. Regardless if they win gold or finish last, this is a team that has persevered.

Currently Reading: Praise Song for the Butterflies (by Bernice L. McFadden) Ashlyn

Currently Listening: Sharp Objects Season One Soundtrack

An Update on Nassar’s Abuse: Martha and Bela Karolyi

So much has happened over the past month. Former and current heads of USAG, USOC, and MSU have testified before Congress, even more details about who knew what and when have emerged, and we are starting to work towards a path to hold the enablers of Larry Nassar accountable.

I’m splitting up this update between the main players this month, first starting with Martha and Bela Karolyi. Let’s have a bit of a recap:

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Martha (left) and Bela (right) are two of the most famous coaches in the sport.

Bela and Martha Karolyi are heralded as one of the legends of the sport of women’s gymnastics. Bela famously coached the Romanian National Team in the 1970s, including Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast to score a perfect ten. After immigrating to the US, they coached many American greats including Mary Lou Retton, Betty Okino, Kim Zmeskal, Kerri Strug, and Dominique Moceanu. Both retired following the 1996 Olympics, where the American women won their first Olympic team gold medal.

In 2000, Bela was (controversially) hired as the National Team Coordinator prior to the Olympic Trials because the women’s program was not producing the results expected by USA Gymnastics. In 2001, Martha became the NTC and implemented the de-centralized system that has contributed to the success of the American program. Each month, training camps were held at the Karolyi Ranch; this was also the location for the selection camps prior to World and Olympic championships. The Ranch is also the location where many gymnasts were abused by Larry Nassar.

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To be clear, this was absolutely Martha’s program. She was in charge of the teams that went on to become some of the most successful and dominant in the history of the sport. Many former athletes allege that Martha controlled their food, weight, training programs, and did not allow chaperones. Following the 2016 Olympics, Martha and Bela quietly retired. They have remained silent as multiple lawsuits have been filed against the couple, many alleging mental, emotional and physical abuse at the Ranch.

Last month Martha and Bela finally broke the silence on their role in Nassar’s abuse (“It wasn’t us! We are victims too!”) in an interview with Dateline, as well as in written testimonies and lawsuits.

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I can only imagine this to be Martha’s reaction.

The NBC News Dateline Interview

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In late April NBC News interviewed a number of survivors (Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney), parents (the Nichols’, the Raismans’) and Bela and Martha Karolyi for a Dateline special on Nassar’s abuse.

In the interview, Martha (and Bela) continue their “Whaaaa? We were just little coaches who just worked with coaches and maybe selected teams!” narrative:

“In their Dateline interview, the Karolyis said they didn’t know of Nassar’s abuse. Martha Karolyi said she ‘never, ever (heard), not one single complaint’ about the doctor.

‘I heard during the testimonies that some of the parents were in the therapy room with their own child and Larry Nassar was performing this,’ Martha Karolyi said. ‘And the parent couldn’t see. How I could see?’

‘The whole gymnastics community couldn’t recognize this,’ she added. ‘Everybody said Larry Nassar is a good doctor, Larry Nassar is a good guy.'”

The issue here (again) is the lack of accountability. Sure, Martha and Bela may have not known that Nassar was abusing gymnasts in their home–even though he was the only adult allowed in the personal rooms of the athletes during camps–but it is the culture of abuse that enabled him to hurt so many gymnasts. The Karolyi Ranch is isolated, with minimal cell phone service and lacks even the most basic of medical facilities (the “massage room” was a table in a TV room); chaperones were not allowed at camps or competitions. Martha was a very intense NTC who was notorious for creating pressure-filled situations, controlling of food and the weight of the athletes, and also lacked empathy for injuries; this allowed Nassar to groom gymnasts into trusting him while also protecting Martha’s abusive environment:

“While the Americans became the world’s most dominant team under the Karolyis, winning 97 world championship and Olympic medals, some have said their exacting standards fostered an atmosphere in which gymnasts and their coaches were afraid to speak up. It was that culture that allowed Nassar to prey on young gymnasts, some have said.

‘Larry acted like our friend. He always had a sympathetic ear for complaints about our coaches,’ [Jordyn] Wieber said Wednesday during an appearance before a Senate subcommittee investigating sexual abuse in the Olympic movement. ‘He would bring us food, candy and coffee at the Olympics when we were hungry. I didn’t know that these were all grooming techniques that he used to manipulate and brainwash me into trusting him.'”

In the interview, Bela states that while he was abusive toward gymnasts in Romania, he “never” verbally or physically abused American athletes. Although many gymnasts over the past twenty years have stated otherwise.

The Karolyis also said that they had hoped to use the Ranch now as a place for orphaned children, but because of Nassar’s abuse and the stigma now on the location, they will not be able to become foster parents.

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This is just so, ugh, that I can’t even comment on how ridiculous of a statement it is, furthering their continued lack of empathy AND responsibility in the health of their former athletes; they would rather be seen as victims than own up to the fact that they did not protect the gymnasts that trained there. The entire interview can be seen here.

Karolyis File Lawsuit Against USA Gymnastics & USOC

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Martha Karolyi (left) consoles Sabrina Vega (right) after she was not chosen to make the 2012 Olympic Team.

This April the Karolyis filed a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic Committee claiming damages over the canceled sale of the ranch to USAG, as well as stating they were not a responsible party for Larry Nassar’s abuse that occurred at their home over the past fifteen years.

The Ranch has been used as a training center by USA Gymnastics since 2000, and the organization was set to purchase the compound for more than $3 million after Martha Karolyi retired as National Team Coordinator in 2016. USAG canceled this purchase most notably after 2016 gold medalist Simone Biles stated on Twitter that she would not like to return to the site of her abuse. Current USAG CEO Kerry Perry may take credit for shutting down the Ranch, but the fact of the matter is that if Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast of all time, refuses to attend training sessions, you have to discontinue using that location, regardless of whatever purchase is in the works.

USA gymnastics to drop the Karolyi ranch for training camps after Simone Biles said going back to it would traumatize her
Simone’s tweet that closed the Ranch.

 

In addition to the “stigma” that Nassar’s abuse has brought to the Karolyi Ranch, their lawsuit also contends that the location was simply used as a training center by USAG and the USOC, thereby clearing the couple of any responsibility:

“The lawsuit seeks a declaration that Nassar was not subject to the Karolyis’ control, that he was subject to USA Gymnastics’ control and that the plaintiffs did not have knowledge of his sexual misconduct until 2016.

The lawsuit the Karolyis and their businesses filed against USA Gymnastics and the USOC seeks indemnification ‘as they were serving another corporation (USAG) at the request of USOC, and they were made party to litigation because of that relationship.'”

This lawsuit directly contradicts their 2017 deposition, which claimed the couple did not know about the abuse until 2016; this lawsuit states they were informed by USAG CEO Steve Penny in 2015.

It is important to note that there are three current lawsuits filed against the Karolyis by former national team athletes. The lawsuits contend that the couple physically abused gymnasts, withheld food and water during training camps, and created a culture of abuse that allowed Nassar’s abuse to occur. Former National Team Member, 2011 Team World Champion, and current UGA gymnast Sabrina Vega is the latest athlete to come forward. Her lawsuit was filed last month.

Martha is “too ill” to Testify to Congress

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Last week former USAG CEO Steve Penny, former MSU President Lou Anna Simon, former USAG Vice-President of the Women’s Program Rhonda Faehn, former USOC President Scott Blackmun, and former USAG NTC Martha Karolyi were scheduled to appear at a hearing before the United States Senate. Citing illness, Martha stated she was unable to attend. Unlike Simon and Penny, the Senate did not subpoena Karolyi to appear (why not?!)

Because she was too “ill” to appear before the Senate, Martha was allowed to submit a letter to the committee where she completely sidesteps any responsibility regarding protecting athletes from abuse:

“As the National Team Coordinator, my primary durites were confined to the gymnasium. I did not have any policy-making authority for USA Gymnastics or USOC. Nor was I ever consulted on sexual abuse prevention policies or hiring decsions. USA Gymnastics hired Larry Nassar to provide medical services to the US Women’s National Gymnastics Team.”

In her letter, Martha also advocates for requiring chaperones to camps and competitions, which is laughable considering she did not allow parents of athletes at the Ranch or during competitions.

In retaliation for her lack of appearance before the Senate, many former gymnasts have shared their stories of abuse at the hands of Martha:

  • 1999 Wold Team Member Jeanette Antolin: “When I was sick as an athlete, I was still expected to practice, compete, and see Larry Nassar for treatment.”
  • 2013 Junior National Elite Norah Flatley: “Yeah but when my feet were broken I was still required to come train at her Ranch. Lol ‘too sick’.”
  • 2015 US National Team Member Rachel Gowey: “Lol when I had an asthma attack for like 2 days in the middle of nowhere, my inhaler wasn’t working and she still made me verify a full floor routine when I couldn’t breathe…”
  • 2010 World Team Member Mattie Larson: “I was willing to physically hurt myself to get out of the abuse that I received at the ranch. When I attended the next camp Martha Karolyi approached me and said, ‘You know what? Kim Zmeskal fell out of the top bunk of the cabins in here and she didn’t miss practice the next day. She did not say another word to me the rest of the camp.”

The United States Senate needs to require both Martha and Bela to testify, especially after their conflicting narratives were discovered and former USAG CEO Steve Penny chose to plead the fifth during the committee hearing.

Nassar might be in jail, but the people that enabled him to abuse so many athletes remain free. They need to be held accountable.

Ashlyn

Currently Reading: Things We Haven’t Said by Erin E. Moulton