By Brittney Ajaj
Former gymnasts stepped into the national spotlight on Thursday, Jan. 30. The victims received a settlement of $215 million from U.S.A. Gymnastics for the legal claims brought forth about the sexual abuse and misconduct of former national team doctor Larry Nassar, according to The New York Times.
Meanwhile, U.S.A. Gymnastics had allegedly covered up any allegations that arose, allowing Nassar to continue his position as team doctor.
In 2018, the former team doctor was sentenced to up to 125 years in prison for decades of sexual abuse, which he committed under the thin guise of medical treatment, according to CNN.
More recently, over 300 plaintiffs sued the U.S.A. Gymnastics for covering up the counts of sexual assault, resulting in the settlement.
Kaylee McDowell, a former gymnast who took the stand, described Nassar as her “dearest friend” who had been there to “save her” until the abuse started at age 12 and continued until high school, according to McDowell’s testimony from Nassar’s hearing in 2018.
Stories like McDowell’s are a common reality for gymnasts — Nassar roamed free as an abuser for decades before his arrest. But thanks to journalists and tough police forces, he was arrested in December 2016 after the FBI found photos and videos of young girls in his possession.
The $215 million settlement by U.S.A. Gymnastics, filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana, may not be the end for the victims. The survivors will vote to accept the settlement as a group or continue to pursue a series of individual lawsuits. U.S.A. Gymnastics had previously filed for bankruptcy in December 2018 and hopes to “reach an agreement,” according to Li Li Leung, USAG’s president and CEO, in a press release.
John Manly, a lawyer for more than 200 of the athletes, asserted that the offer is “‘not just unworkable’” but is immoral as well. Rachel Denhollander, the first to publicly accuse Nassar, tweeted on Thursday, Jan. 30, about her disappointment with the offer.
“How much is a little girl worth?” she said. “Apparently far less than the damage she’s incurred. I am beyond disappointed. Again.”
Manly voiced further concerns, specifically regarding the need for a cultural shift at U.S.A. Gymnastics.
He said, according to The New York Times, that the Olympic Committee “‘doesn’t take the sexual abuse of athletes seriously and frankly, that’s how Larry Nassar was able to do what he did so long.’”
“‘I’m not in a position to reject it, but in speaking to my clients and other lawyers, there’s a better chance of Donald Trump endorsing Bernie Sanders than the victims accepting this offer,’” he said, according to The New York Times.