USA Gymnastics may be finally listening to its athletes.
On Wednesday, it was reported that former U.S. Olympic gymnastics coach Maggie Haney was suspended for eight years by the organization for verbal abuse and mistreatment of her gymnasts.
The decision comes after disciplinary hearings that lasted two months and saw Laurie Hernandez, a member of the gold-medal-winning 2016 U.S. national team, testify against her former coach. Also, world champion artistic gymnast Riley McCusker reportedly wrote a letter critical of Haney and her coaching style.
At least a dozen gymnasts reportedly claimed that they were verbally or emotionally abused by Haney at her MG Elite Gymnastics gym in New Jersey. Additionally, it was reported that Haney told injured athletes to remove boot casts and other medical devices in order to continue training.
Parents claim that Haney’s treatment of these athletes led to some of the girls having anxiety attacks.
The terms of the suspension state that Haney will be unable to coach USA Gymnastics for eight years, will be banned from all USA Gymnastics events, and will not be allowed to contact her accusers.
If she is able to gain reinstatement following her suspension, she will be placed on additional two-year probation.
The suspension is a predictable step from USA Gymnastics, which has seen their organization crumble under the weight of former sports doctor Larry Nassar, who in 2018 was sentenced to up to 125 years in prison for molesting young gymnasts over his 30-year career.
Since accusations of abuse by Nassar arose in 2016, hundreds of women and girls, including high profile gymnasts — including Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglass, and McKayla Maroney — have discussed the sexual assaults they experienced from Nassar.
In January 2018, the entire USA Gymnastics board resigned, and later that same year Steve Penny, a former president of the board, was arrested and charged with tampering with evidence of Nassar’s abuse during the investigation. Also, two other presidents had to be removed from office because of accusations of mishandlings that involved Nassar.
By that December, the organization had filed for bankruptcy.
And now almost all of Nassar’s 517 sexual assault survivors are threatening to reject USA Gymnastics’ $217 million settlement offer.
Some will say that Haney’s suspension is evidence that the organization has learned its lesson in dealing with abuse allegations.
They’ll say that the action from USA Gymnastics, which is under new leadership, will serve as a step in the right direction for the organization.
While that all may be true, it misses the bigger picture.
Listening to our women shouldn’t be a lesson that we learn on the back end of abuse, after so many girls and young women are harmed, or a measure we put into place for our own protection of our assets once we see another company or high-profile figure falter.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually abused in their lifetime.
In 8 out of 10 rape cases, the victim knows the attacker.
Additionally, nearly 6 out of 10 sexual assaults occur in the victim’s home or at the home of a friend, relative, or neighbor.
These numbers don’t even account for psychological abuse statistics that can have just as harsh of an effect.
The point is simple.
Being reactive is just not good enough. Especially when these crimes are hitting closer and closer to home.
In many ways, USA Gymnastics is the perfect example for the rest of the world.
We cannot be hindered by our comfort, and we cannot be halted by our previous actions merely because we think they were good enough.
It’s that mindset that allows abusers to continue to creep into our society.
It takes constant attention, constant action, and constant care in order to remedy these problems and protect not only women but everyone against these abuses.
USA Gymnastics may be finally listening to these women.
But that’s far from the final step the organization, or anyone else, must take to stop abuse.