Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson East released a searing video tonight, tearing apart USA Gymnastics for how the organization handled athletes’ reports of sexual abuse by doctor Larry Nassar, who is currently being sentenced for 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Johnson, who won the 2008 balance beam gold medal and team, all-around and floor exercise silver medals, opened her video with some words to her fellow gymnasts who gave statements in court this week: “Know I’m praying for you. I love you. You have experienced some of the worst evil in the world, and to know you guys have a voice and you’re standing up for so many people: just know you are my heroes.”
She then launched into a scalding critique of USA Gymnastics, echoing a sentiment that several gymnasts have offered up in court over the past week:
“Knowing that USA Gymnastics has failed their athletes so terribly disappoints me and makes me so incredibly angry. I think the fact that any of this has ever happened shows that USA Gymnastics has failed as a governing body to protect the athletes that it supports and claims to care about... The fact that a system that is supposed to protect children has failed them so bad is so wrong.
If you want to gain the trust of the world—if you want to gain the trust from coaches and from parents and make little girls feel comfortable again—you need to change the system completely. I think USA Gymnastics for a very, very long time has focused on nothing but winning gold medals... they have overlooked the simple and most important fact that the people they are dealing with are minors and are children and do not have the capabilities to stand up for themselves or to speak for themselves. And when these little girls have devoted their entire lives to one dream, and they feel scared to voice something that has gone wrong because they feel that that dream could be compromised, that is disgusting. I think, as it pertains to USA Gymnastics, every single procedure, rule, guideline, rulebook you’ve ever made needs to be thrown out the window and redone.
I think gymnastics is the best sport in the entire world, but if I had a daughter right now, I wouldn’t put her in it, and it makes me really sad. Because I can’t even trust USA Gymnastics. I’ve talked to other athletes and gymnasts who are part of USA Gymnastics who have daughters, and it’s just like... the organization I have trusted my entire life has failed miserably, and I don’t know how to fix it, except for start over. Start over completely. Until we protect these little girls as human beings, instead of protecting them as gymnasts just to make sure they win gold medals, we aren’t going to make any progress that’s meaningful.”
She closes by saying, “We need to make sure that this never happens again.”