On Wednesday, USA Gymnastics announced a new fund, administered by an unnamed third party, that will provide support for counseling services for gymnasts who have been sexually abused. It’s a small, limited step forward, and—as I noted yesterday—it’s clearly about public relations. It also, however, shows just how much pressure USAG is under to burn itself down and completely overhaul a system that enabled disgraced doctor Larry Nassar to sexually abuse countless women and young girls while working under the organization’s oversight.
Still, in this step, USAG might have leaped over one very important, earlier necessity—actually admitting any kind of responsibility for the abuse they enabled. Deadspin talked on the phone today to Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to come forward publicly and say that Nassar sexually abused her, and she argued that it was more important for the organizations that employed Nassar—USAG and Michigan State—to take responsibility for what happened than establish these funds. With multiple lawsuits from victims pending against both organizations, Michigan State and USAG both continue to maintain that they have no legal liability.
“They are throwing dollars around in survivor funds while at the same time maintaining that they did nothing wrong. That’s not acceptable. That’s not accurate. That’s not change. That’s trying to cover it up,” Denhollander said.
Both Michigan State and USAG have the right to defend themselves in these lawsuits, and that in turn limits what they can say publicly. But that doesn’t absolve them, either, and so far steps like this fund just throw money at the effects while ignoring the causes and cultures that allowed decades of sexual abuse to happen.
Perhaps, that change has to come from outside. There’s a grassroots fund, called Saving Our Survivors, that’s raised more than $26,000 to provide financial support and therapy services for Nassar’s victims. Denhollander noted, though, that change won’t just come from raising money for the survivors, but also by withholding it from the enablers.
“The biggest thing that anyone can do it put outside accountability and outside pressure on both organizations to make it clear that this is not acceptable, and that organizations that foster systems that harbor predators and that result in massive child abuse won’t be supported anymore,” she said.
Denhollander mentioned that sponsors, some of whom already have severed ties with USA Gymnastics, need to take action, as do the gym owners who are partnered with USAG.
“It really is up to outside individuals to apply the pressure and make it clear to both organizations that this is not acceptable,” she said.
That means, for those outside the power structures of USAG and Michigan State, continuing to ask questions and demanding actual accountability, not just money that doubles as a liability shield. Any overhaul can’t truly begin until everyone agrees that the sexual abuse of hundreds of gymnasts stemmed not just from one evil man, but a massive systemic failure. As Denhollander said: “You don’t change what you can’t admit.”