ANAHEIM, Calif.—Every year during the national gymnastics championships, there’s a trade show for the members of the sport’s community—many of them gym owners and coaches—who have converged on the competition and the congress. It’s at the trade show that you get to see the range of businesses that service the sport, from apparel vendors to equipment manufacturers to scorekeeping software to gym owner’s insurance.
But there’s one booth at the trade show this year that isn’t selling a product or a service for gym owners. This booth is a protest. Its three sides are covered in questions that reporters and the gymnastics community have been asking since the first stories about USA Gymnastics’ mishandling of sexual abuse allegations were published.
As a community, what are the questions we should be asking now?
Was USA Gymnatics’ board and management either complacent, complicit or incompetent?
When the women spoke to the USA Senate for change, why was USA Gymnastics not there?
There is also a table covered in blue ribbons with “Alliance for Accountability” printed on them in gold lettering.
Jamie Dantzscher, 35, had one of those pins fastened to her maroon top when I found her at this booth. Dantzscher, a member of the 2000 Olympic team and a former UCLA gymnastics star, was one of the first women to come forward and say that Larry Nassar, the former doctor for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, had sexually abused her under the guise of medical treatment.
“It’s a little uneasy,” she said of being at being back in the midst of the gymnastics community a year after coming forward. “When I first came forward about Dr. Nassar, there were people that criticized me and basically attacked me on social media and some of them were people that I thought were my friends.”
And some of those people were milling about the very convention center where we were talking. In addition to the trade show, the convention center was host to USA Gymnastics National Congress, a weekend of classes and lectures for gym owners and coaches on topics ranging from how to teach kids the best techniques for round-offs to risk management practices to protecting against lawsuits.
“It’s a little bit awkward when I see some of the people that didn’t believe me and then they act like they’re my friend now and I just want to be like, ‘Really? You totally [didn’t] believe me and were against me,’” Dantzscher said.
Before arriving at the convention center, Dantzscher had been sitting with her attorney, John Manly, and another one of the first women to say publicly that Nassar abused her, Rachael Denhollander. They were at a hotel conference room across from the Honda Center, the venue hosting this year’s national championships. On the eve of the biggest domestic competition in the United States, these two women were there to demand that USA Gymnastics clean house by getting rid of board chair Paul Parilla and two other longtime board members, Jay Binder and Bitsy Kelley. All three had signed a letter supporting former USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny even after the U.S. Olympic Committee had called for his ouster. (Penny resigned in March.) Their demands come on the heels of a report by the Orange County Register that said USA Gymnastics secretly settled out of court with a former gymnast who said Nassar sexually abused her, which might violated California law. In his deposition for one of the lawsuits, Parilla, an Orange County-based lawyer, would not answer questions about the existence of Nassar-related settlements.
“In my opinion, not only didn’t they do anything about it [the abuse], they allowed it to happen,” Dantzscher told me. “They never put the athlete first. They’ve never put the child first.”
Dantzscher was a child when she made her first junior national team. Shortly thereafter, she said Nassar began abusing her.
“I made national team when I was 12 and I went to camps and when I was introduced to him, exactly when and where I don’t know, probably 13 to 18,” she said.
“I really don’t like saying exact years,” Dantzscher told me. She paused for a moment and then emphasized, “Years.”
In Dantzscher’s lawsuit, filed last summer when she was “Jane Doe,” she said that she didn’t realize that the longtime USA Gymnastics doctor had abused her under the guise of medical treatment until about July 2016. I asked her what helped her come to that realization after all that time had passed. Dantzscher said there were several factors that helped her understand what Nassar had done to her, but chief among them was her trying to help a friend who had been sexually abused by her coach. Dantzscher, at the time, was working a stint at a gymnastics camp.
“She wanted me to talk to a coach that was there because she thought he used to be friends with the perpetrator,” she explained. Dantzscher had spent nearly two years listening to her friend speak about her experience, offering her sympathy and any other help that she might need to cope.
But this time, she would be telling her friend’s story.
“I think when I told that coach, it was saying the stuff that had happened to her out loud ... it triggered,” she said. “I was like, ‘Dr. Nassar used to do some weird things.’” When she explained the so-called “procedure” to this coach, Dantzscher said that he urged her to tell others. She started asking around and talking to other athletes. “That’s when I heard that Dr. Nassar had resigned,” she said.
(In July 2015, USA Gymnastics fired Nassar and reported him to the FBI. This was not made public at the time, and Nassar wrote a post to Facebook announcing his retirement less than a year before the Olympics so that he could, among other things, focus on his election campaign for school board in Holt, Mich. He lost the election.)
“My first reaction, I think I was just in shock,” she said of coming to the realization that Nassar had been abusing her. The athletes had viewed Nassar as their ally in the grueling training camp environment. When Dantzscher appeared on 60 Minutes in February to talk about what had happened to her, she said, “He was my buddy, he was on my side.”
Dantzscher said she decided to come forward to protect others. “I kept thinking, ‘If this happened to one of my nieces or if this happened to one of the girls I coached.’”
“For me, it was about doing the right thing and protecting children,” she said.
When the initial story about the allegations against Nassar were first published in the Indianapolis Star, it was just Dantzscher and Denhollander’s stories. But almost immediately afterwards, more women came forward, going to the police and filing lawsuits against USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, where Nassar also had been on staff.
But all of these women telling their stories wasn’t enough to persuade everyone of just how serious the problem was, which disappointed Dantzscher. “Even when more women were coming forward, people didn’t really believe the severity of it until, you know, the charges with the child pornography came out,” she noted.
By the time the FBI unsealed its indictment in December against Nassar, charging him with possession and receipt of child pornography, more than 50 women and girls—the majority of them gymnasts—had come forward with allegations that Nassar had abused them.
“All of these women coming forward who were mostly strangers to each other have all of these shockingly similar stories ... I don’t see how that’s not proof in itself.”