“Athlete A” was the name given to Maggie Nichols when she anonymously reported Larry Nassar for sexual abuse. In a Netflix documentary with the same name, the abuse that many USA Gymnastics athletes underwent during Nassar’s years of working alongside coaches has been brought to light, and these women are given another platform to share their story.
Olympic athletes are the pride and joy of their country. It is no surprise that these athletes go through many hours of gym time, physical therapy and other preparation to earn a spot on the Olympic team. Many of the girls on the USA Gymnastics team, however, also faced physical and verbal abuse during their training.
In 2018, Lawrence G. Nassar, the former physician for the American gymnastics team, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sex crimes. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina gave Nassar’s accusers a chance to read their own deeply personal statements in court before his sentencing.
The film discusses how in the past decades, the focus has shifted dramatically from older 20-something women to young girls competing for gold. Members of the gold medal-winning 2012 team who were molested by Nassar were also featured in the film. These young girls fell victim to not only a doctor who they were told to trust but to the USA Gymnastics organization as a whole.
The USA Gymnastics team was coached for many years by Bela and Martha Karolyi. The couple is also scrutinized for their handling of abuse claims against Nassar and for controversial training techniques.
When Nichols initially reported the abuse to USA Gymnastics, her voice was silenced by the higher-ups in the organization.
The documentary argues that their brand and image was the main concern of the organization. It even goes so far as to speculate if the reason Nichols was kept off the Olympic team was because she complained about the abuse she underwent.
When it comes down to it, these girls often hold themselves to seemingly impossible standards. They desire nothing less than gold, and when placed in second, it comes as no surprise that they would hold a scowl equal to McKayla Maroney’s at the 2016 Olympics.
“Athlete A” is a remarkable film. The women are powerful not only in their physical abilities as gymnasts but in their ability to band together and share their stories in hopes of protecting younger girls from suffering the same abuse they did.