“Athlete A,” the Netflix documentary that tells the awful story of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s decades of sexually abusing young female gymnasts—perhaps as many as 500 of them—, how he was allowed to continue his crimes after complaints from parents and others, and the young women who finally sent him to prison with their testimony, is both disturbing and depressing. I watched it last night with my wife, who was horrified that she didn’t know the Nassar story.
Ethics Alarms wasn’t as much help as it should have been. Its first full post about the scandal was this one, which, in grand Ethics Alarms tradition, slammed the ethics of the judge who sentenced Nasser to 60 years in prison, essentially a “Stop making me defend Dr. Nasser!” post. I’ll stand by that post forever, but it didn’t help readers who are link averse to know the full extent of Nasser’s sick hobby of plunging his fingers and hands into the vaginas and anuses of trusting young girls while telling them that it was “therapy.”
The second full post, in August of last year, was more informative regarding Nasser, but again, it was about the aftermath of his crimes, not the crimes themselves. That post focused on the the Senate hearings following the July 30 release of the report of an 18-month Senate investigation that found that the U.S. Olympic Committee and others failed to protect young female athletes from Nasser’s probing hands, detailing “widespread failure by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (the “Committee”) and other institutions to keep athletes safe.” Then there was this:
Those “other institutions” impugned in the 235-page report included the FBI. “The FBI failed to pursue a course of action that would have immediately protected victims in harm’s way. Instead, the FBI’s investigation dragged on and was shuffled between field offices,” the report states. This was not, as many media reports misleadingly suggest, just a failure of sports organizations. “Hundreds of women and girls were sexually abused by Larry Nasser” when basic competence, concern and diligence in many organizations, including law enforcement, would have saved them.
[Diversion for another time: What good is the FBI? If it won’t protect little girls, and devotes itself to framing generals and Presidents for its leaders’ political agendas, why should American trust it? What use is a powerful law enforcement agency that has shown over and over again, from the dark days of its founder’s rule to present day, that it cannot be trusted?]
From a pure “What have I been telling you?” perspective, and only that, the grim facts related in “Athlete A” are satisfying. Ethics Alarms has repeatedly condemned the unethical culture of Olympic sports, as well as the exploitation of child athletes, the callous disregard for their physical and emotional health, the disgusting complicity of parents (at several points in the documentary I wanted to jump through the screen and strangle one of them, like the father who whined that he couldn’t press his complaints about the Olympic team doctor raping his daughter because then she might be left off the Olympic team), and, most of all, the predictable habit of organizations choosing to protect their insiders and reputations rather than show an ethical concern for the victims of their wrongdoing. In the post about the Senate hearing, I wrote,
How many times does this basic story line have to play out before the lesson is learned? This is the Catholic Church molestation scandal; it is Hollywood’s rape and sexual assault scandal; it is thousands of similar coverups in corporations, government agencies, and institutions. This is what organizations do—not always, but frequently enough that there should never be an assumption that ethics will prevail of self-interest. Reports like this one, which reflect an attitude of shock, are really proof of unconscionable naivete.
The film also reaffirmed my attitude of long-standing toward the culture of women’s gymnastics, which is child abuse even without the extremes of Dr. Nasser. I always felt that anyone who wasn’t alarmed at burly male coaches like Béla Károlyi smothering these tiny, starved female teens with hugs was in denial, brainwashed by the chants of “USA! USA!”
Károlyi and his wife get their well-earned exposure as monsters in “Athlete A.” It was especially gratifying to finally hear the proper ethics verdict on the much lauded episode at the 1996 Summer Olympics, when Kerri Strug performed her final, team medal-clinching vault despite having badly injured her ankle on the previous attempt, whereupon she was carried to the medal podium by Károlyi. Athletes who fight through pain and serious injuries to win athletic contests are adults, a commentator says. Kerri Strug had no choice. She couldn’t refuse to do that last vault.
One especially ugly aspect of the Nasser scandal that the documentary brought to the fore is the ethics rot that inflicts so much of the American public. When an ex-gymnast finally went on the record regarding her sexual abuse by Nasser, a substantial chunk of the Twitter mob attacked her, with such classy comments as “She wanted it” and “Attention whore!”
Well, enough from me. Watch the film. If you don’t have Netflix, you can download it here.
[The original link was bad. Fixed now: Thank, Edward.]