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Aly Raisman faces Larry Nassar; watch and read her speech

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Aly Raisman spoke for 13 minutes at Larry Nassar‘s sentencing hearing on Friday.

Here’s what she said (video here and at bottom of post):

I didn’t think I would be here today. I was scared and nervous. It wasn’t until I started watching the impact statements from the other brave survivors that I realized I, too, needed to be here. Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force, and you are nothing.

The tables have turned, Larry. We are here, we have our voices, and we are not going anywhere.

And now, Larry, it’s your turn to listen to me. There is no map that shows you the pathway to healing. Realizing that you are a survivor of sexual abuse is really hard to put into words. I cannot adequately capture the level of disgust I feel when I think about how this happened.

Larry, you abused the power and trust I and so many others placed in you, and I am not sure I will ever come to terms with how horribly you manipulated and violated me.

You were the USA Gymnastics national team doctor, the Michigan [State doctor] and the United States Olympic team doctor. You were trusted by so many and took advantage of countless athletes and their families. The effects of your actions are far-reaching. Abuse goes way beyond the moment, often haunting survivors for the rest of their lives, making it difficult to trust and impacting their relationships.

It is all the more devastating when such abuse comes at the hand of such a highly regarded doctor. Since it leaves survivors questioning the organizations and even the medical profession itself upon which so many rely.

I am here to face you, Larry, so you can see I’ve regained my strength, that I’m no longer a victim. I’m a survivor. I am no longer that little girl you met in Australia, where you first began grooming and manipulating. As for your letter yesterday, you are pathetic to think that anyone would have any sympathy for you.

You think this is hard for you? Imagine how all of us feel. Imagine how it feels to be an innocent teenager in a foreign country, hearing a knock on the door, and it’s you. I don’t want you to be there, but I don’t have a choice.

Treatments with you were mandatory. You took advantage of that. You even told on us if we didn’t want to be treated by you, knowing full well the troubles that would cause for us. Lying on my stomach with you on my bed, insisting that your inappropriate touch would heal my pain. The reality is you caused me a great deal of physical, mental and emotional pain.

You never healed me. You took advantage of our passions and our dreams. You made me uncomfortable, and I thought you were weird. But I felt guilty because you were a doctor, so I assumed I was the problem for thinking badly of you.

I wouldn’t allow myself to belief that the problem is you. From the time we are little, we are taught to trust doctors. You are so sick that I can’t even comprehend how angry I feel when I think of you.

You lied to me and manipulated me to think that when you treated me you were closing your eyes because you had been working hard when you were really touching me, an innocent child, to pleasure yourself.

Imagine feeling like you have no power and no voice. Well, you know what Larry, I have both power and voice, and I am only beginning to just use them. All these brave women have power, and we will use our voices to make sure you get what you deserve, a life of suffering spent replaying the words delivered by this powerful army of survivors.

I am also here to tell you to your face, Larry, that you have not taken gymnastics away from me. I love this sport, and that love is stronger than the evil that resides in you and those who enabled you to hurt many people.

You already know you are going away to a place where you won’t be able to hurt anybody ever again, but I am here to tell you that I will not rest until every last trace of your influence on this sport has been destroyed like the cancer it is.

Your abuse started 30 years ago, but that’s just the first reported incident we know of. If over these many years just one adult listened and had the courage and character to act, this tragedy could have been avoided. I and so many others would have never, ever met you. 

Larry, you should have been locked up a long, long time ago. Fact is, we have no idea how many people you victimized or what was done or not done that allowed you to keep doing it. And to get away with it for so long. Over those 30 years, when survivors came forward, adult after adult, many in positions of authority, protected you, telling each survivor it was OK, that you weren’t abusing them. In fact, many adults had you convince the survivors that they were being dramatic or were mistaken. 

This is like being violated all over again. How do you sleep at night? You were decorated by USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee, both of which put you on advisory boards and committees to come up with policies that would protect athletes from this kind of abuse.

You are the person they had “take the lead of athlete care.” You are the person they say “provided the foundation for our medical system.” I cringe to think that your influence remains in the policies that are supposed to keep athletes safe, that these organizations have for years claimed “state of the art.”

To believe in the future of gymnastics is to believe in change, but how are we to believe in change when these organizations aren’t even willing to acknowledge the problem? It’s easy to put out statements talking about how athlete care is the highest priority. But they’ve been saying that for years, and all the while this nightmare was happening. False assurances from organizations are dangerous, especially when people want so badly to believe them. They make it easier to look away from the problem and enable bad things to continue to happen. And even now, after all that has happened, USA Gymnastics has the nerve to say the very same things it has said all along.

Can’t you see how disrespectful that is? Can’t you see how much that hurts?

A few days ago, USA Gymnastics put out a statement attributed to its president and CEO, Kerry Perry, saying she came to listen to the courageous women and said, “their powerful voices leave an indelible imprint on me and will impact my decision as president and CEO every day.”

This sounds great, Ms. Perry, but at this point, talk is cheap. You left midway through the day, and no one has heard from you or the board.

Kerry, I have never met you, and I know you weren’t around for most of this, but you accepted the position of president and CEO of USA Gymnastics. And I assume by now you are very well aware of the weighty responsibility you’ve taken on. Unfortunately, you’ve taken on an organization that I feel is rotting from the inside and while this may not be what you thought you were getting into, you will be judged by how you deal with it.

A word of advice, continuing to issue statements of empty promises thinking that will pacify us will no longer work.

Yesterday, USA Gymnastics announced that it was terminating its lease at the ranch, where so many of us were abused. I am glad that it is no longer a national team training site, but USA Gymnastics neglected to mention that they had athletes training there the day they released the statement.

USA Gymnastics, where is the honesty? Where is the transparency? Why must the manipulation continue?

Neither USA Gymnastics nor the USOC have reached out to express sympathy or even offer support. Not even to ask, how did this happen? What do you think we can do to help?

Why have I and others here, probably, not heard anything from the leadership at the USOC? Why has the United States Olympic Committee been silent? Why isn’t the USOC here right now?

Larry was the Olympic doctor, and he molested me at the 2012 London Olympic Games. They say now they applaud those who have spoken out, but it’s easy to say that now when the brave women who started speaking out back then, more than a year after the USOC says they knew about Nassar, they were dismissed.

At the 2016 Olympic Games, the president of the USOC said that the USOC would not conduct an investigation and even defended USA Gymnastics as one of the leaders in developing policies to protect athletes. That’s the response a courageous woman gets when she speaks out? And when others joined those athletes and began speaking out with more stories of abuse, were they acknowledged?

No. It is like being abused all over again. I have represented the United States of America at two Olympics and have done so successfully, and both USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee have been very quick to capitalize and celebrate my success.

But did they reach out when I came forward? No.

So, at this point, talk is worthless to me. We’re dealing with real lives and the future of our sport. We need to believe this won’t happen again. For this sport to go on, we need to demand real change, and we need to be willing to fight for it.

It’s clear now that if we leave it up to these organizations, history is likely to repeat itself. To know what changes are needed requires us to understand what exactly happened and why it has happened.

This is a painful process, but it’s the only way to identify all the factors that contributed to this problem and how they can be avoided in the future. This is the only way to learn from these mistakes and make gymnastics a safer sport.

If ever there was a need to fully understand a problem, it is this one right now. To accept that problem is limited to just what we know now is irresponsible, delusional even. Each new day seems to bring a new survivor. We have no idea just how much damage you caused, Larry. And we have no idea how deep these problems go. Now is the time to acknowledge that the very person who sits here before us now, who perpetrated the worst epidemic of sexual abuse in the history of sports, who is going to be locked up for a long, long time, this monster was also the architect of policies and procedures that are supposed to protect athletes from sexual abuse for both USA Gymnastics and the USOC.

If we are to believe in change, we must first understand the problem and everything that contributed to it. Now is not the time for false reassurances. We need an independent investigation of exactly what happened, what went wrong and how it can be avoided for the future. Only then can we know what changes are needed. Only then can we believe such changes are real.

Your honor, I ask you to give Larry the strongest possible sentence, which his actions deserve, for by doing so you will send a message to him and to other abusers that they cannot get away with their horrible crimes. They will be exposed for the evil they are, and they will be punished to the maximum extent of the law.

Let this sentence strike fear in anyone who thinks it is OK to hurt another person. Abusers, your time is up. The survivors are here, standing tall, and we are not going anywhere. And please, your honor, stress the need to investigate how this happened so that we can hold accountable those who empowered and enabled Larry Nassar. So we can repair and once again believe in this wonderful sport.

My dream is that one day everyone will know what the words, “me, too,” signify, but they will be educated and able to protect themselves from predators like Larry so that they will never, ever, ever have to say the words, “me, too.”

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Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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