McKayla Maroney spoke about Larry Nassar for the first time in front of media on Tuesday, calling the ex-USA Gymnastics team doctor “a monster.”
A transcript from her talk at a New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children luncheon via the NYSPCC:
Maroney: First I want to start with, I need to look at note cards, because I haven’t spoken yet. In my whole gymnastics career I was trained to be quiet, so it’s something that happens where I hear these questions and I emotionally go ‘no, no, it’s perfect, and everything’s OK,’ but things were not. That’s why I’m here. I really want to help the change. I do want to thank you all, so much. I hope you enjoy your lunch.
Question: Institutional abuse. Fear, guilt, embarrassment … keep victims from coming forward. What was coming forward like for you?
Maroney: In a way, the fear turned to fearlessness when I knew that it would help so many people. Like I said, I was taught for so many years that I wasn’t supposed to say anything, and I carried this secret around with me. A lot of people would say it would be empowering to speak, and it really was. I’m so happy to be here and speaking and lifting that weight off my shoulders, because I don’t think there could be anything more freeing than that. And thank you all for listening, that helps.
Question: Many institutions looked away from the abuse you and other gymnasts endured. Why was it allowed to go on for so long?
Maroney: We know that Larry is a monster. Learning from everything that has come out, I never should have met him. USA Gymnastics, MSU [Michigan State University], USOC [U.S. Olympic Committee] continue to look away to protect their reputations. All they cared about was money, medals, and it didn’t seem like anything else. And it was my biggest dream to compete for my country. They demanded excellence from me, but they couldn’t give it to us. So it was very backwards, and it did happen for so long. That’s why we’re standing up now, because it can’t happen anymore.
Question: And the Me Too movement inspired you to do that?
Maroney: Yeah, I was kind of looking for something that was going to give me enough courage to stand up. The cool thing about social media is so many people at that time were speaking up, and I finally felt like, this is my moment. I know a lot of people don’t have moments like that, so I feel very lucky. And to obviously have been able to have competed at the Olympics, and have people that are watching me, it almost feels like my duty to be able to give that to people. That’s been a big help for me, to be able to have that courage. Without the support of all you guys, I’d still be hiding.
Question: What do you think could be done to hold institutions accountable?
Maroney: It definitely starts at the top; getting rid of the people who enable abuse. Moving forward, there has to be zero tolerance. We just can’t accept it. If you’re in a position, like USAG, and MSU, and USOC, you can’t behave that way. You need to be held accountable. If you do, look what’s happening to them now. They have to completely rebuild; start over. And the thing is, things are changing now. The board of USAG was removed. The president of USOC was removed [USOC CEO Scott Blackmun stepped down, citing prostate cancer] and the president of MSU was removed. Tomorrow, the Senate is beginning a series of public hearings to hear from the athletes regarding the widespread abuse within these institutions. As a society, we can’t look away any longer.
Question: What will happen next?
Maroney: Well, that’s a big question. I do know things are changing now as we speak. This year has been so huge for everyone speaking their truth, with the Me Too movement. I’m so proud of and inspired by all of the women who testified. With everything that I went through, it was almost hard to believe that it happened to me; I almost have to hear it over and over and over again to really start to accept it. They definitely helped me with that, even though some of them are so much younger than me, they gave me that. I’m thankful for all of those women. I wasn’t on Twitter or anything at the time, so I do want to personally thank them. Within the gymnastics world, there’s no question we need to rebuild from the ground up so this never happens again. I definitely see a future where athletes are safe and succeeding. I think this next generation is going to be even stronger with everything that we’re doing. They don’t need to continue to struggle with the repercussions of sexual abuse, and they shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t ever have had to. My team won gold medals in spite of USA Gymnastics, MSU and the USOC. They don’t build champions, they break them. But we’re changing that.
Q: Advice you could give to parents in the room … 90 percent of child abuse is from someone the child knows; children don’t tell parents.
Maroney: My mom didn’t know at all. The red flags were super hard to catch. Again, that’s a tough question. Larry, he sat in a position of power. A lot of these kids that trust … we trust adults. You look up to them. So of course I trusted Larry, the Olympic, world-renowned doctor that all of the people that I looked up to got worked on by them. I was just a kid trying to fulfill a dream, and my mom was supporting me in that. My dad was, my family was. There was no way they could have known. A lot of parents hold that guilt, and I know my family does and that’s been something that’s really hard for them. We have to let that go. My best advice would be … just because someone is in a powerful position, doesn’t mean that we should trust them. Just to be careful, and accept that we can’t have blind faith in these institutions anymore. The signs are just so … there is that veil that’s too hard to catch, and when you’re a kid, I wouldn’t even have noticed what was happening. That’s why we have to do everything that we can to prevent, and that’s what you guys are doing, and that’s what you’re all about with Safe Touches. It’s incredible. I really wish that I did have that as a kid, and I’m so excited to have that for kids in the future moving forward.
Question: NY State Law, child is sexually abused in a private school, administrators don’t have to report it to the authorities. What advice do you have for parents preventing?
Maroney: Yeah, that’s horribly confusing for a parent to be put in that position. Because to me, that sounds like a breeding ground for abuse. Nobody should be investigated themselves, that’s … one of the reasons why Larry got away with everything for so long. He was allowed to have cops that he knew investigate him. It’s just a way for them to get away with things. I think the potential for abuse is so much larger in that instance. Now we’re trying to minimize that, and I definitely think making things to be the priority, is to protect the children and not the institution. I know you guys have these cards at your tables, so feel free to call your representatives and fight for this. I just found out about this. It’s ridiculous, it’s despicable, and the laws need to change. I 100 percent support that bill. Kids should not be in that position, neither should parents.
Question: In Safe Touches, kids learn it’s never their fault they’ve been abused, and it’s never too late to tell. What advice would you give to children who have been abused but haven’t come forward?
Maroney: You’re definitely right to give them those messages. I had to hear that myself thousands of times to be able to even let it penetrate in my brain. I wouldn’t push anyone to speak until they’re ready, it does take time. For me, to know that my voice would help others, and to know that it would maybe help them speak out, is what really gave me the courage. Maybe for them to know that, you know, our voices together are stronger, and they’re not alone, and if they’re hearing this right now I support them, and to take their time with things, and to really, truly know that it isn’t their fault, and that it never should have happened, and that we’re working hard to change things. Everybody here is.
Question: What can everyone do to stop child sexual abuse?
Maroney: Whether you guys know or not, you’re already changing things just being here and listening and supporting, so I do have to say thank you so much. What you guys are doing with the organization, this charity, and Safe Touches … the No. 1 thing is prevention and awareness; and fighting for what we deserve. At the end of the day I wasn’t listened to, cared about or believed. All of those things need to be weeded out of our society because that’s where things went wrong. The red flags are so hard to catch, but knowing this now, is what’s going to put you in front of that.
Question: Judge Aquilina stated leave your pain here and go forward … how are you doing now and what’s next?
Maroney: I’m really super happy to be sitting here … I signed up for this a little bit ago ’cause I knew, I knew it was so beautiful, and I did want this to be my first experience speaking out, with something so powerful like this. I signed up knowing that it would be hard, and it was, to get ready to answer these questions when I really haven’t wanted to. There’s a lot that comes with healing on this. To heal takes true courage. I’m really just taking it day by day. I at times question if my gymnastics career was really even worth it because of the stuff I’m dealing with now, and you guys do a lot with that, too, helping people after the abuse happens, because sometimes you’re just left in the dust. You have to pick up the pieces of your life. That has been the hardest part for me, but it’s always three steps forward, two steps back. The one thing that gymnastics did teach me it was that when you fall, you’ve got to get back up. I do know how to be a fighter. I do want to end with this beautiful quote by Martin Luther King Jr., that just really inspires me. If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward. That’s what I’m doing, and that’s what we all need to do. We can’t give up on ending sexual abuse.
Maroney, 22, said in a Twitter post in October that she was abused by Nassar starting when she was 13 and attending a U.S. national team training camp in Houston.
Nassar told her at the time that she was receiving “medically necessary treatment he had been performing on patients for over 30 years,” she said at the time.
Her attorney, John Manly, said she had been abused between 50 and 100 times by Nassar, including at the Olympics and during the world championships.
In December, Maroney wrote that Nassar “deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison” in a letter of testimony to a judge presiding over one of his cases. She did not read the letter in court.
“Dr Nassar was not a doctor, he in fact is, was, and forever shall be, a child molester, and a monster of a human being,” Maroney wrote. “He abused my trust, abused my body and left scars on my psyche that may never go away.”
Nassar, 54, pleaded guilty to molesting patients and possessing child pornography and was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison earlier this year after roughly 200 women gave statements against him in two courtrooms over 10 extraordinary days.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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