These Olympic Gymnasts Are Taking On The Man Who Assaulted Them

It is no secrete USA Gymnastics has recently been plagued with sexual abuse scandals. Over recent years, hundreds of women have come forth with accusations against coaches, trainers, and doctors. Up until this week though, none of them have spoken.

Now, Jamie Dantzscher, Jessica Howard, and Jeanette Antolin – all high profile, competitive gymnasts during the late 90s and early 00s, have come forward to speak about their sexual abuse allegations against team doctor, Lawrence Nassar. 

Nassar was one of gymnastic’s top ranking, high profile doctors. He is so paramount to the gymnastics world, you may recognize him as the doctor who  Kerri Strug was handed off to after she stuck her infamous vault routine in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

As an osteopathic physician, Nassar served as a trainer and doctor with the Olympic and national women’s artistic gymnastics teams for over two decades. He was often found at the Karolyi ranch. The Karolyi ranch was run by legendary Olympic gymnastic coaches Bella and Martha Karolyi, who hosted elite breakout sessions for the nation’s top gymnasts once per month.  Nassar would be in attendance for these sessions to treat the girls for injuries.

“He would put his fingers inside of me, move my leg around,” says Jamie Dantzscher, a team all-around bronze medalist winner at the 2000 Olympic Games. “He would tell me I was going to feel a pop and that that would put my hips back and help my back pain.”

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Jessica Howard, three-time national rhythmic gymnastics champion and the youngest gymnast to ever claim that title (at the age of fifteen), says Nassar told her not to wear underwear for their sessions, and that he would massage intimate places.

In the interview, Howard states, “I remember thinking something was off but I didn’t feel like I was able to say anything because he was, you know, this very high-profile doctor. And I was very luck to be at the ranch working with him.”

Nassar has denied any wrongdoing on his part, claiming these procedures were standard.

More than 60 women have filed complaints against the doctor so far, but it is believed that number could reach into the hundreds. Nassar has been held without bail in Michigan (where he worked as a trainer for Michigan State University), since December on sexual assault and child pornography charges unrelated to  Olympic athletes.

The arrest was only made possible due to USA Gymnastic’s compliance in the case. This is a major move for the organization, which has historically been accused of covering up instances of sexual abuse. Last year, the Indianapolis Star broke a draw-dropping story that as many as 368 gymnasts alleged, “some form of sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches, gym owners, and other adults working in gymnastics” across a 20-year period.

Dantzscher, Howard, and Antolin have all filed lawsuits against Nassar. In Dantzscher’s case, USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny and others were named as co-defendants in for their alleged role. According to The Bleacher Report, the lawsuit claims USA Gymnastics was, “negligently suppressed, concealed or failed to disclose knowledge that Nassar had engaged in sexual conduct with team members.”

Cases like these highlight the dangerous power dynamics between young athletes and those on senior staffing positions. Further, because there is no oversight from USA Gymnastics as to coaches histories, they can move from gym-to-gym without any record of firings or allegations brought against them.

Shanthi Blanchard

About Shanthi Blanchard

Shanthi is a writer and consultant based in New York City. As a digital and brand strategist, Shanthi works for women entrepreneurs and rural businesses on a mission to improve the world. She is also a passionate political writer, sports enthusiast, and runner. Follow her in twitter and Instagram @Oms4Shanthi. Pitch Shanthi: shanthi@heragenda.com
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