I can hear and read about issues and events, but the medium that sinks a story into my soul is film. Last evening, I cued up Netflix instead of dinner, having just read, front page B section of my local newspaper, “USA Gymnastics Senate Hearing [elicits] Blistering Testimony: Women blast FBI over handling of sexual abuse investigation.”
I had seen Athlete A when it first came out in 2020, but wanted to experience it again before I made my recommendation. Upon the second viewing, I was even more riveted, especially because so much has happened in this busy year of outing sexual predators.
Local examples? The long-term abuse at an elite private school brought to light by courageous young women years after they were students, and the sexual assault allegation scandal concerning the ex-mayor of Windsor, CA. National examples? New York governor Andrew Cuomo resigning in disgrace (although not in his own eyes). Or the media blitz (and disgusting criticism) of Olympic superstar Simone Biles who revealed mental health issues that were preventing her from competing in her signature events. At the time, did Biles say her suffering had roots in sexual molestation by Dr. Larry Nasser? I don’t remember, but she said it on September 16 at the Senate hearing.
Cogently, calmly, and extremely powerfully, Athlete A (referring to gymnast Maggie Nichols whose narrative is the spine of the plot) tells the story of how hard-working investigative journalists, discerning law enforcement officials, and determined prosecutors together helped a group of young female gymnasts to fight back and prevail against their abusers.
The film is heartbreaking and raises some questions it doesn’t quite answer—were the girls so young and cowed by the cruel, degrading coaching they received that they were powerless to resist all the abuse, sexual and otherwise? The commodification of our athletes (including those NFL players who are still being penalized for “taking a knee”) continues as an issue to be reckoned with.
I’m not attempting a comprehensive film review here. I’m just urging you to see this Netflix Original documentary and let me know how it affected you. Check out the film’s website, which includes resources, materials for discussion, and also a very revealing timeline.
My thanks to Kristen Throop for referring me to The Army of Survivors, an Instagram group “bringing awareness, accountability and transparency to sexual violence against athletes.” Below are quotes I found there.
Over the past few years, it has become painfully clear how a survivor’s healing is affected by the handling of their abuse, and it disgusts me that we are still fighting for the most basic answers and accountability over six years later.
–Aly Raisman, retired artistic gymnast and Olympic gold medalist
“How much is a little girl worth?”
–Rachael Denhollander, former gymnast, attorney, advocate, and author