The gymnastics scandal that has engulfed some of America’s most recent Olympic champions, a legendary coach’s training facility and the sport’s governing body in the United States has been hiding in plain sight for years.
It’s been more than 20 years since journalist and author Joan Ryan published an expose of the cloistered, often punishing cultures of American gymnastics and figure skating, where very young girls were coaxed, prodded and often abused by mostly male coaches to reach the pinnacle of Olympic success.
In 1995, Ryan’s book “Pretty Girls in Little Boxes” did kick up a storm of controversy, and rankled the establishments of those sports. But troubling developments inside the elite gymnastics world were still to come.
News, Views and Reviews About Sports Books, History and Culture
Also in This Issue: Baseball Economics; High Times for Cricket; James Patterson on Aaron Hernandez; Casey Stengel Biography; The Rodin of Sports; Golf in the Andes; Remembering Jo Jo White, Doug Harvey and Red Fisher
This week, victims of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, the former American team doctor awaiting sentencing for his conviction, issued powerful statements.
They included Aly Raisman, captain of the 2012 and 2016 U.S. women’s Olympic gold medal team champions, who said she was too upset to attend Nassar’s sentencing.
Nassar, 54, is already in prison on a child pornography conviction and is facing life in prison for years of abuse within the fold of USA gymnastics and as the women’s gymnastics team doctor at Michigan State University, whose officials are also under fire. Both entities have already been sued, and hundreds of other lawsuits also have been filed against Nassar.
More than 120 young women claiming abuse at the hands of Nassar want to have their say in a federal courtroom in Lansing, Mich., the scene of gut-wrenching testimony.
On Friday, Michigan State trustees voted to support President Lou Anna Simon. But a short time later Morgan McCaul, a student and ballet dancer who sought treatment from Nasser that she said resulted in sexual abuse, opened up in court:
“How many little girls could have been spared from this lifelong battle if someone from the university had done the bare minimum and just listened?”
There are many others, so many others, like her, relatively anonymous, and those much more famous, including Raisman and 2016 Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles.
It’s a scandal, that, at least in terms of the number of accusers and victims involved, far exceeds the Jerry Sandusky scandal with Penn State football.
It’s led some to wonder why there hasn’t been greater media presence. If this were football, how bright might the spotlight be shining? Could these abuses have been curtailed years ago? Yet that tragedy also took years to break through the surface, and its gravity is just as appalling.
Without the dogged work of The Indianapolis Star, the gymnastics scandal might still be in the dark. In 2016, the newspaper published a lengthy investigation of how USA Gymnastics, which is based in Indianapolis, did little to to respond to repeated allegations of abuse.
Nassar was one of many officials, coaches and doctors examined in the probe. The long list of allegations against him, going back more than two decades, has uncovered—at long last—a massive culture of abuse and organizational neglect. Precious little action has followed.
USA Gymnastics has cut ties to its Texas training facility run by Bela Karolyi, the former Romanian and U.S. women’s Olympic coach, and where many of the abuse cases reportedly took place.
That didn’t impress Raisman, who accuses USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee of much more than indifference.
“It’s clear now that if we leave it up to these organizations, history is likely to repeat itself,” Raisman said in scathing comments in court. And there’s more:
“Why have I and others here, probably, not heard anything from the leadership at the U.S.O.C.? Why has the United States Olympic Committee been silent? Why isn’t the U.S.O.C. here right now?”
The roaring end of the silence of so many victims has been replaced by the harrowing silence of institutions that carry on, seemingly without account.
At the very 2016 Rio Olympics where Raisman, Biles and the U.S. “Fierce Five” were putting on an unforgettable show, Michael Rosenberg noted in Sports Illustrated how the Star’s report would likely be cast aside, much like Ryan’s book.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen entirely, but his conclusion then was just as haunting as what was said in a Michigan courtroom this week:
“. . . in bedrooms around the United States, and probably here in Rio, there are young athletes who will be damaged forever because they were abused and nobody helped them.”
A Few Good Reads
- Compelling read by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports on baseball’s economics structure that delves into age-old suspicions of collusion but reveals so much more. Specifically, about a third of MLB teams aren’t seriously in the free-market hunt this winter because they’re in teardown mode. “There’s less interest in winning than I’ve ever witnessed before,” a union official told him, leading some to wonder if a salary cap could actually become a thing;
- Last year, eve of the Super Bowl, the town of Ada, Ohio decided to hold a festival celebrating its status as the place where NFL footballs have been manufactured since 1955. The Made in Ada Wilson Football Festival, which will be repeated again on 3, includes the dropping of a lighted football at midnight and a screening of “Draft Day,” starring Kevin Costner;
- At The Cricket Monthly, Tim Wigmore responds to gloom-and-doom about the state of the sport, and especially the rising popularity of T20, and concludes that in many ways, this may be cricket’s golden age. Not only is the women’s game growing, he argues that “men’s Test cricket is the patient on life support from birth,” and more people are watching than ever before;
- In his first season coaching at his alma mater, Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing has a steep challenge bringing the the Hoyas back to college basketball prominence;
- The Athletic keeps expanding, and reportedly has hired away some leading newspaper baseball beat writers to join the likes of Ken Rosenthal and Peter Gammons;
- The story of how a Texas collector and Pirates fan tracked down Jeff Ballard to give the former Major League pitcher the only ball he hit for extra bases in his career, a ground-rule double in 1993;
- After 25 years of legal wrangling, a federal appeals court has vacated lower-court rulings that cancelled trademark registrations for the Washington Redskins, although opponents of the nickname vow to press on in other ways;
- At MMQB, Jenny Vrentas goes long on the friendship between Nick Saban and Bill Belichick;
- In Toms River, N.J., sculptor Brian Hanlon is busier than ever crafting statues of athletes that drew the notice of The New York Times, which calls him a “sports Rodin.” Last year he delivered 30 monuments, including a Jackie Robinson figure at the Rose Bowl, and works with a number of pro teams and universities as well as the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame;
- Adios to the print edition of El Gráfico, a sports monthly magazine in Argentina, a year before its 100th anniversary, and whose most famous cover was a triumphant Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup;
- Ditto for Track and Field News, which is going all digital after 70 years of print magazine publication;
- A skiing boom has ensued in China, which will play host to the 2022 Winter Olympics. Not far from Beijing, many in the expanding middle class are popularizing the slopes of Chongli and Wanlong, as part of a greater appetite for adventure sports;
- Check out these gorgeous black and white shots from longtime golf photographer Dom Furore of mountain courses in the Andes, part of a continuing series in Golfworld.
Sports Book News
- Marty Appel’s “Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character,” is the winner of the CASEY Award by Spitball as the baseball literary magazine’s 2017 book of the year. Appel previously won the 1996 CASEY for “Slide, Kelly, Slide;” other winners are listed here;
- To be published this week: “Norwich, One Tiny Vermont Town’s Secret to Happiness and Excellence,” by Karen Crouse (Simon & Schuster), who moves to a place that produces more U.S. Olympians per capita than anywhere else; and “All-American Murder,” about the Aaron Hernandez tragedy, by James Patterson with Alex Abramovich and Mike Harvkey (Little Brown). Yes, that James Patterson.
- Jo Jo White, 71, starred for the Kansas Jayhawks and the Boston Celtics, and had recovered from brain surgery to attend his 2015 induction in the Basketball Hall of Fame. His 10-year career in Boston bridged the Bill Russell and Larry Bird eras, and he was part of two NBA title teams. Longtime Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan remembers the quiet and gracious White;
- Doug Harvey, 87, was the Major League umpire players called “God” for his dramatic calls in a 31-year career that featured five World Series, including Kirk Gibson’s game-winning homer for the Dodgers in 1988. Retired umpire Tim McClelland said of Harvey, one of 10 umpires in the Baseball Hall of Fame: “He was the epitome, the one we aspired to. He was the best there was;”
Red Fisher, 91, covered a riot in his first day on the Montreal Canadiens beat for the Montreal Star in 1955. The “Rocket Richard Riots,” to be exact, which started Fisher on his way to hockey and sportswriting immortality. He also covered the team for 33 years at the Montreal Gazette, including 17 of the franchise’s NHL record 24 Stanley Cup championships, retiring only in 2012.
Wrote Sports Illustrated’s Michael Farber, a Gazette columnist with Fisher for 15 years:
“Fisher could be finicky. He preferred corner hotel rooms on the road. He liked his soup scalding, his toast burnt, his Chivas with a few rocks and his quotes meaty. He steadfastly refused to refer to the Canadiens in print as the ‘Habs,’ one of several unwritten Red Rules. But after filing on deadline he would call the Gazette sports desk to check on his story, greeting the editor who answered the phone with, ‘Habs in?’ “
Fisher died 10 days after the passing of his wife, Tillie, to whom he was married for 69 years. Before Saturday’s Canadiens’ game against Boston in Montreal, a moment of silence was held on the ice in Fisher’s memory. Montreal media types gathered before that for a toast to Fisher—shots of Chivas, natch—and were joined by Canadiens owner Geoff Molson.
The Sports Biblio Digest is an e-mail newsletter delivered each Sunday. It contains commentary and links about sports books and history. You can subscribe here and search the archives. This is Digest issue No. 111, published Jan. 21, 2018. The Digest is a companion to the Sports Biblio website.
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