Local gymnasts demand reform

Meredith Howard, Lamp Staff

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SPRINGFIELD – Did USA Gymnastics hide preventable sexual abuse of minors for decades? Jennifer McClanahan, Springfield Illinois, age 49, LLCC student, USAG member for over 30 years, owner of Gymnastics Zone in Springfield, head coach, and former gymnast, said, “They pushed everything that was ethically responsible of them, keeping these kids safe, they pushed it aside.”

Larry Nassar started working with athletes in 1978 when he acquired a position as a student athletic trainer at North Farmington High School in Detroit. Graduating from the University of Michigan with a kinesiology degree in 1985, Nassar’s first allegation of sexual abuse against him came in 1994. He was the physician for the Michigan State University women’s gymnastics team from 1997 until September 20, 2016. Nassar also worked as a team doctor for USA Gymnastics from 1986-2014, he is now currently serving a 175-year sentence in prison for sexually abusing minors for decades.

168 survivors of Nassar’s abuse spoke at his trial to share their stories. As of February 4, 2018, over 265 women have come forward with allegations against Nassar. Rachael Denhollander, 32 years old, from Kalamazoo, MI was the first woman to publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. Many big-name Olympic Gymnasts have voiced support for policy change within USAG. Aly Raisman, 2 time Olympian, and gold medalist is one of many survivors of Nassar’s abuse, and she testified against him in court. She released a public statement saying: “I love the Olympics and being able to represent my country. But with everything going on right now, I realize that this is more important than any gold medal. My main focus is fixing this organization and getting to the bottom of what happened.”

Not only are the survivors demanding policy reform but USGA member from across the country are too.  Carmen Dillman, from Springfield, Illinois, 13, USAG member and competitive gymnast for 3 years,  had this to say on USAG changing its policies:  “They really owe it to all of the gymnasts to follow up on what they’ve said.” Her statement closely mirrors that of Ryanne Eaton, from Springfield, Illinois, 15, USAG member and competitive gymnast for 9 years, who states that USAG could have done everything better in regards to preventing this abuse. Guenevere Rees, 17, from Springfield, Illinois, competitive gymnast and USAG member for 9 years, said, “They should have listened to the girls and trusted them.” 

“As soon as somebody reported something, it should have been taken care of then and investigated. Even if they had to go hire investigators, or report it to authorities, something should’ve been done. Not swept under the rug, paid people to be quiet” says Christene Stefano, 49, from Mayville, Missouri, a competitive tumbler for 10 years, former club owner for 10 years, and gymnastics coach for 24 years.

Despite the tragic reality of this sexual abuse scandal, gymnasts and USAG members have not lost all hope. When asked her views on change within USAG, Stefano said “As long as they completely revamp, and get rid of everyone involved…I think that everybody is going to be on top of it a lot more. They’re going to be scrutinized. Yeah, I think it’s possible to have a safe environment.”

Meredith Howard can be reached at [email protected]

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