Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. Gymnast McKayla Maroney has alleged she was molested by a former USA Gymnastics team doctor, adding her voice to the #MeToo movement where people are sharing experiences of sexual harassment and assault and becoming the most prominent athlete to go public with her claims against the physician.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Maroney, 21, alleged she was molested for years by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who is currently awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to federal child pornography charges. “People should know that this is not just happening in Hollywood,” she wrote, in reference to the allegations about producer Harvey Weinstein.
“It started when I was 13 years old, and it didn’t end until I left the sport,” Maroney continued. “I had a dream to go to the Olympics, and the things that I had to endure to get there were unnecessary and disgusting.” Maroney ended her involvement with the sport in 2016.
Several of Maroney’s teammates have accused Nassar of abuse while they were minors, but Maroney is the highest profile gymnast yet to come forward. Nassar, who was team doctor for USA Gymnastics from 1996 to 2015, is due to stand trial over charges of sexually assaulting nine girls, to which he has pleaded not guilty. Nassar, an osteopath, allegedly abuses gymnasts under the guise of “treatment” that included inserting his bare finger in the vagina.
Nassar pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges this summer and is in jail in Michigan awaiting sentencing. In addition to the charges for which he is facing trial, Nassar is the subject of hundreds of lawsuits accusing him of sexual abuse. Nassar’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In response to Maroney’s revelation, USA Gymnastics issued the following statement. “USA Gymnastics admires the courage of those, like McKayla Maroney, who have come forward to share their personal experiences with sexual abuse. Because of their strength in coming forward, predators can be held accountable for their actions. We, like so many others, are outraged and disgusted by the conduct of which Larry Nasser is accused. We are sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career.”
Investigations by the Indianapolis Star in 2016 revealed that the national governing body failed to alert proper authorities when they received complaints of sexual abuse. The organization has said it was not aware of allegations against Nassar until July 2015, at which point he was no longer part of USA Gymnastics.
Maroney was one of the group known as the “fierce five” who won gold in the team gymnastics competition at the London 2012 Olympics. Later in the tournament an image of a “not impressed” Maroney with her lips pursed became an online sensation. She had just won the silver medal in the individual vault finals, following an uncharacteristic fall. Maroney wrote that her most harrowing experience with Nasser occurred when she was 15. “I had flown all day and night with the team to get to Tokyo. [Nasser had] given me a sleeping pill for the flight, and the next thing I know, I was all alone with him in his hotel room getting a “treatment.” I thought I was going to die that night.”
The #MeToo hashtag has been tweeted hundreds of thousands of times in the last few days after actor Alyssa Milano called for people affected by sexual harassment to speak out in solidarity after the Harvey Weinstein revelations. The hashtag has been taken up by people from all walks of life, illustrating the magnitude of sexual harassment.
Said Maroney: “Our silence has given the wrong people power for too long, and it’s time to take our power back. And remember, it’s never too late to speak up.”