“Is that all?” McKayla Maroney remembers an FBI agent asking her.
She had just told the federal agents the story of being molested by Larry Nassar, then a doctor with USA gymnastics. She had related, to the highest law enforcement officials in the country, how she thought she “was going to die that night, because there was no way he was going to let me go.”
On Wednesday, she testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the FBI agents dismissed her. She said that her report wasn’t documented for 17 months. When it was, she said, parts of her statement was fabricated. “USA Gymnastics, in concert with the FBI and the Olympic Committee were working together to conceal that Larry Nassar was a predator,” she told Congress.
On Wednesday, Maroney was joined in her Senate testimony by other USA woman gymnasts—Maggie Nichols, Aly Raisman, and Simone Biles. To the world, these gymnasts are extraordinary athletes and recognizable pop culture figures. But for years, they have also been trying to expose a coverup of Nassar’s abuse that went all the way up to the FBI. Together, they represent a tiny fraction of the hundreds of women athletes who were abused by Nassar throughout his career as doctor for U.S.A. Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, and other organizations.
Nassar is now serving a life sentence in prison for sexual abuse of an estimated 265 people, including minors. Part of the reason he was, presumably, able to abuse so many girls and women is that organizations failed to stop him. On Wednesday, the four athletes asked the congressional committee to hold the F.B.I., U.S. Gymnastics, and the U.S. Olympic Committee accountable.
Two months ago, according to the New York Times, the U.S. Justice Department put out a report that found the failures of the FBI’s investigation “allowed Nassar to continue treating patients for eight months” at Michigan State University and “at a local gymnastics center and a high school.” After the athletes testified on Wednesday, Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI since 2017, apologized directly to them.
But the athletes say that this isn’t enough. “To date, no one from the FBI, the U.S.O.P.C. or U.S.A.G. has faced federal charges, other than Larry Nassar,” Nichols said in her testimony. “For many hundreds of survivors of Larry Nassar, this hearing is one of our last opportunities to get justice. We ask that you do what is in your power to ensure those that engaged in wrongdoing are held accountable under the law.”
Year in and year out, we watch these women perform feats of strength at their sport. Now we’ve also watched them exhibit another kind of courage: documenting their own abuse in the hopes of holding national organizations accountable. If some of the most watched women in the country can come forward about abuse and be ignored for years, what does that mean for everyone else?
The testimony by Nichols, Raisman, Biles, and Maroney is unbelievably painful. But it’s impossible not to admire their rhetorical strength, moral clarity, and righteous anger in the face of evil. They shouldn’t have had to demonstrate this, but they did. Here is what they told the Senate about surviving sexual violation and fighting to keep other girls and women safe:
“I can imagine no place that I would be less comfortable right now than sitting in front of you sharing these comments,” Biles told the Senate on Wednesday. And yet the greatest gymnast of all time persevered through her speech, crying on and off, demanding congressional attention for what she called “The crisis of abuse in amateur sports.”