Today, Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian, former Olympians and current members of the NCAA UCLA gymnastics team, went on CBS This Morning to speak about the disgraced USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar who was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing hundreds of women and girls. Joined by their current coach, Valorie Kondos Field, the two women shared their stories about how USA Gymnastics spread a culture of fear and silence that allowed Nassar to get away with sexually abusing young gymnasts for years. To date, more than 150 survivors have come forward.
Kocian, a gold-medal Olympic gymnast and member of the 2016 "Final Five," said Nassar was "almost like a family member," and seemed caring compared to their coaches. "On international trips, he would bring us food, or be the person that would always ask how you're doing," she said. This was a manipulation tactic he used to get closer to the gymnasts, and ultimately keep them silent.
Both survivors agreed that the insular world of USA Gymnastics normalized Nassar's abusive tactics, and made athletes feel like they didn't have a voice or say in what went on. "Between us, we didn't think any different of [his treatments]," Kocian said. Ross, a gold-medal Olympian and member of the "Fierce Five," said it wasn't until she trained at UCLA that she realized they deserved better. "We realized that, as an athlete, we should have a voice. This is our sport, and we should enjoy it, and not be there just to win medals," she said.
Field, who started coaching UCLA in 1991, said it's been unfathomable to hear so many athletes tell the same stories about Nassar's abuse, often using the same words to describe the culture and conditions that they grew up in. "What became so clear through all of this is that anytime you put winning and medals above people, you're going to open up your organization to corrosiveness that's just going to spread like a disease," she said.
As it turns out, the USA Gymnastics' 2018 Championship begins today in Boston. This competition is considered the most important gymnastics competition in a non-Olympic year, and the winners will go on to compete in the 2018 World Championship. Aly Raisman, who has been one of the most outspoken survivors, will be attending as a guest of the venue, TD Garden, and told the Boston Globe that USA Gymnastics didn't extend her an invitation. "Actions speak louder than words," she told the Boston Globe. "Don’t say it’s a new USA Gymnastics if you can’t invite someone who’s been speaking out." In a statement provided to CBS This Morning, the organization said: "USA Gymnastics' support is unwavering for Kyla, Madison, and all athletes who courageously came forward to share their experiences. Their powerful voices and stories will continue to be a basis for our future decisions."
But both Kocian and Ross said that they haven't heard from the organization to this day, and find their inaction disheartening. "It's been saddening to know that a lot of gymnasts have gone through this event, and they have not reached out and seen how we're doing as people," Ross said. "Not just as athletes, but as individuals who grew up in the sport."
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).