A far-reaching Indianapolis Star report indicates that at least 368 youth gymnasts have been abused while in gymnastics programs over the last 20 years, with 115 adults accused of abuse in locations all over the country.
The hard numbers are a follow-up to an August IndyStar report entitled “Out of Balance,” which charged that USA Gymnastics protected coaches over potentially abused gymnasts. This new report, the culmination of thousands of documents from multiple states, puts numbers to the charges.
“USA Gymnastics is proud of the work it has done to address and guard against child sexual abuse,” the organization said in a statement to the IndyStar. However, the organization has also declined to make its leaders available for interviews, and according to the Star has continued to delay the release of documents related to abuse of gymnasts despite court orders to do so.
Team USA’s recent run of gold-medal success at the Olympics notwithstanding, many involved in the world of gymnastics want USA Gymnastics to do more to help combat abuse, both punishing abusers and protecting potentially vulnerable gymnasts. “It saddens me because I love our sport,” Molly Shawen-Kollmann, a former member of the U.S. national team and now a coach, told the IndyStar. “This is not indicative of who we want to be. As an organization, they aren’t doing their job.”
The sport of gymnastics is particularly vulnerable not only to abuse, given how frequently coaches are in close contact with athletes, but also to cover-ups. Since judgment of gymnasts is so subjective at every level, many observers indicate that there’s an unspoken pressure to go along and get along, not to make waves or accusations that disrupt standard operations.
“Many of the girls said they trusted their coaches to do the right thing,” the article’s authors wrote. “Some believed they were in love with their coaches. Others blamed themselves for the abuse. Several had Olympic dreams, which their coaches exploited. A number of the coaches befriended the parents of the children they abused. Some victims eventually became afraid of their abusers.”
“We find it appalling that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in this manner, and recognize the effect this behavior can have on a person’s life,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement. “USA Gymnastics has been proactive in helping to educate the gymnastics community and will continue to take every punitive action available within our jurisdiction and cooperate fully with law enforcement.”
However, the IndyStar contends many who have sought to bring abuse allegations against their coaches have found that the organization is not as responsive or sympathetic to victims’ concerns as it could be, prizing winning and growth over gymnast protection.
The IndyStar’s investigation continues. For the full report, which is well worth a read, click here.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.