Hero. That’s a big word, a title not easy to come by. Let’s think about the classics: Superman, Captain America, Spiderman, Batman — the list goes on. However, at the ESPYS this year, we saw a new wave of heroes claim their titles. Larry Nassar, the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, has recently been sentenced to up to 175 years in prison thanks to the brave testimonies of hundreds of the survivors of his sexual abuse. Their speaking up was incredibly important in breaking the culture of silence that normally surrounds women’s sports. Aly Raisman — a two-time Olympian and three-time gold medalist at the forefront of the movement against Nassar — is one of those many heroes. Her testimony has been powerful and moving and many have felt encouraged by her words, as many would never suspect that such a strong, talented, powerful woman could have gone through such a traumatic experience. The truth is, her story is all too common.
At the ESPYS, 141 of Nassar’s victims took the stage to claim the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. These survivors spoke with so much wisdom when they accepted their award and it was an honor to witness. Sarah Klein, Nassar’s first victim, said, “Make no mistake, we are here on this stage to present an image for the world to see, a portrait of survival. A new vision of courage.” She continued on to talk about how important it is to speak out against abusers, no matter how difficult that may be. The most shocking part of the acceptance was when Raisman listed all of the years that there were claims of sexual abuse against Nassar. “1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.” For 10 years, those Nassar abused were ignored. How can these adults ignore young women and girls telling them about their abuse? Here we have an example of when the survivors weren’t silent, but the system failed them over and over and over again. The people in positions of power decided that the words of these women were not strong enough to stand against Larry Nassar. They let him continue his abuse. This lack of accountability from those in charge is what continues to drive this cone of silence surrounding women’s sports. It stops victims from coming forward and allows these coaches, trainers, managers, etc. to continue to abuse.
The Nassar scandal doesn’t stand alone. Recently, there have been allegations against a former doctor for Ohio State University. Those who came forward revealed how badly the situation was handled. Based on Ron McDaniel’s story, it was clear that coaches and administrators knew of his abuse and continuously failed to act. McDaniel spoke about how when his teammates heard about what had happened to him they just laughed and basically said, “Yeah, that happens all the time to everyone. It’s no secret.” At the University of South Carolina there have been allegations of abuse against the campus gynecologist. The abuse is said to have spanned over 30 years and, as of now, 200 women have come forward with their stories. He did this from the time he began his job at the university until the time he stopped working there. This shows there is a pattern of abuse that goes ignored and is hushed up by universities all around the country. Women and men have come forward, sharing their stories and telling us they were brushed off and not taken seriously by university officials. Though women in particular face more of this kind of abuse than men, especially in the sports community, it is so important to remember that there are many people out there who have gone through what you have. Women and men alike, despite all the differences, go through similar issues, have survived the same abuse and stand strong through it all. If there is going to be any kind of progress, it needs to start with administrators and the people receiving these reports. Each one should be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated. Dismissing these kinds of allegations should no longer be, and never should have been, an option.
Raisman’s words so accurately depicted how the system failed all 141 women standing on that stage: “All those years we were told, ‘You are wrong. You misunderstood. He’s a doctor. It’s okay. Don’t worry, we’ve got it covered. Be careful. There are risks involved.’ The intention: to silence us in favor of money, medals and reputation.” But she then reminded everyone that nobody is alone when she said, “We may suffer alone, but we survive together.” These women are true heroes. These women are the new image of courage. They stood up to their abuser despite countless setbacks, showing unparalleled courage. Let’s use these women as an example of what it means to be brave and use their stories to address the multitude of issues — like victim-blaming and payoffs — that exist within the system. Let us no longer be silent. Let us be brave. Let us be courageous. Let us follow in the footsteps of these heroes.