Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman says team doctor sexually assaulted her
Olympic gold medalist and onetime Needham resident Aly Raisman has accused Larry Nassar, the US national gymnastic team’s former doctor, of sexual abuse, joining more than 130 other women who have said the doctor sexually assaulted them.
In her upcoming book, Raisman, 23, said she was first sent to Nassar for treatment when she was 15, and he gave her massages that made her feel uncomfortable. Her teammates agreed that his methods of treating aches and pains were “strange.’’
“. . . It turned out I wasn’t the only one feeling uncomfortable. . . . Most of us thought the way he touched us was weird. But he did it to so many of us that we assumed, blindly, that he must know something we didn’t. . . . It didn’t seem possible that he could be doing it to so many of us if it wasn’t OK,’’ Raisman wrote in her book, “Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything,” due out next week.
“More than once I would make excuses for his strange behavior,’’ she wrote.
Raisman said she initially trusted Nassar because “all the adults loved him and were constantly singing his praises’’ and that “When I was alone with him, even when he seemed to be crossing a line, he would often distract me by saying how great I was doing in training sessions.’’
She was often on the road, away from her parents. Only when she began seeing other doctors and trainers did she realize Nassar’s methods were different.
“He had taken advantage of me. He had taken advantage of everyone he targeted; of our youth, of our innocence, of our trust in the adults there to help us, of our desire to excel in the sport — for years,’’ she wrote.
Nassar is now incarcerated, after pleading guilty in July to federal child pornography charges. He has pleaded not guilty to pending charges that he sexually assaulted gymnasts.
He worked with the US women’s national gymnastics team for more than two decades. He also treated young female athletes who competed for Michigan State University and Twistars youth gymnastics club.
A copy of Raisman’s book was obtained by the Globe Friday evening.
Raisman, in an interview with “60 Minutes” that will air Sunday, expressed frustration with USA Gymnastics, the sport’s governing body, and said she was hoping to change its culture.
“Why are we looking at why didn’t the girls speak up?” she said. “Why not look at what about the culture? What did USA Gymnastics do, and Larry Nassar do, to manipulate these girls so much that they are so afraid to speak up?”
In March, USA Gymnastics head Steve Penny resigned amid criticism of how his organization dealt with Nassar. USA Gymnastics is also a defendant in a federal lawsuit alleging that Nassar repeatedly sexually assaulted 18 women and that USA Gymnastics, Michigan State, and Twistars negligently allowed the abuse to happen.
In a statement issued Friday, USA Gymnastics said it was “appalled by the conduct of which Larry Nassar is accused, and we are very sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career.”
The organization said its athletes are its top priority and touted its adoption of a new “safe sport policy” requiring mandatory reporting of sexual abuse suspicions.
“We are committed to doing what is right, and we want to work with Aly and all interested athletes to keep athletes safe,” the organization said.
Raisman is the latest prominent figure to disclose sexual abuse in what has become a tidal wave of allegations in Hollywood, the media, politics, and business in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who was one of the first to publicly accuse Nassar of abuse, applauded Raisman for focusing on the culture of USA Gymnastics, which she said is to blame for allowing Nassar to prey on so many young victims.
“We can take care of Larry and one predator,” Denhollander said. “But if the culture doesn’t change, another predator will rise to take his place.”
Nassar’s alleged victims include some of the most prominent names in the sport. Raisman’s Olympic teammate McKayla Maroney said last month that Nassar repeatedly molested her beginning when she was 13, and the abuse only stopped when she left gymnastics.
Jamie Dantzscher, a member of the bronze medal-winning US gymnastics team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, has said Nassar started abusing her beginning when she was 12.
Raisman, who has six Olympic medals, said in her book that she spoke about Nassar to a private investigator sent by USA Gymnastics in 2015.
Increasingly in recent months,
Raisman has been an advocate for changing the culture of the USA Gymnastics program. In an August interview, she said USA Gymnastics is trying to help athletes feel safer, but has not done so openly enough.
Raisman’s father, Rick, said Friday that the family is proud of her for speaking out about Nassar. “Obviously, the whole family supports her and we love her,” he said in an interview.
Stephen Cudworth, a coach at Spectrum Gymnastics in Brockton and president of the Massachusetts Association of High School Gymnastics Coaches, said Raisman and Maroney, because of their fame, can be powerful forces for change.
“If there are many more girls who are not Olympians who deal with these things, these names coming out will encourage them to tell someone something is happening or something is inappropriate,” he said.
Cudworth said the sport is built on trust between adults and the girls they coach. Elite gymnasts like Raisman, he said, spend more than 40 hours a week training.
“And you just assume when you put your trust into another person that USA Gymnastics has recommended, and they go and do this . . . it’s disgusting,” he said.
He said USA Gymnastics is trying to address the problem of abuse.
Two months ago, he said, he took a “SafeSport” online training program that has been promoted by USA Gymnastics to prevent sexual misconduct.
The recommendations, he said, included instructing coaches and athletes to always communicate by group text — so the content can be monitored — and telling gymnasts never to train with a coach alone and always have another adult present.