Maggie Nichols was the first athlete to report the team doctor, Larry Nassar, for sexually abusing her, but USA Gymnastics failed to act after she came forward with the accusations. As a result, he ended up abusing others as well.
Now, Nichols wants the world to know she was the first one who tried to stop him.
"I am making the decision to tell my traumatic story and hope to join the forces with my friends and teammates to bring about true change," Nichols explained in her statement. "Up until now, I was identified as Athlete A by USA gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Michigan State University. I want everyone to know that he did not do this to Athlete A, he did it to Maggie Nichols."
NBC News reports that Nichols, who was a top 2016 Olympic team contender prior to the injury she suffered, had been exposed to abuse for the first time when she was 15. At the time, she was experiencing back problems at the training camp at Karolyi Ranch when Nassar took her in for a “treatment.”
"I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should. He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he was doing. There was no one else in the room, and I accepted what he was doing because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve my pain," a statement released by the gymnast explained.
"He did this 'treatment' on me, on numerous occasions. Not only was Larry Nassar my doctor, I thought he was my friend. He contacted me on Facebook complimenting me and telling me how beautiful I looked on numerous occasions. But I was only 15, and I just thought he was trying to be nice to me," she said.
But despite knowing something wasn’t right, it was only in the summer of 2015, when a coach overheard Nichols talking to another gymnast about Nassar, that the incidents were reported to USA Gymnastics. Unfortunately, the organization failed to act promptly and instead hired a private investigator to look into the allegations.
Nichols was only interviewed three weeks later, but it still took the organization another two more weeks to get confirmation from McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman that Nassar had also been molesting them. By then, USA Gymnastics finally contacted the FBI.
Attorney John Manly, who is representing Nichols, alleged that USA Gymnastics failed to correct Nassar when he issued a statement claiming that he was retiring when, in fact, he had been fired. And what’s worse, USA Gymnastics also failed to alert Michigan State University, where he had his practice, and the U.S. Olympic Committee that he had been let go for suspected sexual abuse. As a result, Nichols alleged, USA Gymnastics put countless others in danger.
But USA Gymnastics also failed Nassar’s patients in other ways, as the organization allegedly forced the gymnasts to stay silent about their experiences.
By the time The Indianapolis Star ran its report on Nassar’s history over one year later, several other women and girls had come forward to report abuse.
But according to Nichols, it turned out that USA Gymnastics wasn’t the only organization staying quiet about Nassar’s conduct.
"I later found out that Michigan State University had ignored complaints against Larry Nassar from other girls going back 20 years and had investigated him for sexual assault in 2014," she explained. "They never told USA Gymnastics. If they had, I might never have met Larry Nassar and I would never have been abused by him."
In the end, more than 135 women have filed formal complaints against the doctor. But thanks to the courage displayed by the athletes, USA Gymnastics has now changed its guidelines for reporting sexual abuse.
We can only imagine what Nichols and the others felt when they realized that if Michigan University had acted immediately against Nassar, they wouldn’t have been molested.
This proves just how important it is for people to speak out as soon as they feel they are being abused. If attackers are allowed to remain free and their crimes unaddressed, they will continue to hurt other victims.
Banner / Thumbnail : Reuters/Lucy Nicholson