Something breathtaking happened Tuesday night in Los Angeles. At the ESPN’s annual ESPY awards honoring athletes, about 140 survivors of sexual abuse gathered on stage to teary-eyed applause as they accepted an award for their courage. Former gymnast Sarah Klein, former Michigan State softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez, and gymnast Aly Raisman spoke at the ESPYs about the importance of speaking up — and listening — when something wrong is taking place.
Actress Jennifer Garner announced the women as the winners of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, the namesake award of the tennis hero and human rights activist.
Garner called the women an “army” and told Vanity Fair that she was struck by their presence and courage. "The minute I saw all of them together in one room, it truly took my breath away,” Garner told Vanity Fair. “When I had the opportunity to address the group, I just said, ‘I’m in awe of your courage and your strength. Thank you for being here and being here with each other and showing us all what humanity is about—what it is to be an army for good and for right.”
But the tone was solemn when three survivors began to speak. Klein, who’s been identified as the first to be abused by Nassar according to CNN, thanked law enforcement who helped put Nassar away. She said that she and her “sister survivors” represents a “a new vision of courage."
"Speaking up and speaking out is not easy. Telling our stories of abuse over and over and over again in graphic detail is not easy," Klein said. "We're sacrificing privacy. We're being judged and scrutinized, and it's grueling and it's painful, but it is time."
Next, Lopez started her speech, and encouraged people not to skirt conversations just because they’re hard to have.
“I encourage those suffering to hold tight to your faith and stand tall when speaking your truth,” Lopez said. “Because I'm here to tell you, that you cannot silence the strong together.”
Celebrities and famous athletes alike looked on as the three women told their stories of abuse while over a hundred more survivors stood behind them, many holding hands. All of the women had been sexually abused by Nassar — who was a team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University — while being told it was for medical purposes. Nassar’s been sentenced to 175 years in prison, CNN reported.
The last to speak out at the ESPYs was Raisman. She began by listing out all of the years young women had spoken up about Nassar, who’s been accused by over 150 women of abuse spanning over the past two decades
"1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016. These were the years we spoke up about Larry Nassar's abuse," Raisman said.
Raisman then thanked the judge, Rosemarie Aquilina, who sentenced Nassar in January and allowed all the athletes to tell their stories of being abused by him. Raisman emphasized how important it was to face abusers.
But she also wanted to hit home the point that abuse doesn't happen in a vaccum. As the a lawyer in the movie "Spotlight" said: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”
Raisman said one of the biggest tragedies of the nightmare the survivors endured was that, as she put it, “it could have been avoided” because “predators thrive in silence.”
“Whether you act or do nothing, you are shaping the world that we live in,” she said. “If just one adult had listened, believed, and acted, the people standing before you on this stage would have never met him.”
Raisman ended the speech to applause and a word to other survivors.
“You are not alone,” Raisman said. “We may suffer alone, but we survive together.