The gruesome story of the abuse that former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar carried out against the young female athletes in his care seems to just go on and on. Now, gymnast Maggie Nichols says Nassar also abused her and added her experience to the mix. Nichols, who retired from competition with USA Gymnastics in 2016 after she narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympic team that year, has claimed that she was the first athlete to speak out against Nassar, in an incredibly empowering statement.
Nichols had long been identified as "Athlete A" by USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and Michigan State University, she wrote in a letter that she will submit to the judge in charge of Nassar's upcoming sentencing hearing. Nassar, who originally denied all allegations against him, has since then pleaded guilty to multiple counts of sexual assault and possession of child pornography.
"I want everyone to know that he did not do this to Athlete A, he did it to Maggie Nichols," she said.
Nichols and her family previously sued USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and Michigan State University, where Nassar had been employed, but she decided to remain anonymous at the time. She was the first gymnast to alert officials to Nassar's actions, as a coach overheard her talking to a teammate about Nassar's "treatments" in 2015. This started all of the proceedings against Nassar, which only went public in the last several months after over a year of controversial, behind-the-scenes dealings between Nassar and his former employers.
The first former gymnast to speak publicly about Nassar was Rachael Denhollander, who came forward in September 2016 to detail the abuse she had suffered as Nassar's hands. She was later joined by several other gymnasts, including high-profile recent USA Gymnastics team members like 2012 gold medalists Gabby Douglas and McKayla Maroney and six-time 2012 and 2016 medalist Aly Raisman.
Nichols, who has achieved extraordinary success competing with the University of Oklahoma since she retired from USA Gymnastics, is now joining her former teammates in speaking out about her experience in the letter that she's submitting to the sentencing court:
Recently, three of my friends and former National Team members who medaled at the 2012 Olympics have bravely stepped forward to proclaim they were sexually assaulted by USA Gymnastics Team Physician Dr. Larry Nassar.
Today I join them.
I am making the decision to tell my traumatic story and hope to join forces with my friends and teammates to bring about true change.
Nichols, who began competing with USA Gymnastics at age 14, tells a story similar to those that have already come out.
I remember he took me into the training room, closed the door and closed the blinds. At the time I thought this was kind of weird but figured it must be okay. I thought he probably didn’t want to distract the other girls and I trusted him. I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should.
Nassar had positioned himself as her friend and ally as the abuse went on, Nichols said — which matches up exactly with what several other gymnasts have attested to.
"He violated our innocence," she writes, summing it all up.
After years of silence, though, Nichols' decision to speak up is an extremely powerful one. Remaining anonymous as she and her family filed the lawsuit against Nassar was the right choice at the time, as it allowed her to begin the proceedings against her tormentor without intensifying her trauma to an unnecessary extent. By attaching her name to the story, then, Nichols is joining with her fellow gymnasts to take control of the story into her, and their, own hands.
This is a right that they were all denied for far too long — and it's high time for things to change now.