- Monsters like John Geddert and Larry Nassar do not just appear out of nowhere, argues survivor Sarah Klein.
- Klein calls for an independent investigation of USAG and the USOPC by federal law enforcement.
- Klein is a survivor, an advocate, and an attorney representing survivors of sexual abuse.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
For more than a decade, the two most important and formative men in my life were my gymnastics coach, John Geddert, and my athletic trainer-turned-doctor, Larry Nassar. Today, Geddert is dead by suicide and Nassar is spending the rest of his life in prison. Both abused me and hundreds of other little girls.
Monsters like John Geddert and Larry Nassar do not just appear out of nowhere. They were born and nurtured by USA Gymnastics (USAG) and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC). In my experience, it is a culture that places money and medals above the health, safety, and dignity of children.
It has been that way for a long time, and despite all that has happened, it doesn’t appear to be changing.
Geddert and Nassar were elevated by USAG and the USOPC to the very pinnacle of the sport. Geddert was named coach of our 2012 London Olympic women’s team “The Fierce Five.” Larry Nassar attended those games as the team doctor and he sexually abused and molested every one of those five magnificent women.
This did not have to happen. Complaints involving abuse by both men were ignored or covered up for at least 20 years. In fact, a 2016 report from the Indianapolis Star found that USA Gymnastics kept complaint files on more than 50 coaches and “filed them in a drawer in its executive office.”
I entered the world of gymnastics at the age of 5, when my neighbor invited me to “Bring-a-Friend” day at the local gymnastics club in small town Michigan. I was an energetic child, bright and full of life. I loved jumping on the trampoline and swinging on the bars. I begged my mom to sign me up for classes.
As it turns out, I had some talent. Within a few years, I joined the competitive team and began training more than 20 hours per week.
I was 8 when Nassar got his start as a gymnastics trainer and a serial child molester in John Geddert’s gym. It was well known there that Nassar and Geddert were close friends and that any criticism of Nassar would be met with violent rage from Geddert. Predators thrive in that kind of culture of fear. Not only were we taught not to speak up, we were taught not to speak at all. We were only permitted to answer questions with a yes or no. The most common question Geddert asked was, “Do you understand, you idiot?”
Geddert was the bad cop. When I was 11 or 12, I threw up at practice out of fear, something that was common for me and my teammates to do. Geddert examined my vomit to see what I’d eaten on the way to practice. My mom was in a hurry that day so had picked up fast food. Because french fries were not on Geddert’s strict nutritional guidelines, he made me get on my hands and knees so he could push my face into my vomit. He then called the rest of the girls over to stand around me and watch me clean it up with vomit dripping from my face and hair.
Nassar was the good cop. While Geddert screamed and threw things, Nassar was there with encouragement and kindness. Then, he’d instruct me to lie face down on his treatment table in the secluded back training room to “medically treat” me. His treatment included vaginal and anal digital penetration without gloves. This happened almost daily. For the entirety of my childhood.
After hundreds of brave girls and young women publicly accused Nassar of molesting them, he was sentenced in 2018 to two life terms in prison for possession of child pornography and for sexually assaulting children.
Earlier this month, John Geddert died by suicide on the day that the Michigan Attorney General indicted him on 24 criminal counts including human trafficking, racketeering, lying to police and sexually assaulting minors. His alleged crimes took place over decades.
But these are far from the only two high-profile coaches that were retained and promoted after being accused of sexually assaulting children.
As the Indianapolis Star has reported, three coaches — Marvin Sharp, Don Peters, William McCabe — were allowed to continue working with children even after abuse claims were made against them, making it possible for even more underage gymnasts to be assaulted by them.
Following each new scandal, the organizations’ response has been the same. Protect the brand. Lawyer up. Sidestep responsibility. Release a high-minded public relations statement professing unyielding devotion to athlete safety. Promise it will never happen again. Rinse and repeat.
Even after Geddert’s suicide, current USAG President Li Li Leung said blandly: “It goes without saying that this news brings up a lot of complex emotions from many in the community, particularly those he hurt. And our thoughts are with them.”
That is little consolation to the hundreds of little girls abused by this monster.
Here’s what needs to happen.
Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, and I, along with others, are calling for an independent investigation of USAG and the USOPC. It should be conducted not by a law firm hired by USAG and USOPC, as has happened before, but by federal law enforcement. The goal should be prosecuting any executives and board members of USAG and the USOPC that knew about abuse by Nassar and Geddert, allowed it to continue, and covered it up.
Congress should then use its new authority under the recently passed Empowering Olympic Amateur Athletes Act to decertify USAG and replace the board and senior executives of the USOPC with individuals who will finally place the safety of our magnificent young athletes ahead of money and medals.
I am now 41, and a mother of two little girls. I will not stop until these two organizations are independently investigated and held accountable. I deserved a life free of child abuse, and I deserved to be protected by the adults around me in my sport. Instead, those adults were protected by organizations in the name of money. I cannot rewind the past or erase the scars. But I can – and will – ensure that this never happens to another child again.
Sarah Klein is a survivor, an advocate, and an attorney representing survivors of sexual abuse. Twitter @SG_Klein
Editors’ note: Insider contacted USAG and the USOPC for comment. In a statement, the USOPC said that it had undertaken an “independent review of the organization’s governance strategy and athlete protection policies” and that it had instituted a variety of athlete safety protocols. Li Li Leung, President & CEO of USAG, said in a statement: “We recognize how deeply we have broken the trust of our athletes and community, and are working hard to build that trust back.”