Simone Biles Speaks Up

Catherine Ryan ’24

    On September 15, 2021, Simone Biles testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding an investigation into Larry Nassar, the disgraced USA Gymnastics doctor now in prison for sexually assaulting hundreds of girls and women. Biles testified that the abuse was allowed to occur because organizations designed to protect athletes, such as the USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, “failed to do their jobs.” Along with Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Maggie Nichols also testified.

    Biles, who won 25 World Championship medals and seven Olympic medals for Team USA, blamed “an entire system that enabled and perpetuated” abuse of children. She cited Nelson Mandela, who said, “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

    Biles states, “I blame Larry Nasser, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.” Biles argued for the FBI agents who were at fault to be federally prosecuted.

    Biles also said, “We suffered and continue to suffer because no one at FBI, USAG or the USOPC did what was necessary to protect us.” She did not stop there, going on to say that “We have been failed, and we deserve answers. Nassar is where he belongs, but those who enabled him deserve to be held accountable. If they are not, I am convinced that this will continue to happen to others across Olympic sports.”

    A Justice Department Inspector General Report was released in July including evidence of the FBI’s botched handling of the Larry Nassar case. According to the report, the FBI ignored initial sexual assault allegations made by gymnasts as early as July of 2015. Nassar was still treating gymnasts at Michigan State University, a high school, and a gymnastics club until September 2016.

    After reading the report, Biles, feeling undermined, said the FBI “turned a blind eye to us.”

    Breaking down, Biles said that “I don’t want another young gymnast, or Olympic athlete, or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured before, during and continuing to this day in the wake of the Larry Nassar abuse.”

    Aly Raisman, captain of the 2012 and 2016 US Olympic gymnastics teams, is also “fighting for the most basic answers and accountability.” In her testimony, Raisman emphasized that if the flaws in the system are not held accountable, it will be a recurring “nightmare” for many women.

    Mckayla Maroney, a gold medalist from the London 2012 Olympics told the senators that, “They chose to fabricate, to lie about what I said and protect a serial child molester.” Maroney also asked the question, “What is the point of reporting abuse if our own FBI agents are going to take it upon themselves to bury that report in a drawer?”

    Nassar pleaded guilty in 2017 to abusing 10 women and girls and was sentenced up to 175 years in prison. More than 330 women and girls have now made allegations of abuse at the hands of Nassar.

    Along with confronting the poor response to sexual abuse by the FBI, Biles also had the courage to step down from the world stage to prioritize her mental health.

    Biles was clearly carrying heavy baggage at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics this past summer and she ended up withdrawing from the competition. Although widely criticized for taking that action, Biles says, “we also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day, we’re human, too. We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.” Biles reminded the public that athletes are not just entertainers — they have lives outside of their competition.

    Biles brings attention to the need for athletes to pay attention to their own mental health. Biles hopes “that people can relate and understand that it’s ok to not be ok; and it’s ok to talk about it. There are people that can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel.”

    Despite the upheaval in controversy and criticism, Biles continues her efforts to destigmatize mental health issues and stand up on behalf of the women, including herself, her teammates, and other fellow gymnasts, who have experienced sexual abuse.