Netflix’s “Athlete A” details the Indianapolis Star’s investigation of sexual abuse within USA Gymnastics. The organization covered up allegations against team doctor Larry Nassar, who abused children for decades under the guise of medical treatments.
Nassar was accused of sexually assaulting patients as early as 1997 at Michigan State University, where he was a sports medicine doctor. Larissa Boyce, a teenage gymnast at the time, told an MSU coach about Nassar’s abuse, but she was ignored.
A recent MSU graduate filed a sexual assault complaint against Nassar in 2014, but he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
In June 2015, Maggie Nichols became the first-known teenager to report Nassar’s abuse to USA Gymnastics. The organization waited five weeks to call the authorities.
Nichols and her parents waited for answers, told by USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny to remain silent so as not to disrupt the investigation. Emails obtained by the Indy Star showed the lengths at which USA Gymnastics went to cover up allegations against Nassar.
“Records that we reviewed show that one email was sent to a USA Gymnastics’ attorney,” Indianapolis Star reporter Tim Evans said in “Athlete A.” “Nassar had shared links to graphic videos of him performing what he deemed were medical procedures to defend himself from allegations of abuse. And I think anybody that saw that and was a reasonable person and cared about kids would’ve taken action immediately.”
In July 2015, the month after Nichols accused Nassar of abuse, USA Gymnastics officials suggested to Nassar that he say he couldn’t attend an event for personal reasons. In September 2015, USA Gymnastics parted ways with Nassar, allowing him to say he retired.
Shortly after the 2016 Rio Olympics, The Indianapolis Star reported on the first public allegations against Nassar, including claims by former Olympic gymnast Rachael Denhollander.
For 15 months after Nichols told USA Gymnastics of Nassar’s abuse, Nassar continued to treat and abuse young patients.
More of Nassar’s victims continued to come forward in the wake of The Indy Star’s investigation. Maggie Nichols’ mother, Gina, reached out to attorney John Manly, who was working with some of the survivors.
“She told me the story and told me her daughter had reported in June 2015,” Manly says in the documentary. “And then I knew exactly who I was dealing with. I was dealing with an organization that didn’t give a rat’s ass about children, that cared only about itself and that was covering up rape.”
Denhollander filed a criminal complaint against Nasser with Michigan State University on Aug. 29, 2016. Nassar was relieved of clinical and patient duties the next day and officially fired on Sept. 20 after MSU Police received two dozen complaints of sexual abuse.
Nassar is currently serving what amounts to a life sentence in prison.