Culture of pain: inside the greatest abuse scandal in the ...


Culture of pain: inside the greatest abuse scandal in the history of sport

Netflix documentary about Larry Nassar uncovers a terrifying history of abuse in the US gymnastics squad

Tim Robey

Survivors – not victims. This is the way the one-time gymnasts featured in Athlete A describe themselves. Netflix has recent form in gaining a wide audience for these documentaries about sex abuse – the four-part series Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich was, for several weeks of lockdown, the most-watched programme across the whole platform.

Athlete A, their next exposé, is a feature-length account of how young girls were lured into the clutches of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who has been convicted so far on 10 counts of assault and sentenced to a total prison time of 360 years. Nassar’s crimes were far from a one-man operation. The film details the culture within the national team that made his predations possible, hid them under the bonnet for years, and continued to cover them up even after the Indianapolis Star began reporting on the accusations.

In 2015, national team member Maggie Nichols was the first to come forward. Sixteen at the time, she won a gold medal that year in the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, and was considered a strong contender for the 2016 Olympics team. It became the worst year of her life. Not only did a torn meniscus steal away her momentum, but the treatments she’d been receiving from Nassar – who was the only adult member of the organisation the girls found kind or approachable – started raising red flags...

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