Bear Witness

For local gymnastics coach, trust is key

Julia Marques da Silva, In-Depth Editor

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The testimony of more than 260 USA Gymnasts describing the sexual abuse they endured under disgraced former doctor Larry Nassar shocked senior Emily Nakken, a gymnast of seven years and now a gymnastics coach.

“I felt sick to my stomach,” Nakken said. “It is so disgusting to think that someone took advantage of their job to please themselves.”

Nassar, who until 2015 treated athletes at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas and at Michigan State, is the most public figure in the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal, in which over 360 individuals have accused coaches, gym owners and staff around the country of sexual assault. Among the accusers are Olympians Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber, who became gold medalists during the abuse at 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

The systemic failures in oversight have resulted in the resignations of USA Gymnastics board of directors, and other institutions involved in the scandal are facing similar pressure.

“USA Gymnastics is the foundation of gymnastics, and they overlooked such a horrible crime,” Nakken said. “I can’t imagine what those girls went through. Someone they put so much trust in, failed them so horribly.”

Nakken, said she is grateful to have had good relationships with her coaches, adding that the sport is built on trust of both the athlete and coaches.

“I trust them with my life,” she said.

Other gymnasts at Branham shared Nakken’s shock. Sophomore Rachel Ross, a gymnast for 10 years, said that USA Gymnastics has endangered many of their athletes, despite being recognized as a trustworthy and professional organization.

Junior Allie Yusim, also a gymnast of 10 years, has changed her view on the organization.

“I used to think of the elite gymnastics as this perfect place, but this opened my eyes to how dark and twisted it is,” Yusim said.

As a result of the scandal, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has introduced a bill that would require Olympic sports officials, including USA Gymnastics, to report accusations of misconduct immediately with law enforcement.

As the gymnastics coaching community is reeling in the wake of the scandal, Nakken, as a coach, still hopes to inspire her students, and strives to be more aware of what goes on in her classes.

“If I see something sort of strange, I make sure I take note,” she said. “I take a lot of responsibility in keeping all my gymnasts safe. I would never want to see anything like that happen again.”

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For local gymnastics coach, trust is key