Sunday, January 21, 2018

Nassar is a vile symptom of the diseased culture of USA Gymnastics

USA Gymnastics (USAG) finds itself mired in the worst sexual abuse scandal in American sports history. Over 140 gymnasts claim that former US Olympic and National Team doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment. Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Jordyn Weiber are among the army of women who have come forward.

After months of denials, Nassar plead guilty to first degree criminal sexual conduct. Asserting that he was performing legitimate and necessary medical care, he inserted his hands into young athletes’ vaginas and anuses; some girls were as young as 9 years old. Without guardians present, without gloves, without request or consent, Nassar violated these gymnasts repeatedly over the course of their athletic careers. He gained their trust as a friendly ear in an otherwise hostile training environment. He listened to them, brought them food when they were hungry, feigned friendship. He abused that trust again and again as these athletes sought only to pursue their dreams of national team berths and Olympic medals.

Nassar has admitted to the molestation of ten athletes but well over 100 gave victim statements this past week in Lansing, Michigan during the sentencing hearing. He’s already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography. He will be sentenced for the criminal sexual assault this week and will undoubtedly spend the rest of his life in prison.

Justice for Nassar will be served. But there is danger is in assuming that we have a one guy problem. That with Nassar locked up, the issue of serial sexual abuse in gymnastics goes away and the sport is now safe, the girls protected from predators.  Because amidst the early allegations that Nassar was serially abusing National Team members, the Indy Star newspaper reported on the chronic mishandling of reports of abuse against coaches and staff on the part of USAG.  And, as Juliet Macur from the NYT writes, the blatant failure on the part of USAG to protect young athletes, requires the most drastic action - decertification by the USOC. She calls it the “nuclear option”, one that is required when a dereliction of duty to protect children is so complete, so craven.

I competed in gymnastics in the 1980s. I was the National Champion in 1986. I bore witness to physical and emotional abuse since I started the sport in the 1970s. And, even as a child, I was vaguely aware of the threat of sexual abuse in gymnastics circles. As I matured, I became all too aware that this was happening in the places that I trained, to my friends, to my teammates. But I was still a kid, I didn’t know what to say or who to say it to. It seemed all the adults colluded to keep those in power in power.

As an adult, I’ve not been quiet. In 2008 I wrote a book called Chalked Up detailing the physical and emotional abuse so prevalent in the sport. And the sexual abuse that can occur when a powerful coach finds a young girl who wants nothing more than to find herself in his favor, so that she can pursue her dream.

I was forced to train on broken bones, denied food and humiliated for my weight. I was called fat, lazy and pathetic. I watched chairs hurled across the gym at my teammates when a vault was not performed perfectly.  I learned to duck and stay quiet. I know what abuse feels like. And I know that when you are treated as such, you begin to accept this behavior as normal. And you are likely to accept far worse as you come to see yourself as deserving of it. If you can’t take it, you’re weak. You don’t want to win. You’re lazy. It becomes necessary to endure it to fulfill your aspirations.  

The community has accepted abuse as the price you pay to be successful. And these athletes are minors. These aren’t young women. They are kids entrusted to coaches and doctors to become champions, and abused with no oversight. And it has been happening for decades.

In 1978, Marcia Frederick was the first American woman to win a gold medal at World Championships. She triumphed on the uneven bars, an unknown American going up against Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast to score a perfect 10.0.

At the 1979 World Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, Frederick walked on to the competition floor feeling utterly overwhelmed and filled with dread. Just two hours before she stepped out to represent her country, she says her coach, Richard Carlson forced her to perform oral sex on him. As the competition was about to begin, all she could think about was whether the same thing would happen again that night after the meet was over. She ended up losing her uneven bar title, placing 6th, rattled and unable to focus. When she went home, the abuse continued.

"It was sometimes every day, twice a day, could be once a week, could be in the bedroom. If we traveled to competitions. In cars, at competitions, in hotels, everywhere, all the time. And for me it was just this is how this person wants us to be so we're closer and I just did it," says Marcia. 

After two years of suffering through the assaults, which began just weeks after she turned 16, she told her mother and another coach. “The reactions I got were none. No emotion, no reaction whatsoever.

Despite all that she endured at the hands of Carlson, it’s the responses from the people that were supposed to protect her that have caused her the most suffering. “It’s everybody’s reaction or non-reaction for lack of a better word. That’s what changed my life. I don’t trust anybody. Everybody’s at an arm’s length.”

In 1981 Jessica Armstrong became the Junior Elite National Champion. She says she was groomed for abuse by a coach in her gym who made her desirous of his attention and willing to do almost anything to avoid his wrath. He complimented her on her appearance, then told her she needed a bra. She says he found ways to be alone with her, drove her to practice. She described the abuse as starting slowly, with fondling, but escalating over time. Eventually, he invited her to his apartment and asked her to perform sexual acts on him. He penetrated her with his fingers. He was controlling and his anger made a day in the gym unbearable. She was willing to do anything to avoid the silent treatment.

I remember feeling like this was part of what I had to put up with in order to be great. And I remember feeling that no one believed me or was willing to put themselves out to protect me. I ended up feeling very ashamed about my body and sexuality. My confidence was battered for a long time. But I take heart in the fact that I did my best to warn others. I warned them to stay away.”

In 1986 Doe Yamashiro was a 16-year-old aspiring Olympian from California. A high-ranking member of the National Team, she was considered a contender for a berth on the 1988 team. She travelled to the east coast for a competition and struggled during the meet. Her personal coach, Don Peters, was also the National Team Coach at the time. He summoned her to his room after the competition and she assumed she would be berated for her performance. But it was worse. She says he began fondling her that night when she was 16 and had sexual intercourse with her against her will when she was 17.

In 2011 Doe came forward to the USAG and told them her story. After what she says felt like discouragement from the USAG, she went to the press. She wanted to make sure that her coach never had the opportunity to abuse athletes again. And she knew he was still actively coaching. Her story was published in the Orange County Register and her coach was banned from the sport for life and removed from the sport’s Hall of Fame after an internal investigation by USAG. He did not contest the ban.

Doe only realized the depth of what had happened to her last year, at the age of 47. "So you have this thing you're doing daily that is risking your life and you have this coach who is spotting you and supposedly keeping you alive," Yamashiro said. "So it just gets really twisted, the whole thing, it gets twisted up."

All these years, she’s grieved, endured shame and depression, and only now, is she starting to rebuild her confidence. “Standing up against abuse takes its power over us away. The first step is speaking up,” Doe says.

Jamie Dantzscher, a 2003 Olympic medalist, was the first prominent athlete to come forward about Nassar. She asserts that he ‘treated’ her back pain by inserting his ungloved hand into her vagina. She says it started when she was 13 and continued until she was 19. When she found the confidence and courage to come forward nearly 2 decades after the abuse ended, she was met with disbelief from her own community. In her victim statement in Lansing, Michigan at the sentencing hearing she said, “When I came forward in August 2016, I was attacked on social media. People did not believe me. They believed him. Even people I thought were my friends. They called me a liar, a whore and even accused me of making all of this up just to get attention. Even USA Gymnastics psychologist Ali Arnold was campaigning for positive Larry Nassar stories all over social media to try to discount my accusation. Instead of backing down, I continue to speak.”

In March 2017, Dantzscher testified before Congress about the abuse. On November 14, 2017 the Senate passed the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act which requires amateur athletics governing bodies to report sex-abuse allegations immediately to local or federal law enforcement.  

And now, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas have made their powerful claims. Maroney says she was given sleeping pills by Nassar at the 2011 World Championships when she was 15, only to wake up alone with him in a hotel room getting a “treatment”.

How many people had to look the other way for this to go on for so many years? The USAG in its current form cannot be entrusted to change this culture that they’ve overseen for decades even with a new law pending that requires that they report sex abuse allegations. It needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, the culture reinvented to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.

Proctor and Gamble and Kellog’s have ended their sponsorships of USAG amidst the scandal. Meanwhile, USAG has claimed no responsibility for the health and safety of these athletes as a response to the lawsuits filed against them by the victims.

Nassar is the tip of the iceberg. Abuse is so endemic to the sport it almost goes unnoticed. These athletes come to master their sport by handing themselves over to the coaches. They learn to tolerate physical and emotional pain in service of their dreams.  The line blurs and it isn’t clear when things go from tough coaching to downright abuse. But they do. And now these athletes are shouting #ustoo.

In her victim statement, Aly Raisman roared for them all: “You know what, Larry? I have both power and voice and I am only just beginning to use them. All of these brave women have power and we will use our voices to make sure you get what you deserve.”

These brave women deserve real action, real change. No gold medal is worth a lifetime of shame, suffering and crippling self-doubt.  The culture that allowed this abuse to go unreported and undetected for decades must come to an end.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Parental Visit

Parents worry. It's what we do. They do. I saw mine last night in NY for dinner. We were celebrating my mom's 70th birthday. It's been a while since we've all been together. Their visits have waned of late. Not sure why. A minor tiff with my brother? Wanting to be asked more? Just busy? Not 100% sure really. And of course, I haven't exactly made the effort to get back to Philadelphia lately with my kids. In between all the work travel, getting on a plane to use up well earned vacation days in Philly is not my idea of a good time. We went to Maui instead. I'd invited my mom but she declined. It's a long flight. I can't leave your father for that long. Blah blah blah. It's Hawaii! C'mon!

Dinner was nice. We talked politics. They've become more staunchly liberal in hating Mr. Romney; in the face of Mr. Mormon their love of Obama has grown. Mine too. They are disgusted by the rampant and palpable racism that seems to drive Republican pundits' hatred of the President (go Mom and Dad!) They are proud in their non-racism, proud (as they should be) to defend a smart black man who looks a heck of a lot like their grandkids will when they grow up.

We also talked about Sandusky (ew...bad dude) and the relationship between THAT pedophile and the ones from my own sport. Did we have any culpability in not turning them in? Yes. I'd say so. I was a kid bordering on adulthood. I wish I'd done more.

We talked about movies. (See Argo, don't see The Master.)

Most notably they welled with tears upon my just sitting down at the table. It's been too long. I am happy. There are developments in my life - love, primarily - that they haven't appropriately shared in but are thrilled about nonetheless. They were clearly worried about me before; and maybe aren't so much anymore. I have someone that will take care of my heart. What parent doesn't want that for their kid?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

To Share or Not To Share

I've always been kind of a sharer. Perhaps an over-sharer - with my friends at least. And I suppose even with strangers. I will admit I'm not always the best at sharing with my partner (hate that word but can't locate another at the moment). That's not what this is about though. More on that in another post. Suffice it to say there are a whole host of reasons why sharing in love has become quite difficult for me though I am fighting like hell to reveal my most over-sharing transparent self in my relationship. Back to my point...

Privacy has never been a major concern. It's just not something I think about a ton. I don't mind not having much of it. I give up a great deal of it willingly, every day. When I was writing my book there were more than a few moments when I took pause and said to myself: I probably shouldn't share this. It's humiliating... or It's ugly. Not a side of myself I want to show.

But I came to the conclusion that the ugliest parts, the most shameful bits, were the parts that I most had to lean into. To share with the most honesty. I find salvation, communion when others share their darkest moments. I inhale memoirs to find these tidbits. It is in Mary Karr's Lit or Caroline Knapp's Drinking A Love Story (despite this list I don't actually have a drinking problem) or listening to Brene Brown talk about her own battles with shame that I find connection. And I feel less ashamed. Less alone. So I figure if I can do this, others who read what I write (no matter how few) will connect and their own shame may dissipate. And I write about personal stuff because it helps to dissolve my own gut ripping self-reproach and gloom. It's as if the air hitting the words diminishes the sharpness of the thing itself.

And so it's just become second nature. To share. To over share. I've paused at times and thought to myself: can this put me in a bad position professionally? Perhaps. The people I work with, for, near may not think highly of a serial blabbermouth. But I said to myself long ago, if anyone wants to banish me for attempting to become a half way not shitty writer, for revealing things that matter to me, that hurt me, that make me joyful, then I suppose I need to rethink my profession. If writing stuff is as important to me as my career, then I should be able to do both at the same time. And I am oh so grateful that I have been afforded that opportunity.

As I was talking to a colleague the other day she was telling me she'd quit Facebook due to privacy concerns. She didn't want work friends friending her. She didn't want everyone knowing everything. She didn't want Facebook knowing everything. I get it. But it's so not me. I stopped in my tracks for a moment to rethink my approach. Am I crazy? Where are my boundaries? What kind of narcissistic exhibitionist puts it all out there, all the time?

I suppose I'll regret it one day - and I have at times when I've "over-shared" something that wasn't necessarily mine to share - but I think any regret will be minor and fairly recoverable. It's a purposeful choice to live my life in this way, to share my thoughts to dissipate the shame. And it works for me.

I'm not talking about posting pictures on Facebook. Who cares. I like to post them so my mom can see what's happening with my kids. I'm talking about sharing all the icky stuff. The sheer panic of being alone for the first time in my adult life. The desperate loneliness of not seeing my kids from Sunday to Tuesday and being terrified they will never want to return to me. The nearly intolerable blackness that overwhelms upon ending a marriage despite knowing it's the right thing to do. The piercing self-disgust of knowing I didn't do it in the right way, if there can be one. Writing about all this stuff makes it a little less hard. A little less frenzied and frantic and devastating and miserable.

Upon thinking this through - again - I feel reaffirmed in this choice for myself. And I find myself in a bit of a conundrum as I embark on a new life with someone who values his privacy, our privacy above most things. I love that he feels this way. He cherishes the moments we have as ours and ours alone. But I find myself at a loss for words as I sit down here now because I don't want to violate his sense of privacy to share my own happy, my own angst, my own anything because what's mine is ours now. But I still want to share. Something.

I will re-navigate these waters. I will find the right balance. I won't violate his trust. But I will find a way to use this approach that works for me, this telegraphing of emotion to free myself of humiliation and remorse, this sharing that softens the edges of my own dark moments, this self-centered amplification of my joy... I'll work it out. We'll work it out. Together we will balance his need for privacy with my chronic urgent compulsion to blab.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


This past weekend was my 20th college reunion. At the risk of sounding, well - like everyone, I can't believe college happened 20 years ago. I've been to every reunion so far seeing as I live fairly close to campus. A quick 40 minute drive provides no reason NOT to go. And I loved college. For me, college was a turning point. It was for many, I know. But for me, it was the first time I was not a gymnast. I met people with varied interests. I was perceived as someone who could do things other than flip. I developed an identity that would be more me than the one I already had.

I loved seeing everyone this weekend. I've stayed in touch with many friends since then. But we are never all together. What a treat.

I still consider the friends I made at Stanford some of my best. I was privileged to have met some of the most interesting people I know, to this day. Smart, ambitious, kind, funny. June who runs the Ted Conference. Alex who writes New Yorker cartoons and other more widely seen and read commercial things. What a group!

And what luck that they let me in to this bastion of intellectual endeavor (the #1 university the year I was admitted), in all likelihood because I was good at doing tricks on the balance beam. Not that kind of tricks. A more altogether useless kind.

I waited every day to be found out. To be identified as the mistake. To have some official come knocking at my door and say: I'm sorry. We're going to have to ask you to leave. You are simply not smart enough to be here. Somehow I escaped that fate by secretly studying when everyone else (in the Humanities) seemed to skate by. People in pre-Med studied. People in Engineering studied. But not people in Communications (what's that?!) or Political Science (my two inauspicious majors - I added a second out of sheer fear of being lame).

The Tuesday night before the weekend of the reunion I saw my first Stanford friend - Lance. He lived in my freshman dorm. We became friends fast. We dated. He came out. It set me up for a life of falling for gay men. We're still friends. Though Lance is the type that is friends with EVERYONE so it is always hard to know where you stand. Am I an acquaintance? Am I the BFF? Does it matter?

Here's us with the (my) boyfriend:

Daniel, the boyfriend, is the brother of a fellow Stanford-ite. My class. He came with me to all the festivities perhaps thinking that there might be a person or two he'd know from having visited. That turned out to not really be true but he was a good sport, smiled and met everyone. And read a book when it all got too boring. I can't imagine how boring it was to watch me ... "Hi! [hug] How are you? Where do you live these days? How many kids? Ok I see _______! Gotta go!" But he did it. With a smile.

This guy is a keeper. As everyone noted.

I spent Friday night and most of Saturday with "my girls". We talked, we laughed, we made a little fun. We investigated the passings of the short list of those identified as no longer with us. Not uncommonly, I suppose, a large percentage of the deceased died by suicide. I guess at this age, what could still be considered "early death", accidents and suicides are often the cause.

We were grateful to all be together. They loved Daniel, of course. And this part - the more intimate part with "the girls" - was conceivably less boring for him as these ladies know his brother. We were "of a group" - one of the ladies having actually dated the brother. Yes it's all very weird. But makes sense in a karmic kind of way.

There were many locals in attendance. We promised to hang out soon. We may. We may not. I will inevitably continue to see the ones I see and talk to already. Sweet Rae. June of Ted fame. Lance, my first gay. Fraize, when I visit Chicago which I assume will happen more now (more than never) as Daniel's parents live there.

I have no grand point to make here other than to say I love my friends. Stanford provided me with the opportunity to meet some truly remarkable people. I'm honored that they let me in and that these fine folks have opted to stay friends with me through thick and thin.

On a side note, divorce was not an uncommon theme at this reunion. I suppose it's the time. Many married in their early thirties. We're in our early forties. Ten years? If it's not gonna work it is time to call it. The admission was often met with an almost congratulatory tone. The tone of those that know that marriage can be hard. And sometimes it's too hard for it to be right or worth it. I'm in awe of those who still make it work. Good pickin'.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

So Long Olympics

I thought I'd have something to say about the Olympics. But I don't. I strained to find something to say. I watched. The Fab Five were Fab. McKayley Maroney should have behaved better but she didn't. She's just a kid. Oh well. I have no issue with the Flying Squirrel's hair. Who cares about her hair? She defies gravity. I have no beef with Usain Bolt for his perceived arrogance or confidence or misguided means of celebrating. Whatever it is.

They are athletes. They have superior physical capabilities. Sometimes the foolish ones come to believe they are superior humans but they learn with time. The humble ones are grateful and will go on to do interesting things beyond athletics, lead fulfilling interesting lives. Some will struggle to find out what's next. Some will capitalize on their star stature. Most won't because there won't be anything to capitalize on. "I went to the Olympics for archery." ; "Oh" ; "Yeah"... doesn't get you much really. Though it should always bring a tremendous sense of pride. And I suppose it will.

I don't think they're heroes. I don't think they make history as is oft uttered by the commentators. (Except maybe those two black power track guys from back in the day.)

Tommie Smith and John Carlos
at the '68 Olympics

They have remarkable physical aptitudes, unrelenting tenacity, endurance beyond what most can fathom. The ones that win, the ones that don't. Even the ones that don't make the Olympics but almost do. What's truly intriguing to consider is what they will do with that perseverance beyond athletics. Anything? I hope so.

They are exceptional athletes. No more. No less. I do love to watch them. I marvel at their grace, strength, persistence and sheer gutsiness.

The closing ceremonies are utterly unwatchable. I'm going to do something productive instead.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Bye bye Khakis

I've been in Mexico City for the last two days with my friends and teammates from Dockers. We've made a habit of having these once a year, get the whole team together sessions and we plan our marketing activities for the upcoming year. Blah blah. Boring work talk.

So this was my third one. The first one was in Madrid and I was moving out of the house I shared with my husband and children upon my return to San Francisco. It was a contentious meeting and I had a horrific experience waiting for me at home. A life altering, sad, devastating cluster fuck. My husband and I would have to tell our children that their parents weren't going to be together anymore, I would have to pack up my shit, I would have to leave the apartment I'd lived in for 8 years and a man I'd lived with for just about 15. Needless to say, that meeting was fairly brutal.

The second one was in NY. We worked better together as a team. I had a year of single-hood under my belt so I didn't feel like crying all the time. We had some fun.

And now the third. I'm happy and in love. These people, this team...they are my friends. They are being recognized in the organization for having done great work and operating like a team. And we got done what we had to for the week in a collaborative manner. We challenged each other but never dismissed each other. We worked quickly but in a well informed smart way. And they wished me farewell (see picture of my gift below) as I move on to my next endeavor.

I'm feeling corny and sentimental! I love these people! And I think, in the words of Sally Field, "You like me. You really like me!"  Unless, of course, they are blowing smoke up my ass which is absolutely a possibility but I'm going to choose to believe that that is not the case.

Goodbye Dockers. Hello internet. I will miss khakis and wearing the pants. Though I'll still be here at Levi Strauss and Company - going on my 14th year!

What a lovely place to find myself. Embraced by my work family. Having done a lot of hard work - both professionally and personally. That has paid off.

Happy girl.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Not terribly active these days on the writing front. I was just about to sit down and write "I'm taking a break from this thing for a bit so I can stop feeling guilty that I'm not writing anything". But then I peeked at the "stats" - something I don't do all that often - and it appears there are people that actually read this. Which I find flabbergasting. But reason enough, perhaps, to try to write something now and again.

I'm a tad torn about continuing for a few reasons:

  1. I started writing this because I was in a death spiral of doom, hence the sub-title by way of explanation: "a don't panic log". At my most anxious and sad and desperate, I found if I wrote down how I was feeling it dissipated enough to muddle through. It was my friend Kristin that suggested this approach and she was right. I could have just gotten a journal, I suppose. But the act of admitting shame and sadness publicly, for me, is what helps normalize it. Keeping it to myself just doesn't work as well. Somehow giving it air brings it down in intensity a notch effectively diffusing the angst and despair. 
  2. I'm no longer in a death spiral of doom. So perhaps the need to do this is no longer there. But maybe I can just make it about something else? Like happiness? Which surely will ebb and flow. 
  3. I say things that are private. Which, when they're just about me is fine. But when they involve other people ... it is not so fine. And I've botched this line on more than one occasion and hurt people I care about. So given that it seems I'm a little unclear on the line (I'm learning), maybe I should just hit pause.
  4. There are people reading this that I had no idea would ever even care. There are people I work with that have referenced it in passing. What? Goodness. Embarrassing. But perhaps OK. I said to myself when I started (thinking no one would ever read it except Kristin who suggested it) that if anything I wrote about got me in trouble at work then that probably wasn't the place for me to work anymore. I don't write about work stuff that is confidential or even sensitive. So why should they care if I write about stuff that is personally confidential and sensitive? Seems to me it isn't their business. And they don't care. Whew. All of that said, it is a little disconcerting to think about colleagues that I sit in status meetings with and do power point presentations to reading the sex entry I wrote a few months back (and have since taken down for a whole host of reasons). Alas... I'm pretty OK with it. 
I'll ponder this for a moment. I'll likely continue as at the very least it keeps my mind limber in a way that my real work does not. The more I write the more I write, I guess. 

And of course, there are these Olympics to comment on...