You've seen 'Athlete A.' How do you watch Olympic gymnastics now?

Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

How do we celebrate the accomplishments of elite gymnasts now, knowing that many of them went through abuse to achieve success?

Denhollander: I think that's a very difficult question. With my own children, I focus a lot on the athletes who have engaged in advocacy -- where their hard work has not played out just in gymnastics. I talk about Jen or Dominique Moceanu or Aly Raisman. They work really hard, but it's so amazing that they really care about the people around them. For Jen and Dominique, in particular, the reality was that they loved gymnastics but had to give it up because of their advocacy. It cost them a lot -- their reputations, endorsements, financial gain -- because they told the truth. Gymnastics is beautiful, but it is not more important than doing right. I want my kids to see athletes with a well-rounded view of personhood.

Cohen: I think if you asked Kerri Strug today, would she stand by her decision to run down that runway and do a vault and win a gold medal even with a broken ankle? I think she would say yes. But how do you separate that from if she knows what she wants to do, because of all the years she's been told what to do? It's a very hard thing to parse out psychologically. There are sacrifices to be made. I think we can all agree that sexual assault should not be on the menu. But what other sacrifices are tenable and could be considered necessary, depending on what coach you're talking to, to get to that end? I think that's a very nuanced conversation.

Is there a way to ethically watch Olympic gymnastics?

Denhollander: I think if you're honest about what is taking place and simultaneously pushing for change, yes. Let's celebrate the athletes, but not support, justify or minimize abuse.

Cohen: Our hope is that (since) the Olympics aren't happening this year, and this summer, I think people are going to be thinking about what it means to have a perspective shift. It would be our hope that people will tune in and watch this so that they can still see the glory of the sport through this more difficult lens, and maybe come out of it being somewhat entertained but with a different perspective.


Sey: Most people don't think about gymnastics except when they watch it every four years during the Olympics. I don't have any misapprehensions that people are going to watch the film and suddenly everything will change. This culture is deeply embedded, and cultural change takes a long time. But if it puts pressure on USA Gymnastics to make more changes -- calling for an independent investigation into what has actually happened -- I think that's important.

Would you let your kids partake in gymnastics?

Denhollander: They do and will not participate in USA Gymnastics until they clean up their act a little more. By and large, my experience with the sport itself was very good and I learned a great deal. I would love for my girls to have that experience, but I have to be able to trust the people.

Cohen: If it were my kid, I wouldn't be sending them to the gym. I don't know what kind of certification process the coaches of that gym may have been put through. There are no regulations that are in place. In the Catholic Church, you send your kids to Sunday school and don't know much about the background of the priest. You don't get a master's in coaching and present that to get into a gym. There isn't a system in place. As a parent, until I can understand what kind of system is in place to prevent those possibilities, I wouldn't send my kid to the gym.


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