The Continued Abuse of Gymnasts Calls for Better Protocols to Protect Young Athletes



After the scandal involving Larry Nassar — a USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor who sexually abused gymnasts for years before being caught — swept through the gymnastics community, its members assumed that an end had been put to the abuse of gymnasts. However, Maggie Haney, coach of Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez and elite gymnast Riley McCusker, was just suspended for eight years after being accused of verbally and emotionally abusing her gymnasts, as reported by CNN on April 30. This means that for the past two Olympic games, every single athlete from the women’s gymnastics team was abused in some way.

Maggie Haney is yet another strike for USA Gymnastics’ inability to protect its gymnasts, making me question the ability of other professional sports organizations to protect their younger and college-level athletes as well. The fact that Haney and Nassar got away with abusing young gymnasts for years makes me question if people in other sports are also getting away with said actions. 

Strict protocols need to be put into place to help protect athletes who can’t protect themselves, speak up for themselves or might not even understand what is happening to them. In an interview with the New York Times this past week, Hernandez said that the emotional abuse was “so twisted that [she] thought it couldn’t be real.” Could you even imagine being emotionally abused so badly that you thought it wasn’t even real? Well, that is the sad reality that gymnasts such as Hernandez faced, and that countless other young athletes could be facing right now. 

The gymnastics community has been hit hard in the past several years with abuse scandals and I believe it is more than possible that there are scandals like these happening in other sporting communities that have yet to come to light. Therefore, action needs to be taken now to prevent more young athletes from getting hurt. 

I know athletes who have played or competed while injured or didn’t even speak up about their injuries because of fear of their coaches — this should not be acceptable. I was lucky enough to have a great experience competing for my gymnastics team, but many gymnasts — and I’m sure other athletes — have not been as lucky. Sure they may have been skilled in their sport and won a ton of games or meets, but at what cost? Although Hernandez is an Olympic gold medalist, she still has scars left behind from her abusive coach.

Sports are meant to be fun for athletes, especially while they’re young. They are not meant to leave scars in their wake that will never fully heal. If these are the types of situations that the sports community is leaving young athletes, there needs to be a change. 

Who’s to say when the next scandal dealing with young athletes will come to light? Maybe putting stricter protocols in place to protect young athletes will help ensure nothing of this magnitude will happen again.