Dear Lynn Raisman,
That interview blew us away. Not just Aly demanding to know why USA Gym continues to let her down, but the face-to-face with you… Sixty Minutes in your kitchen, millions of Americans peering at you as TV guests in your home, and you were so matter-of-fact. There was no rage there, no clawing at the camera demanding blood for what that man did to your daughter.
Where did you bury it? What little lockbox in your brain was holding all those thoughts in there, just for safekeeping? You had to stay proper. It was an interview, and you had to be honest, but you were still the hostess. And you’re still… well… you’re Lynn Raisman. You’re that lady…
“I would never in a million years,” you said, “think to ask if someone is in the room with the doctor who is examining my daughter.”
That’s the problem. Neither did anyone else. Not even the people you trusted implicitly, the people who put that two-adults-in-the-room rule in effect in the first place. Nobody asked. Doctor will see you now. Alone.
A year and a half ago, while our Olympic cups overflowed with your joy and we connected once again with you and your husband and Aly and the Final Five and our fellow Americans, and we all felt so good about ourselves, and on the Today Show they showed that video of you, and Matt Lauer — Matt Lauer, for God’s sake — joyfully spouted and blathered and read tweets and hashtags about the Raismans being gold medal parents, and all the cohosts laughed their smarmy good-morning laughs with all of us, meanwhile, in between all the gold medal routines and hidden behind the veil of our nation’s giddy pounding hearts, the athletes on the floor that day were still recovering in silence and shame because a guy named Larry Nassar had spent 30 years playing doctor with young gymnasts, and he… well, Aly won’t tell us exactly. Not on Sixty Minutes.
But Aly doesn’t need to tell us. The depositions and public statements from dozens of her teammates and fellow gymnasts going back decades tell us the disgusting details. Candy, goodies, special treatment, and friendship. Ungloved fingers. Pointless intrusive exams. Nighttime medically necessary massage treatments of underage girls in their hotel rooms. Digital penetration. All part of the medical procedure, he said. To make you feel better, he said.
Lynn, you had to keep a lid on it, didn’t you? All that rage for your daughter and Nassar’s hundreds of other alleged victims. You had to be presentable for Sixty Minutes. You had to make your case, rationally and sensibly, for the camera.
But you did have a little David Banner going, didn’t you?
Don’t make me angry, USAGym. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…
…and now you’re angry. And you can be damn sure USAGym doesn’t like you now.
In your Hulk moment, now you rage on Twitter and in the news and to whoever will listen, while USAGym denies any culpability. And you rail at Michigan State, facing potentially a billion, with a b, dollars in liability, as they throw up their hands and say “how could we have known?”
You retweet a post about Nassar’s grooming being enabled by an authoritarian regime at USAGym.
You demand accountability from USAGym, you ridicule their statements of how much they care about their athletes, you’re in their face wondering why the whole damn lot running the show hasn’t been fired or stepped down in shame.
You are on a roll, and this writer gets the feeling you’re not stopping until meaningful and lasting changes are made. This writer wishes for you all the courage and strength of will to batter down all the resistance and attempts to discredit you on your mission.
It’s hard to verbalize the brutal depth of anger this writer feels right now. Not just toward Nassar. This anger is deeper. What about the people and institutions that made these girls so vulnerable to being molested in the first place?
Gymnasts were told they were lucky to be treated by Nassar, because he’s, y’know, the best, right? When the hell were those girls ever lucky enough to have another adult in the room like the rules said? Never.
Twenty years ago, here in my little town, a man named Coach Andy King was sowing the seeds of change in USA Swimming by serially molesting girls on our swim team. Complaints trickled in about 13-year-olds sitting on his lap at swim meets, about unchaperoned road trips, about closed-door weigh-ins. About a professional swim coach sending these little girls flowers and taking them on “pretend dates.” The complaints were hushed. The complainers were told, and Lynn, you know what’s coming here…
“We’re so lucky to have a man of his stature, a coach like him, here in our podunk little town… don’t say anything…”
That’s right, that’s what they said. They said our little girls were lucky. Just like your gym girls were lucky. Adults and their institutions failed those girls, out of devotion to winning and out of rock solid refusal to confront the abuse that was right in front of them.
When King finally went to prison and lawsuits piled up all across the land from USA Swimming HQ all the way to our little pool, change started to happen.
But while changes at USAS like Safesport and two-up leadership and open practices and restrictions on touching sounded great on paper, like yeah this will never happen again, those changes only happened under threat of huge lawsuits and massive liability.
And if policies like that aren’t enforced, they’re just lip service, another forgotten set of obtuse rules lying in somebody’s file cabinet at the home office.
In that race to glory, in our desperate need to trust and believe that those in charge of our young athletes have their best interests at heart, we all — parents, coaches, Americans watching and cheering and laughing with the Today Show crew every four years — better just take this chance right now to put our foot down and throw up a brick wall stop sign that says:
Wake up. We’re watching you. We trusted you and you let us down. No more. We will protect our children.
Dear Aly’s mom, if this writer can guess, damn right you are angry. You’re not just angry, you’re filled with rage and guilt that you didn’t see this coming. You feel powerless against the gold medal machine and the groupthink naiveté that fuels it.
But you will keep going. You will find courage. And you will win because you’re not alone.