Aly Raisman’s testimony in the Larry Nassar trial brings to light a disturbing issue for female athletes. The scariest part is the fact that all these women felt powerless to do anything when they were being abused. Aly Raisman said she felt like it was her fault that she did not feel comfortable around Larry Nassar and that he was not the problem, but she was. In her testimony, Raisman states, “You took advantage of our passions and our dreams. You made me uncomfortable and I thought you were weird. But I felt guilty because you were a doctor so I assumed I was the problem for thinking badly of you. I wouldn’t allow myself to believe that the problem was you. From the time we were little, we are taught to trust doctors.” These women were not given a voice as athletes, but Aly Raisman knew she needed to do something. They were just expected to do what they were told when it came to treatment and pretty much everything else in their lives. This is not only an issue in gymnastics, but women’s sports across the board. The men that are in charge of these sports do not give the women playing the sports a proper voice because they see them as employees only, not human first athlete second.
Another issue that was prevalent was the fact that no adults were listening to the athletes when they were talking about Larry Nassar. Raisman said in her testimony that the adults thought the kids were being overdramatic and taking things the wrong way when they met with Nassar. This then made the athletes perpetuate their personal blame for feeling uncomfortable, which allowed Nassar to continue what he was doing to them. As they are now, sports have an emphasis on male participation and males being the ones who run the sport. While there are a few women higher up in the ranks in gymnastics, volleyball, tennis, and soccer, there are not many women in football, basketball or baseball. Even softball is dominated by male coaches at a younger level, which can be troubling for some parents given recent events.
There are many more barriers for women than opportunities because sports are seen as something that is for males. Women’s sports are less televised and less talked about than men’s sports because they are not making the people at the top of the food chain as much money as their male counterparts. If you don’t believe me, turn on your tv any time after noon and compare the amount of men’s sports that are being televised to the women’s sports that are being televised.
The US Women’s National Soccer Team is an example of one of the few country’s sports that has a better women’s team than a men’s team. I’m not saying they’d win if the teams matched up, but the women have had more success than the men have recently. This has caused a boost in female participation in soccer, but there are still problems in soccer. The women’s team does not get paid as much as the men’s team does even though they’ve had more success. The system is broken and the only way it can get fixed across the board in sports is to get the corrupt people out. However, this is not how life goes and this will likely never happen. In every sport and every organization there is always going to be someone who is working to beat the system and if they have control of that system, the system will remain broken until someone has the courage to step up and do something about it. That’s exactly what Aly Raisman has done. She saw a broken system and saw that the only way to do so was to have the courage to speak out and inspire the other women that were affected by Larry Nassar to come forward and tell their stories as well.
Athletes can do some incredible things when faced with adversity. They are not only on-the-field entertainment for fans to consume, they are people too. When they aren’t playing the games we love watching, they are dealing with life and sometimes potentially really bad situations as we have seen inside the gymnastics world. For these women to speak out and feel that they have power and a voice is a step in the right direction, but sports are still incredibly far from being a good culture for women. This is a societal problem before a sports problem. Society has created norms about how women are supposed to act and what is expected of them and the men that run sports have carried those norms over into their everyday operations. These men let their high standing positions inflate their ego and they have used their power inappropriately. There are women on the board for gymnastics and they had little to nothing to say about all of this when it first came out. This is a problem because now these women are afraid to speak out for what they think is right, much like the athletes who were scared to speak out against Larry Nassar. In order for sports to have a more even playing field, society has to shift first.
Aly Raisman has done an incredible thing for women across the world. She showed us that no matter what bad experiences you go through in your life, you still have the power to do something about it. She shifted the victim narrative and now more and more women and people across the United States are coming out and speaking about their own sexual assault cases. This took way too long to happen, but Raisman really opened the floodgates for people to step up for themselves and use their words as a source of power. This is really something incredible to watch. As someone who loves sports, it really hurts me to see that things like the Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky cases are allowed to happen in a sports setting. Things like this are tragic when they happen in any setting and I’m glad the people that went through these terrible events are courageous enough to stand up for themselves and try to change the culture of not only sports, but society as well.
Pictured: David Ortiz and Aly Raisman