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In the midst of the stomach-turning Larry Nassar sentencing hearing, in which 105 of the more than 130 women and girls who have accused the former USA Gymnastics team physician of abuse are testifying, Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman is doing press. That is not in any way or form a judgment; it is merely a statement of fact. And as I sat across from Raisman at the sports facility Chelsea Piers in downtown Manhattan, I was impressed that even with the ugly swirl of unthinkable accusations she is currently caught up in, she was able to be as poised as she was — hands clasped in her lap, voice strong and unwavering — throughout our conversation, a conversation that was scheduled to be about Playtex Sport tampons and their mission to keep girls playing sports even during their periods.
Of course there were other things to discuss, and even when we were speaking about Playtex, it always felt as if we were speaking about something else. “I really think it’s important to normalize conversations that are uncomfortable to talk about,” Raisman said of her interest in sharing the importance of sports and periods. “Talk to your friends, talk to someone you trust — the more we can really begin to make those conversations not awkward, the happier we’ll be. We’re all similar — every woman, every girl gets their period— so let’s stick together. Let’s help each other out.”
Raisman, via her Twitter account, made clear why she is in New York and not at the sentencing hearing in Michigan. “I will not be attending the sentencing because it is too traumatic for me,” she wrote. “My impact letter will be read in court in front of Nassar. I support the brave survivors. We are all in this together.” Still, her absence from the hearing itself does not mean she is being silent on the issue, nor was she during our talk.
On Wednesday, Raisman spoke on ESPN’s Outside the Lines expressing her outrage at USA Gymnastics for defending Nassar over the gymnasts. She reiterated that outrage to Yahoo Lifestyle. “I’m still at a loss for words,” she said. “I can’t understand why he was protected for 30 years. There were so many brave girls and women that would come forward to report, and every adult chose to stick up for Larry over the young girls and women.”
She added, “I don’t know how people at USA Gymnastics or the USOC [United States Olympic Committee] or MSU [Michigan State University] sleep at night, or anyone who looked the other way. I have trouble sleeping at night thinking about how many other people are suffering in silence out there about their own stories of abuse. …
“I love gymnastics with all my heart,” Raisman said. “I’ve had so many incredible experiences in the sport; I’ve met so many incredible friends, I’ve traveled the world, I’ve gotten to compete at two Olympics and incredible competitions. Unfortunately, what my teammates and I had to go through to get there is unacceptable.”
Raisman also emphasized how important it is for her not to let Nassar’s actions taint her pride over her Olympic experience. “What happened is absolutely horrifying, but I separate that from my experience, my friendship with my teammates, and competing,” Raisman said of Nassar and the Olympics. “I have a really great relationship with my coaches, and when I think about the Olympics, I think about being on the floor with [my coach] and him crying because he was so proud of me, and being with my teammates and seeing my parents and my family in the stands. I really genuinely think about those two separately. It can be hard at times, but I talk about it, I see a therapist, I talk about it with my friends, and my parents, and my teammates.”
Still, she admitted, some days the separation between Nassar’s actions and her athletic achievement is not that clean-cut. “Some days, it is hard to realize that in order to achieve our dreams, that’s what happened to us,” she said. “It’s devastating.”
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