Simone Biles is one of the greatest athletes of our time. She’s the most decorated gymnast — male or female — ever. Several gymnastic moves have been named after her. At times, her talent even blows her own mind.
Biles has also come forward as a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar, a former doctor for the U.S. women’s national gymnastics team. The gymnast is currently a plaintiff in the sex abuse lawsuit against USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, as well.
In an interview for Vogue’s August 2020 issue, Biles opened up more about coming to terms with Nassar’s abuse, and the attempts by the USAG and USOPC to cover it up.
When she first learned about Larry Nassar’s abuse, “It didn’t feel like real life,” Biles told interviewer Abby Aguirre. She describes refusing to talk about the case with her family and going through periods of anxiety without understanding why.
After she moved out of her parents’ house, her mental health took a turn for the worse. “I was very depressed,” Biles said. “At one point I slept so much because, for me, it was the closest thing to death without harming myself. It was an escape from all of my thoughts, from the world, from what I was dealing with. It was a really dark time.”
One of the things that was so insidious about Nassar’s abuse was that he disguised it as medical treatments, so much so that some athletes’ parents were in the room when the abuse was taking place without realizing what was going on. In the Vogue interview, Biles was candid about not believing she was really a victim at first. “I felt like I wasn’t abused, because it wasn’t to the same extent as the other girls,” Biles said. She also described being afraid of letting down the public, who saw her as “perfect” and “America’s sweetheart,” by coming forward about her abuse.
Ultimately, though, hearing teammates such as Maggie Nichols come forward about their own experiences with Nassar helped her come to terms with hers. “I was reading Maggie’s coverage and it just hit me,” Biles said. “I was like, I’ve had the same treatments. I remember googling, like, sexually abused.”
In January 2018, Biles posted a statement on social media identifying herself as a victim of abuse. To Vogue, she described the experience as cathartic. She also said she hoped that sharing her story would help other survivors feel safer coming forward.
Biles has continued to be critical of USAG and USOPC, and in the interview said, “We can’t feel comfortable promoting our sport if we fear that something might happen like this again because they’re not doing their part.” The gymnast’s discomfort with USAG made the postponement of the Olympics — to July 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic — even more painful, since it means she has to deal with the organization for another year, Aguirre wrote. But as of now, she’s still planning on competing.
For Biles, Nichols, and other survivors of Nassar’s abuse to speak out against him and the people and organizations that were complicit is awe-inspiringly brave. But it’s also wrong to expect them to be solely responsible for pushing for accountability and change. Biles’s story illustrates how damaging sexual abuse can be. Unless they do the work required to uncover why it was allowed to go on for so long and to ensure something like this never happens again, the USAG and USOPC are placing a heavy and unacceptable burden on the backs of Nassar’s victims.
Early in the article, Aguirre describes attending a talk Biles was giving, during which she was asked whether she felt “obligated to stand up when something bad is going on in society.”
“Personally, for me, I don’t think of it as an obligation,” Biles responded, according to Aguirre. “I think of it as an honor to speak for the less fortunate and for the voiceless. I also feel like it gives them power.”
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.
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