McKayla Maroney told a top USA Gymnastics coach in 2011 that she was being sexually assaulted by disgraced former team physician Larry Nassar — and was essentially ignored, she said in a television interview that aired Sunday.
Nassar was arrested in 2016, after a former gymnast came forward to publicly accuse him of abuse, and he was sentenced this year to up to 175 years in prison after getting a separate 60-year sentence for child pornography. USAG has come under fire for having been told of the former team physician’s abuse of other athletes in 2015 and allegedly being slow to alert law enforcement, as well as for allegedly working to keep victims quiet.
And Maroney told NBC’s “Dateline” that Nassar could have, and should have, been stopped much sooner. According to Maroney, after two years of abuse that started when she was 13 — which would eventually become “hundreds” of episodes — he went “overboard” while they were with Team USA at the 2011 world championships in Tokyo.
“I was bawling, naked, on a bed, him on top of me,” Maroney, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, according to a transcript of the interview. “And I thought I was going to die.”
The NBC News program also featured comments from Martha and Bela Karolyi, the longtime gymnastics coaches who ran an elite camp in Texas where Nassar had unusual access to young athletes and committed many of his abuses. Breaking a public silence, the Karolyis denied having any idea of his predatory behavior, saying they “never” heard “one single complaint” about him.
Maroney said in the “Dateline” interview that something changed for her after the night in Tokyo, and that “for the first time, [it] was very, very hard for me to not acknowledge the fact that this was something — this was not treatment,” she said.
“I was being abused. I remember waking up the next day and wanting to tell someone.”
That day, Maroney said, she ended up telling several teammates and then-Team USA coach John Geddert, who ran his own well-known gym in Michigan. A longtime friend of Nassar’s who also coached the 2012 Olympic team, Geddert was suspended in January by USAG, has been accused of physical and verbal abuse, and was reported in February to be under criminal investigation.
“I was in the car driving back to the hotel,” said Maroney, now 22. “And I even said out loud that last night, Larry was fingering me.”
Asked if she was sure that others in the car heard her, Maroney said, “Yeah. Because people gasped.”
NBC News reported that three others who were in the car corroborated Maroney’s account, including Aly Raisman, an Olympic teammate who also won gold in 2016 and has become an outspoken critic of USAG and other institutions that had oversight of Nassar, including the U.S. Olympic Committee and Michigan State University. “She basically described in graphic detail what Nassar had done to her the night before,” Raisman told “Dateline.”
Another gymnast who was in the car denied Maroney’s account to NBC News. Raisman, though, told Guthrie, “I remember John Geddert was in the car and just said nothing.”
After the car trip proceeded in silence, with nothing else being spoken about Nassar, Maroney said that she reached “the moment” when she “shut it down.” She decided that she “was never gonna speak about him again” and that she was “just gonna go along with it.”
Geddert did not respond to requests for comment from NBC News. Maroney has been struggling to deal with the psychological fallout from her years of abuse, which she has said only ended when she quit competitive gymnastics.
She first opened up about her trauma in October, when she posted a lengthy note to her Twitter account mentioning her experience in Tokyo, adding the #MeToo hashtag and saying, “Our silence has given the wrong people power for too long, and it’s time to take our power back.”
Maroney followed that up with a statement she sent to be read on her behalf in a Michigan courtroom at a January sentencing hearing for Nassar, at which over 150 other victims and family members confronted him in person, including Raisman and another of Maroney’s 2012 teammates, Jordyn Wieber. Maroney first spoke publicly about her abuse at a New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children event on Tuesday, where she said, “I at times question if my gymnastics career was really even worth it because of the stuff I’m dealing with now.”
In a statement issued Sunday in response to questions from “Dateline,” USAG said that it “admires the courageous women who shared their deeply personal experiences about the impact Larry Nassar had on their lives.” The organization added it was “sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career, and we are committed to creating a culture that empowers and supports our athletes and focuses on our highest priority, which is the safety and well-being of our athletes.”
As she had done earlier, Maroney said on “Dateline” that her first encounter with Nassar was at the Karolyis’ camp outside Houston. “He told me that he was going to do, like, a checkup on me, and that was the first day that I was abused,” she said.
The Karolyis, both 75, said that they did not like Nassar, with Bela Karolyi likening him to a “snake,” but that they did not suspect anything alarming. “The whole gymnastics community couldn’t recognize this,” Martha Karolyi told Guthrie at their camp, which had its affiliation with USAG revoked earlier this year.
“Everybody said, ‘Larry Nassar is a good doctor. Larry Nassar is a good guy,'” Martha Karolyi asserted. Asked if she and her husband ever heard anything along the lines of, “There’s something creepy about that guy,” she replied, “Absolutely not.”
The couple deflected suggestions that they had some accountability for what took place at their property, with Martha Karolyi claiming that the camps were “organized” by USAG, which “leased” their facility and used to “run the activities.”
While she insisted that she “absolutely didn’t turn a blind eye” to what was happening at the camp, Martha Karolyi said she didn’t know what Nassar was doing “because I think that’s exactly the very scariest part of these pedophiles, that they have so awful methods that they mislead everybody.”
“I feel extremely bad,” Martha Karolyi said. “I don’t feel responsible, but I feel extremely hurt that this thing happened and it happened everywhere, but it happened here, also.”
“The whole thing is just like an explosion, a bomb exploding. Boom,” said Bela Karolyi.
He was part of an indelible Olympic moment when he carried Kerry Strug in his arms to the Olympic podium in 1996, after she stuck a vault landing on a badly injured ankle that helped the United States win its first gold medal in the team event. But the Karolyis’ legacy has been badly tarnished by their association with Nassar.
“This miserable man destroyed everything … I was working for,” he said.
To Maroney, that’s only fair. “They just wanna say, ‘Oh, we didn’t know.’ You knew what I ate, you controlled what I wore, you controlled what I said. How could you not know?” she said of the Karolyis.
“Regardless if they’re denying that they didn’t see it with their own eyes, they still allowed him in our rooms alone,” Jamie Dantzscher, who was a part of the bronze medal-winning U.S. team at the 2000 Games, told the Associated Press on Sunday. The Karolyis, she said, “knew he was going into the rooms. He never reported the emotional and mental abuse, that’s how he was able to flourish in that element.”
The Karolyis’ camp was also the scene of the 2015 episode that led to the USAG contacting the FBI about Nassar, although the organization moved far too slowly for Gina Nichols, the mother of top gymnast Maggie Nichols. As recounted on “Dateline,” Maggie Nichols was discussing her abuses by Nassar with Raisman when her personal coach overheard her and immediately alerted her mother.
Gina Nichols told NBC News that then-USAG president Steve Penny, who resigned in March 2017, told her not to contact authorities and to let his organization handle it. She also alleged that he told her, “You cannot tell anybody,” and that USAG sent someone to interview her daughter — a woman that she thought was from the FBI but turned out to be a private workplace investigator.
“I would never have brought my daughter, who was being molested by the USA team doctor the last two and a half years, to see some random lady,” Nichols said. Raisman said that she was also interviewed by the woman, Fran Sepler of Sepler and Associates, and she later contacted USAG in an effort to offer more damning details about Nassar’s abuses, only to hear from Sepler that there was “a process in place and staying clear of the process will protect you and others.” (Note: previous versions of this story incorrectly reported that Raisman had contacted Sepler to offer more details on Nassar.)
“I’m a victim of sexual abuse. And her interest was just for me to be quiet,” Raisman said of Sepler. Maroney told NBC News that Penny instructed her not to “tell anything to anybody.”
In a statement provided to The Post, Sepler said that “Raisman wasn’t aware that USA Gymnastics had not told me about Aly’s post-interview telephone call.” She added, “I was not advised that Aly had requested another meeting with me or that Aly wanted to share more information, clarify her prior statements or provide additional names. Had I been made aware of Aly’s phone call or apprised in any other way that Aly wanted to share more information, I would have jumped on a plane immediately to re-interview her. But that never happened because I wasn’t aware that Aly had more she wanted to say.”
In its statement Sunday, USAG reiterated that it “first became aware that an athlete had expressed concern about a procedure by Larry Nassar in June 2015,” which “eventually” led it to “report Nassar to the FBI and dismiss him from further involvement with the organization.”
“USA Gymnastics cooperated fully with the FBI, including the agents’ request to not do anything that might interfere with the FBI’s investigation,” the organization said. “As time passed, USA Gymnastics was concerned about a perceived lack of development and reported Nassar a second time to a different FBI office in spring 2016. USA Gymnastics denies any allegation that it had wide-ranging knowledge of abuse by Nassar or that it concealed or ignored his abuse.”
Maroney told NBC News, “People would ask me, like, ‘Oh, do you feel better now that Larry’s in jail?’ And I didn’t feel full justice because of what USA Gymnastics did, how they enabled that.”
She said she was haunted by knowing that, after her 2011 complaint and the 2015 episode, there were “younger girls” Nassar was still able to abuse. “That’s like what hurts me the most,” Maroney said.
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