One of the many reactions to Rhonda Faehn’s firing came from John Manly, the lawyer representing the sister survivors of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case – that case, of course, being the driving force behind all the “change” at USA Gymnastics.
(If you don’t know who Larry Nassar is after the past year and a half, and you’re reading this, use your Google-fu.)
So, Manly – who up until Friday seemed like a reasonably decent human being – made the following statement regarding Faehn:
“Our clients are pleased that Ms. Faehn is no longer part of USAG. However, this should have been done long ago. USAG President Kerry Perry knew from her first day that Ms. Faehn failed to report Nassar and did not share with National Team athletes or parents that Nassar was terminated by USAG for molesting three athletes. It was not because he wanted to ‘retire,’ which was a cover story USAG leadership allowed him to use to conceal the terrible truth from athletes and their families.”
All well and good so far. It gets to the heart of the problem – why Rhonda was still there after a year and a quarter.
“Many of our clients are distressed about the manner in which this termination was executed by USAG. Ms. Faehn’s resignation should have been sought long ago by Perry. At a minimum, it could have been done before or after this camp. Summarily relieving her of her duties, with no explanation of why to the athletes, in the middle of a national team camp preparing for a competition is inappropriate. It has caused confusion and discord. It shows disrespect to currently competing athletes. It also has resulted in some of the younger athletes blaming Nassar’s victims, which is very painful.”
Again, no arguments there. I covered all of that here. The current athletes blaming the victims is a bit of a shock, but not particularly surprising. Sad, but not surprising.
But here’s where Manly gets himself into trouble:
“It is the hope of our clients that someone explain to these young athletes that but for Maggie Nichols, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and the other survivors speaking up, they would have been molested by Larry Nassar this very week.”
That is … so wrong on so many levels, albeit right in one very important way: if the survivors had not been listened to (finally), the abuse would be ongoing.
However…this is a clear case of “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” I cannot even BEGIN to sum up how wrong it is to specifically tell the gymnasts who are currently competing to, essentially, “listen and respect your elders, brats. Without them, you’d still be getting (insert explanation of choice of Larry’s behavior) this week.”
Aside from the fact that Manly’s comments veer into victim blaming (which I despise with a passion), let’s consider for a moment the athletes we knew were at camp this week. A good numbers of those athletes – at least nine at my count – were elites by July of 2015, at the U.S. Classic. I won’t attempt to guess how many of those had been to the ranch by that point, but it begs the following statement.
We don’t know that any of those athletes escaped Nassar’s abuse. Manly might, if any of those athletes have approached him to join the lawsuits, but I can’t make a statement one way or another there. If even one of these currently elites was abused by Nassar, it takes the concept of victim blaming to an entirely new level.
What’s becoming abundantly clear in the latest round of bleaching of USA Gymnastics is that there is still not a united front. The survivors are unhappy because not enough is happening fast enough. The current elites are unhappy because things are happening too fast without any explanation. The inevitable apparently occurred this week – the two groups becoming unhappy with each other.
Let’s get one thing straight: the survivors did nothing wrong. Without them, yes, the abuse would be likely ongoing. The fact that so many victims piled up over decades shows just how USAG and Michigan State failed these young women (and in at least one instance, a young man). Those survivors deserve every bit of our support.
The problem right now is: just how many more survivors are there? I think it’s fair to say that for the 300-plus victims that have already come forward, there are probably many more still in silence. The victim impact statements at the Nassar trial revealed many more names than many would have guessed, but it would be hubris to assume that is all of them.
ALL of the survivors of this deserve support. It’s time for the groups to start working together to move forward. No more pointing fingers. No more lawyers trying to make headlines. No more spouting about empowerment but failing to empower anyone.