“Athlete A” was a moniker given to the anonymous athlete who first reported Larry Nassar, the Olympic doctor and convicted child abuser, to U.S.A. Gymnastics. That gymnast, who has since revealed her identity, is Maggie Nichols, one of the brave subjects in Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s latest documentary (out now on Netflix), about the organization’s long history of abuse and cover-ups. Though it focuses on one main perpetrator, the film adeptly juggles various moving parts, such as the ruthless nature of training and the aftermath of speaking out.
One of these parts involves The Indianapolis Star, the newspaper that first ran an article in 2016 about the institutional abuse within U.S.A. Gymnastics. After that piece ran, the reporters started receiving responses from former gymnasts about Nassar, who, under the guise of medical practice, sexually abused hundreds of girls and young women. The doctor seemed “nice” or “quirky,” according to interviewees, especially compared to their militant coaches, notably Bela and Martha Karolyi, who many athletes have said perpetuated an oppressive environment ripe for all kinds of other abuse, including weight-shaming.
Cohen and Shenk amplify the voices of the survivors while recognizing that Nassar’s arrest doesn’t dissipate the pain or deep-rooted exploitation. Steve Penny, the former president and chief executive of U.S.A. Gymnastics (who has since been charged), and Rhonda Faehn, the organization’s former vice president, turned a blind eye for years, numerous survivors have said. The athletes endured cyberbullying for speaking out and invasive investigations into their sexual history to discredit their claims.
These women get some form of belated justice, but there’s a lot more work to be done — which becomes shatteringly clear when it is revealed that, all in all, roughly 500 women came forward about Nassar.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. Watch on Netflix.