When winning at any cost is not worth it

The conviction of Dr. Larry Nassar for sexually abusing gymnasts he treated at Michigan State University and in the Olympic program has deeply disturbed me.

First, his crimes were heinous and numerous.

Second, numerous enablers were complicit in Nassar’s actions. These enablers turned a blind eye to warning signs, refused to act on complaints from the abused, and failed to establish adequate safeguards to prevent abuse, e.g., never allowing a male physician to see a female patient without another woman being present. Efforts to hold these enablers accountable should proceed along with mandating policies and protocols to prevent future incidents of abuse.

Third, where were the athletes’ parents? International gymnastics are highly competitive. Successful athletes depend upon family sacrifices, support, and encouragement. Having a daughter in the ranks of elite athletes who are part of a winning program feels good for parent(s) and daughter alike.

However, when the desire to win blinds a parent to the changes in his/her daughter caused by sexual abuse, then winning is no longer worth the cost. If one family had blown the whistle on Nassar years ago, that family’s daughter may not have won the gold. But she would have preserved more of her mental health, taken a step to reclaim the fulness of her selfhood, and prevented dozens and dozens of other girls from suffering similar abuse. Those victories are surely worth more than is a gold medal.

The father who attempted to physically harm Nassar during the sentencing phase of his trial acted, I strongly suspect, out of an abject sense of his own failure as a father. The judge wisely declined to take legal action against that father. Parents who failed to protect their children will have to live with their guilt. Parents who pushed their child to become a world-class gymnast when that was not originally the child’s dream will live with a double measure of guilt.

Children are precious. Parents rightly encourage and supporting a child’s efforts to achieve her or his personal ambitions – whatever those ambitions may be. Nevertheless, protecting the well-being of his/her child is a parent’s sacred duty.


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