Review: Athlete A

Feet of an athlete in Athlete A

Athlete A is a documentary about the investigation by the Indianapolis Star into sexual abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar. He was the doctor for the USA Gymnastics team and abused over 500 young girls in his time there.

An Indianapolis Star reporter in Athlete A

Athlete A began with what the newspaper thought was a story about how USA Gymnastics protected coaches accused of abuse like humiliation, forcing girls to compete while injured, and mind control.

That investigation led to the explosive revelation that the USAG women’s team doctor, Larry Nassar, had been sexually abusing athletes for over two decades.

Maggie Nichols in Athlete A

Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (Audrie and Daisy), the film features young athletes such as Maggie Nichols. Maggie was Athlete A. She and her parents filed a complaint about Larry Nassar. When the story became public as part of the reporters’ work on USAG, many women called the newspaper to say the same thing happened to them.

Olympic winners in Athlete A

The story is revealed with dynamic images of current top athletes, archival footage of athletes, interviews with the women who wanted to add their names to the case against Nassar, interviews with the lawyer for the women, and walking through the investigation with the reporters.

The head of the USGA, Steve Penny, was the one who covered up all the mental and physical abuses of young girls by their coaches. But he also knew and hid the allegations against Nassar for years. It wasn’t until the story broke in the news that the FBI and other investigators did anything effective about the case.

At Nassar’s sentencing, scores of women gave impact statements. That’s a powerful part of the documentary. The documentary narrows it down to a few statements. You can also see news reports here and here with more of their statements from that time, if you’re interested.

I feel safe in saying that #TimesUp stories like this one aren’t confined to women’s gymnastics in the world of athletics. But it’s a start.

2 thoughts on “Review: Athlete A”

  1. Torben Retboll

    A somewhat similar story is told in the movie “Paterno” (2018) about the Penn State child abuse sex scandal.

    1. These stories are both discouraging and hopeful. There’s always someone like Steve Penny or Joe Paterno who is willing to cover up the crimes of sexual abusers. It’s really depressing when you factor in that the person in the highest office in the land is a sexual predator. We have to keep digging, keep talking, keep telling.

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