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Laramie Movie Scope: Athlete A

Behind the sex abuse scandal headlines

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 26, 2020 – “Athlete A,” like “All the President's Men,” “Spotlight” and “The Post,” is a story about newspaper reporters uncovering corruption on a grand scale.

Like the sex abuse scandals involving the Roman Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America, the sex abuse scandal of the USA Gymnastics program involves disgusting abuse of children, as well as equally disgusting corruption and cover-ups which delayed justice for far too long. This is a movie which ought to make you very angry.

At the center of this story are editors and reporters at The Indianapolis Star who broke the stories of the infamous USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University gymnastics scandals four years ago. Another key figure in this movie is gymnast Maggie Nichols, who reported sexual abuse at USA Gymnastics, and was penalized for it by being left off the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team.

Also featured in the movie are the lawyers and prosecutors who finally brought one of the worst of many abusers to justice, USA Gymnastics (USAG) national team doctor Larry Nassar (he also was the osteopathic physician for Michigan State University). The movie includes some of the well-publicized statements made by gymnasts at Nassar's trial.

Although Nassar was convicted of sex abuse crimes, a number of others have yet to face justice. Indianapolis Star reporters found numerous complaints against numerous gymnastics coaches that were ignored over the years. For years USAG's policy was to ignore sexual abuse complains against coaches and doctors unless the complaint was signed by a person with direct knowledge of the abuse.

The movie goes into the background of Olympic competition in women's gymnastics and how it changed over the years from being a sport dominated by adult women to a sport dominated by minors who are more easily manipulated by doctors and coaches to ignore pain, injuries and abuse. The sport also became dominated by harsh, rigorous, win-at-any-cost coaching techniques popularized in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

These changes led to USA Gymnastics training being controlled by Béla and Márta Károlyi of Romania. They were brought in, not because their training methods were so humane, healthy and supportive of the needs of young girls. They were chosen because their methods produced championships. When U.S. gymnasts became champions, they also generated a lot of publicity and millions of dollars for the program.

It makes sense then, that Steve Penny would advance from the marketing side of USA Gymnastics to become CEO of the organization in 2005. His overriding goal would naturally be to protect the reputation, and the money of the organization.

One quote that puts these organizational changes in perspective come from an interview with gymnast Jennifer Sey (who is also a producer of this movie). She recounts her reaction to a moment in the 1996 Olympic competition in which gymnast Kerri Strug wins a gold medal for the U.S. team despite competing with a serious ankle injury (she would never compete again after crawling off the mat in pain following her final, gold medal-winning vault). Sey says, “Why are we celebrating this? ... This notion that we would sacrifice our young to win ... I think disgusts us a little. We would never have said that that was the case.”

Sey continues, “You know in other sports the athletes are adults. They can reasonably make choices about what they want. I don't think that is true in gymnastics. You know these kids go to these national training centers when they are 10 years old. They are abused and mistreated for years. So even by the time they are of age, the line between tough coaching and child abuse is blurred.”

This film celebrates the athletes who were among the first of hundreds to came forward with these allegations of sexual abuse. Some of them were also abused by the usual internet abusers with the usual avalanche of cowardly misogynistic attacks. This is about those few brave women who, unlike so many others, got past retaliation, got past being doubted, being ignored and being ridiculed. They endured and were finally heard and they finally found justice. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2020 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]