Why Team USA gymnasts spoke out about alleged sexual abuse

Three former Team USA gymnasts are suing a former team doctor, Lawrence Nassar, accusing him of sexual abuse. Speaking out for the first time Sunday on “60 Minutes,” Jamie Dantzscher, Jessica Howard and Jeanette Antolin claimed Nassar disguised the abuse as pain treatment. Nassar’s attorney defends the treatment as legitimate.

“I think it’s important that we take these things that have been hidden for so long and expose them because there hasn’t been a change in the sports for 30 years,” Antolin, who competed with the U.S. national team from 1995 to 2000, said Monday on “CBS This Morning.”

Dantzscher, a bronze medalist in the 2000 Olympic Games, told “60 Minutes” she went to Nassar as a teenager for back treatment. “He would put his fingers inside of me and move my leg around,” she described in an interview with CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook.

Dantzscher said she never questioned it because she trusted Nassar and USA Gymnastics.

“So for me to speak up and come forward is about making sure this doesn’t happen to little girls and that also, you know, other victims are out there right now,” Dantzscher said on “CBS This Morning.” “This is happening all over the U.S. And it’s important for them to know that they have a voice and that if they do speak up, they’re going be believed.”

Nassar, who worked with U.S. Olympic and national teams for decades, was charged last year with child pornography and criminal sexual conduct in different cases. More than 60 women have filed complaints against Nassar.

“I think for all of us, we just realized in the last five or six months that this was abuse and this happened to us. And then we connected over — you know, even in the last few months, it’s the first time we’ve ever talked about it,” said Howard, a national champion in rhythmic gymnastics.

Antolin also had not spoken to others about her experiences with Nassar.  

“There was tons of treatment that you got, including like getting your ankle taped. So it’s not — you don’t go and tell people, ‘I got my ankle taped today.’ It’s just a normal thing,” Antolin said.

Howard said she is speaking out against the “culture of abuse, both emotional and physical and sexual, just to not be a part of our sport.”  

“We all love our sport and we want it to come across to everybody watching to everybody who might fall in love with it, that it’s safe — and it’s not safe right now. Emotional abuse is rampant and physical abuse is out there and sexual abuse is a byproduct of what happens when that is the culture,” Howard said.

In a statement, USA Gymnastics told “60 Minutes” that it is “appalled that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in this manner.” They said they “first learned of an athlete’s concern about Dr. Nassar in June 2015.” Five weeks later, after an internal review, it “reported him to the FBI and relieved him of any further assignments.”  USA Gymnastics said it has long had a policy that adult staff should “avoid being alone with a minor.”