Athlete A is a Netflix documentary released in June 2020. The documentary focuses on reporters from the Indianapolis Star uncovering of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of hundreds of female gymnasts, and the subsequent cover-up by USA Gymnastics (USAG). Larry Nassar was the USAG team doctor for nearly twenty years. Maggie Nichols is a two-time NCAA all-around national champion gymnast from the University of Oklahoma, and a survivor of Nassar’s sexual abuse. In July 2015, Nassar sexually abused Maggie during a “routine” physical examination. The documentary highlights Maggie’s subsequent story. Maggie’s mother states that Nassar “took everything from [Maggie].” “Athlete A” was the pseudonym used to refer to Maggie Nichols in court documents from Nassar’s criminal proceedings.
The documentary explores macro-issues related to sexual abuse like why survivors do not always come forward, and why organizations cover-up sexual abuse. Further, the film reveals how a sport of precision and expression became a world of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse for many young girls involved with USAG, pursing Olympic Gold Medals. Nassar used his position of power and trust to groom many gymnasts. “Grooming” behavior is used by sexual predators to establish an emotional connection with a child to lower a child’s inhibitions with the objective of sexual abuse. Former USA Gymnastics Olympian, Jamie Dantzscher, said that even though she is ashamed of it and it is hard to say, she thought of Nassar as the nicest person at USAG. After twenty years of sexually abusing young gymnasts, nearly 500 survivors of Nassar’s abuse have come forward, highlighting the extent of damage a sexual predator can cause when an organization fails to protect children.
The documentary ends with the criminal conviction of Nassar and subsequent investigations into USAG. At a hearing during Nassar’s trial, 125 survivors shared statements about the impact Nassar’s abuse had on them. The hearing lasted hours and included survivor gymnasts at every skill level of gymnastics, including teenagers competing locally in Michigan to 38-year-old former Olympians. Maggie Nichols chose not to attend the hearing, prioritizing her healing and focusing on her new life; instead, her mother delivered a powerful statement on her behalf: “I want everyone to know that he did not do this to Athlete A, he did this to Maggie Nichols.”