Maggie Nichols always wanted to be an Olympic gymnast and she seemed on the cusp of making that dream a reality in 2016, but her hopes were dashed after she reported sexual abuse at the hands of a U.S. national team doctor and ended up being ostracized because of it.
Nichols has long been referred to as “Athlete A” because she was the first recognized accuser who made sexual abuse claims to USA Gymnastics against one of their team doctors, Larry Nassar. As a new Netflix documentary by the same name – "Athlete A" – shows, Nichols came forward to USA Gymnastics in 2015. But she was hardly Nassar's first victim: complaints against him at Michigan State University, where he had his practice, had in fact dated back as far as 1997, though he was never prosecuted or even reprimanded. After Nichols and others came forward, Nassar would be exposed as a serial molester who used his position to victimize underage girls.
"I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should,” Nicholas said in a statement in January 2018, when she came forward publicly as "Athlete A." “He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve my pain.”
Nassar had been sexually assaulting Nichols during her regular visits since she was 15. But on the surface, her career was thriving. She was on the U.S. national team, which won the 2015 world championships, ESPN noted in an April profile. In addition to her contributions toward the team gold, she also took home an individual bronze medal at the 2015 worlds. Everything was pointing to her being a top contender for the 2016 Olympics roster.
As “Athlete A” reveals, Nichol’s coach Sarah Jantzi overheard Nicholas and teammate Aly Raisman (who later also came forward with abuse claims against Nassar) at training camp talking about the inappropriate ways that Nassar touched them. Jantzi encouraged Nichols to report her experience and they notified USA Gymnastics in 2015, explaining that Nassar had been sexually assaulting her for three years.
But instead of protecting Nichols, USA Gymnastics pushed her out. Her family said they noticed feeling slighted as the organization was making their picks for the 2016 roster. Her dad, John Nichols, noted in "Athlete A" that "we show up for Olympic trials and our seats aren't marked, we don't have mics, there's no camera crew following us (as they had in the past and was the norm) so something was definitely off."
Nichols didn't make the team, and that left her devastated.
"USA Gymnastics took Maggie's Olympic dream away from her," her mom, Gina Nichols, said in the documentary. "It was just so hurtful and so painful, everything that happened."
USA Gymnastics eventually investigated the sexual abuse claims, but it wasn’t until Raisman and fellow athlete McKayla Maroney also came forward that officials contacted the FBI, NBC News reported in 2018. By then, it had been five weeks since Nichols' initial report. Nassar was eventually fired, but USA Gymnastics still kept the lid on the scandal, claiming that he'd retired; they also neglected to inform the U.S. Olympic Committee or Michigan State University about the sexual abuse allegations.
Thanks to the bravery of additional survivors, and Indianapolis Star reporters who pursued their stories, Nassar was eventually arrested in 2016. He was ultimately convicted and sentenced in 2018 to 175 years in prison for seven counts of sexual assault of minors. During the sentencing phase, around 120 victims and family members, including Nichols, gave powerful testimony about the impact Nassar’s actions had on them. A month later, he was given an additional 125 years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of sexual assault. Nassar was previously convicted on child pornography charges in 2017, for which he received 60 years in prison.
Over 500 women and girls came forward to say that they were victimized by Nassar.
Where is Nichols now?
In “Athlete A,” Nichols said she felt defeated after not making the 2016 team and she ended up retiring from elite gymnastics that summer. However, her career has not stopped. She joined the University of Oklahoma Sooners women's gymnastics team in 2016, where she’s had a successful career adorned with awards. Most recently, she was named a First Team All-American and the Big 12 Gymnast of the Year for the second time in her career, Sooner Sports reported in March. Her and her family noted in "Athlete A" that it feels good to be surrounded by people who genuinely care for her.
She has also been celebrated for her work off the mats. For being the first person to come forward as “Athlete A,” Nichols received the 2019 NCAA Inspiration Award.
She will serve as a student-assistant coach for University of Oklahoma next season, according to the Norman Transcript.
Her Twitter is filled with positive and inspiring tweets. She reminded her fans just last week that “in case you needed to hear this today..... you’re worthy, you’re enough, you’re loved, you matter....”
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