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More than 140 survivors of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse, including Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, were honored with a special award during the 2018 ESPY Awards on Wednesday.
Nassar, a former team doctor for the USA Gymnastics national team and Michigan State University, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison in January after more than 120 girls and women testified in court about the effect Nassar’s sexual abuse had on their lives.
The ESPY Awards, which stands for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards, has been hosted annually by ESPN since 1993 and has been televised by ABC since 2015.
During Wednesday’s awards ceremony, actress Jennifer Garner presented the group, known as “sister survivors,” with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, following a video introduction where a number of athletes who were victimized by Nassar told their story, ESPN reports.
After a standing ovation from the crowd, three of the 141 survivors on stage — Raisman, former gymnast Sarah Klein, and former Michigan State softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez — accepted the award on behalf of the group, as well as “hundreds more who are not with [them] tonight,” Klein said.
“Make no mistake, we are here on this stage to present an image for the world to see, a portrait of survival. A new vision of courage,” said Klein, who identified herself as the first of Nassar’s victims.
The Arthur Ashe award receives its title from the tennis player of the same name. Ashe was known during his life as a human activist who raised awareness of AIDS and HIV when he went public with his struggle with the disease in the 1990s.
Raisman, Klein, and Lopez encouraged the conversation around sexual assault to continue.
“There are a lot of conversations in our society that we tiptoe around as if they’re something to avoid. I know in my life, people have looked that way at two issues extremely personal to me: race and sexual abuse,” Lopez said. “Sexual abuse claims victims in every race, showing no discrimination. Just like Arthur Ashe, I stand so very proud representing not only minorities, but all of us as humans, the human race.”
Raisman stressed the importance not only of victims speaking out, but of being listened to.
“1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016. These were the years we spoke up about Larry Nassar’s abuse,” Raisman said. “All those years we were told, ‘You are wrong. You misunderstood. He’s a doctor. It’s okay. Don’t worry, we’ve got it covered. Be careful. There are risks involved.’ The intention: to silence us in favor of money, medals and reputation.”
“But we persisted, and finally someone listened, and believed us,” Raisman continued.
After thanking Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who gave Nassar’s victims the opportunity to face him in court, Raisman ended their acceptance speech on an encouraging note.
“We all face hardships,” she said. “If we choose to listen and we choose to act with empathy, we can draw strength from each other. We may suffer alone, but we survive together.”
[Photo: Sarah Klein, Tiffany Thomas Lopez, Aly Raisman, and recipients of the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage speak onstage at the 2018 ESPYS on July 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. By Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]