The instructions were clear, Gina Nichols said. After her daughter, Maggie, told USA Gymnastics officials that she had been sexually assaulted by team doctor Larry Nassar, they told Maggie and her family not to say anything.
“They said, ‘Do not call the authorities,’ ” Gina Nichols recalled Tuesday. “They said they were going to take care of it. We were totally silent the whole time. And it was a total coverup.”
Maggie Nichols broke her silence Tuesday, issuing a statement detailing her abuse at the hands of Nassar during USA Gymnastics training camps in Texas. Nichols, of Little Canada, joined a growing number of women — including Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas — who have gone public with accounts of molestation by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment.
Nichols’ statement said when she was 15 years old, Nassar touched her “in places I really didn’t think he should” with an ungloved hand when she sought treatment for back pain while at the Karolyi Ranch, the national training center for USA Gymnastics. She and Sarah Jantzi, her coach at the Twin City Twisters gym in Champlin, told USA Gymnastics leadership about the abuse in the summer of 2015. Nichols, 20, is now competing at the University of Oklahoma.
Gina Nichols said that Maggie and Jantzi were the first to report Nassar to USA Gymnastics. More than 100 women have made similar allegations against the longtime women’s team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. Nassar is currently in prison, serving a 60-year sentence after pleading guilty to unrelated federal child pornography charges, and is awaiting sentencing on 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct.
Maggie had considered telling her story before, her mother said. Tuesday, she “felt in her heart” that the time was right to reveal that she is the “Athlete A” referenced in legal filings surrounding the Nassar case.
“I want everyone to know that he did not do this to Athlete A,” Nichols wrote in her statement. “He did this to Maggie Nichols.”
Gina Nichols said her family has received no apologies nor any offers of help from USA Gymnastics. The organization has been heavily criticized for its handling of the allegations against Nassar, who left USA Gymnastics in 2015 but remained the team doctor at Michigan State until a police report and lawsuit against him were made public in 2016.
Maggie Nichols has filed a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Michigan State.
“We’ve never even gotten a phone call to ask if Maggie was OK, can we help you, do you need support or counseling,” Gina Nichols said. “They’ve totally ignored us.
“It’s painful enough to deal with, to have a child that was molested multiple, multiple times over several years. But it’s even more difficult that [USA Gymnastics] is not taking responsibility, and they’re responsible. They didn’t do what they were supposed to do. They keep fighting and fighting, and it’s disheartening, because we’re the victims here.”
Maggie Nichols was among the favorites to make the 2016 Olympic team until she had knee surgery three months before the Olympic trials. She finished sixth in the all-around competition at the trials and was not chosen for the team.
In 2015, Nichols helped the U.S. to team gold at the world championships and earned the bronze medal on floor exercise. The silver medalist in the all-around competition at the U.S. championships in 2015 and bronze medalist in 2014, her elegance and athleticism have made her a fan favorite.
She was 12 when she began attending monthly national team camps at the Karolyi Ranch near Houston. In her statement, she said the abuse occurred in the training room, with the door closed and the blinds drawn. Her story mirrors those of many other athletes, including her recollection that Nassar contacted her numerous times on Facebook to tell her she was beautiful.
Jantzi found out about the molestation when she overheard Nichols talking about it with another team member. She questioned Nichols about it, and Mike Hunger, another of Nichols’ longtime coaches at Twin City Twisters, said they promptly reported the incident to USA Gymnastics officials.
“Sarah got the ball moving right away the very next day,” Hunger said. “The guy needed to be removed, and that happened. It didn’t happen as fast as everyone would have liked, but it did ultimately happen. I thank Sarah and Maggie for that.”
According to Gina Nichols, parents were not allowed to attend the monthly Texas camps or to stay in the same hotels as their daughters at competitions. Nassar, she said, was allowed free rein. Maroney said in October that Nassar molested her at a hotel while at a meet in Tokyo.
Gina Nichols also said USA Gymnastics officials assured her they had reported the incident to the FBI a few weeks after Maggie and Jantzi alerted them. But the family was not contacted by the FBI until more than a year later, right before the Olympic trials. “We were silenced that entire year,” Nichols said. “And nothing happened.”
In a statement Tuesday, USA Gymnastics said it reported Nassar to the FBI in July 2015 and April 2016 and “kept the matter confidential because of the FBI’s directive not to interfere with the investigation.’’ It credited Nichols and Jantzi for “initiating the process that resulted in the conviction of Larry Nassar,’’ adding that it encourages athletes to report abuse and is “sorry that any athlete has been harmed during his or her gymnastics career.’’
In her statement, Maggie Nichols said she is “doing OK.” She said she came forward to try to create a safer environment for other young athletes and to encourage them to speak up if they sense something is not right.
“She’s been dealing with this for a long, long time,” Gina Nichols said. “Finally, as time has gone on, she felt she was ready to do this.”