Let’s Talk About: Athlete A
2020 Netflix documentary Athlete A is a must watch. It’s one thing for a documentary to re-tell the story of a serial criminal, but Athlete A goes beyond this.
Athlete A looks past what was essentially the “main story” of the arrest, trial, and conviction of Larry Nassar. Instead it digs into the systems and people that allowed for such a criminal to abuse young girls for nearly 20 years (at minimum).
Ever since I started watching the Olympics back in 2010, I became fascinated with certain sports. Gymnastics was the first that I began to follow consistently, starting with the London ggames in 2012. Canada, at the time, was not really a medal contender at the Olympics for women’s team gymnastics, so I was neutral at the start, but it didn’t take long for me to become a true ‘fierce five fan’ (the women’s gymnastics team from the USA).
I basically immersed myself in the ‘fandom’, if you were to call it that. From following the girls social medias to live streaming or finding each event on youtube, I was fully invested in the gold medal run that the USA made that year.
Looking back on that time now isn’t how I always thought it’d be.
In 2017, I first heard about the sexual abuse scandal. I think I found out through social media, as I follow Aly Raisman (Olympian from 2012 and 2016) who was and has remained a vocal leader in both the testimonies and the aftermath of the conviction. I can’t really remember what I thought about it, or how I came to fully understand the situation, but I eventually stumbled upon several videos of victim impact statements from the trial on Youtube. Beyond moving, heart-breaking, and anger-inducing, just a few words to summarize it. If you have the time, I recommend listening to a few.
The reason why events like the 2012 and 2016 Olympics will never look or feel the same, is because as an innocent bystander you would never be able to tell what was happening behind the scenes. Re-watching the insane routines that lead to record-breaking scores and legendary dynasty team golds will never have the same awe. As instead of seeing these un-human-like athletes complete tasks that are unfathomable to a regular human, you can for once think about them as real people that were put in harms way by the very institutions that were supposedly leading them to achieve their olympic dreams.
During the time of the testimonies, and eventually all the way through to the sentencing, I never really knew the full-scope of the situation, which is the story that Athlete A tells.
The reason why this documentary hooked me in was simply because it wasn’t going to re-tell a story that has been told on Youtube, on Twitter, in Instagram posts and in news articles. It wasn’t going to dwell on the trial and conviction that happened years ago. Athlete A digs in and tells us why this was able to happen, who enabled it, and the leaps and bounds that systems and institutions need to take to ensure this never happens again.
The story-line that the documentary centres itself on, is one that was never told until now. Athlete A, the first victim to come forward, wasn’t named to the public until recently (Maggie Nichols). By following this untold story, Athlete A is able to reveal so many other sides to the overall picture that were never examined during the trial.
While many of the survivors remain active and vocal about the lack of accountability held by the systems and individuals who perpetuated this abuse, this documentary has definitely helped spread the facts that so many levels of power essentially let, and continue to let, children filter through a system that holds their ultimate olympic dream over their heads while letting them suffer unnecessarily.