Simone Biles on Larry Nassar: ‘I remember googling, like, sexually abused’

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I love Simone Biles. I love her strength, her power, her athleticism, her beauty and her grace on and off the gymnastics floor, but I kind of dislike these photos – Annie Leibovitz kind of phoned it in here. Simone covers the latest issue of Vogue in what was supposed to be a scheduled promotion for her appearance at the Tokyo Olympics, an Olympic games which have now been pushed to 2021. The Vogue piece is lengthy, and for good reason – part of it is a traditional profile of the greatest gymnast of all time, a champion who hasn’t lost a meet since 2013. Then there is a huge section devoted to the pedophile Larry Nassar and his abuse of dozens of young girls in the US gymnastics program, including Biles. Then there’s another post-pandemic section at the end about how Biles has been functioning as a young adult woman, dealing with her traumatic past, going through a break up, unable to spend time with her grandparents, and feeling like she has a ticking clock over her gymnastics career, especially with the one-year Olympics delay. This Vogue piece made me cry and I don’t have words for how inspiring she is. You can read the full piece here. Some highlights:

On being in the public eye: “No matter how good you are in your sport, in life, in work, the number one thing people talk about is how you look.” She urged the girls to handle such pressure by ignoring it. “You’re still going to thrive. You’re going to become somebody amazing and great. You guys are all beautiful, inside and out.”

When the Nassar story broke after the Rio Olympics: “It didn’t feel like real life. And there were little things that I did that I didn’t know why, but I felt like I was just trying to protect myself.” Such as? “Just, like, little quirks. Like I remember on tour, I would have really bad anxiety about nothing. Or like, walking down a hall, I feared that somebody was following me. I just had a lot of issues that were unexplained until I finally figured out why. The dots connected.”

She moved out of her grandparents’ home but still hadn’t dealt with Nassar’s abuse: “I was very depressed. At one point I slept so much because, for me, it was the closest thing to death without harming myself. It was an escape from all of my thoughts, from the world, from what I was dealing with. It was a really dark time.”

She came to terms with Nassar’s abuse after hearing Maggie Nichols’ story, in early 2018: “I was reading Maggie’s coverage and it just hit me. I was like, I’ve had the same treatments. I remember googling, like, sexually abused. Because I know some girls had it worse than me. I know that for a fact. So I felt like I wasn’t abused, because it wasn’t to the same extent as the other girls. Some of my friends had it really, really bad. They were his favorite. Since mine wasn’t to that capacity, I felt like it didn’t happen.”

In retrospect, she thinks she just had a mental block: “I felt like I knew, I just didn’t want to admit it to myself, that it had happened. Because I felt like, not that you’re supposed to be perfect, but I just felt like that’s what America wanted me to be—was perfect. Because every time an American wins the Olympics, you’re like America’s sweetheart. So it’s like, How could this happen to America’s sweetheart? That’s how I felt—like I was letting other people down by this.”

Sharing her story was cathartic: “For me, it was a weight that I carried so heavily on my chest, so I felt like, if I shared it with people, then it would be a relief for me. And I knew that by sharing my story, I would help other survivors feel comfortable and safe in coming forward.”

On a proposed settlement to the victims: “It’s like, at the end of the day, I don’t want your dirty money… We need to figure out why it happened, when it happened, and who knew what, when.”

The postponed Olympics: “We were gripping at the bars, and I just started crying. Another year of dealing with USAG. That, I don’t know if I can take.”

[From Vogue]

I remember covering just a fraction of the gymnasts’ stories at the time, and all of the speculation about “who would come out next” and “why wasn’t So-and-So saying such-and-such,” and it’s still painful. These were little girls. Nassar abused little girls for years. Nearly every Olympic-candidate gymnast from the past 20 years was abused by Nassar. They were little girls and they didn’t understand what was happening to them and it took many of them a long time to process it, not just the abuse but the massive betrayal from the adults in charge, adults who looked the other way and didn’t protect these girls.

Vogue talks a lot about Biles’ power in the gymnastics community now too – she’s the only one of Nassar’s victims who is still currently on Team USA’s Olympic team. One tweet, one statement, one Instagram from Biles can end someone’s career and she barely even understood that she has that power. Biles also makes it clear that she’s not done with trying to get justice for her teammates and all of the other survivors. She’ll get it too.

US President Donald J. Trump participates in a news conference on jobs figures

Covers courtesy of Vogue.

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31 Responses to “Simone Biles on Larry Nassar: ‘I remember googling, like, sexually abused’”

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  1. Tanguerita says:

    I still can’t get over this horrible horrible lighting in this shooting. Leibowitz ist such a hack. She needs to go and take Wintour with her.

    • Chica1971 says:

      Annie is awful, now I understand why Beyoncé got her own photographer. Couldn’t mthey have hired Joshua Kissisi?

      • Tanguerita says:

        Or Dario Calmese. That’s how you light black skin.

      • Belle says:

        Is that confirmed that Beyonce hired an African American photographer because she didn’t want to be photographed by Annie? ( I am actually asking not making a snark comment). When I first read it, it felt like she was giving an African American a chance. Which honestly was very progressive and equalizing.

      • yinyang says:

        Agree with what you all are saying, there were some episodes on 20/20 (I think) where the cameraman used different lighting from their usual and this lighting it made the black members look SO GOOD, it brought out the soulfulness of their eyes and skin look magic, but did a number on the white members washing them out and yellowing their teeth and whites of eyes. Lighting and colour temperature is evreything and for so long has been used to the advantage of white people and a loss to POC.

    • CROWHOOD says:

      If you google Annie’s work with black folks it’s horrifying. She takes beautiful people and steals their light.

    • K says:

      I’ve never enjoyed Liebovitz’s photography. Overrated.

      • Bread and Circuses says:

        Biles looks great, but the colours do not. Great subject; not great photography.

  2. Aurora says:

    I feel like I could have done these photos on my iPhone. Simone was not done justice.

  3. Bea says:

    She was adopted by her grandparents and she now refers to them as her parents. I don’t think she calls them grandparents, just parents.

  4. Jen says:

    The fact that her concern over the Olympics being postponed was that she has to spend another year dealing with the USAG is horrible. They really need to truly clean house there. They ignored this stuff and the Karolyi horror stories for far too long.

    • Lucy2 says:

      That stuck out to me as well, and sounds like things have not improved.
      I think they need to put an actual gymnast in charge of the organization, they will actually look out for the athletes, rather than simply the money.
      I know someone who’s kid is at the Olympic trial level, but they decided not to do that and just follow the college path, rather than have to deal with USAG also.

      Netfliz has Athlete A, a stunning documentary about how the abuse came to light.

      • Ms. says:

        They actually did. The news president is a former gymnast who left her job as VP of marketing at the NBA to take this position, after multiple failed starts at hiring a competent CEO. However… She is a marketer, and whatever her intentions, the fact that USAG still want to hire a marketer to rehabilitate their image and save their skins is a massive issue.

        there’s a new nonprofit called Gymnastics United Inc that is focusing an athlete centered approach and eventually, I assume, overtake USAG has the main gymnastics gym network, and maybe eventually the national governing body. I wish them luck.

  5. Izzy says:

    “Another year of dealing with USAG. That, I don’t know if I can take.”

    This is heartbreaking. Yes, she is one of America’s sweethearts. I want her to be safe, that’s far better than perfect.

    Eff Nassar and Eff USAG for letting it happen and covering it up.

  6. lily says:

    Anna Wintour has got to go. She is so predictable: a celebrity interview and photos by Annie Leibovitz…….There is no reason why a Simone Biles cover should be in any way similar to a Lena Dunham cover or an Angelina Jolie cover or an Amal Clooney cover, they all have completely different vibes, but it’s the same. There is no change in photographers or journalists, Vogue is just a more expensive People Magazine tbh.

    • BayTampaBay says:

      Vogue has gone down the toilet since Anna Wintour first put Kim Kardashian on the cover.

      Kim Kardashian on the cover was the day I decided not to renew my Vogue subscription (which I had for over 20 years) until Anna Wintour was gone.

  7. Daisha says:

    I know I’m in the minority here, but I actually found these photos beautiful.

    • Laalaa says:

      I AGREE! I think this shows her, not the perception of her

    • LeonsMomma says:

      I actually like the photos too overall — I could pick apart this photo it if I want, but don’t want to. What I like is that it shows her athleticism. She isn’t covered up as most Annie Leibovitz and Vogues covers are — Vogue covers have the subject in a gown or something complicated and expensive — which she would have been awesome in too. But I think this not being a busy cover is good. (Ok, so I lied: Grey isn’t my favorite color for a backdrop.)
      Also, I know someone had an issue with the one being a “ballet” pose, but she also did floor routines, and that looks like something she could have done there.
      USAG is garbage. They need to fire everyone and have Simone become it’s CEO/Executive Director.

    • L84Tea says:

      I love the first one. She looks like a Greek statue!

    • Amy says:

      I love them.

    • Bread and Circuses says:

      Simone looks amazing, but the colours are all a little weird.

  8. Jess says:

    These photos make me sooooo annoyed. Simone is gorgeous perfection, but these poses are atrocious. She doesn’t have great extension or turnout (she’s the most powerful gymnast in the world, not a ballerina so like who cares??) but these photos were taken by someone who has no idea how to pose someone of her build, stature and abilities. Why did they pose her like she’s in a darn dance recital?? She is the G.O.A.T., please pose accordingly.
    As for the rest of it, Simone and Maggie and the rest of the girls are such inspirations. What they endured was so horrific, I’m just so sorry that she has to put up with that ridiculous organization for another year.

  9. Sayrah says:

    Dang, USAG is so bad spending another year training with them is what she’s most concerned about. I love her and yep the pictures are terrible.

  10. lobstah says:

    There’s a very well-done documentary on Netflix right now about the Nassar case, called Athlete A. I knew some of the details, but didn’t realize how dark and how shitty the higher ups at USAG were/are. Recommended watching – it gives the survivors a chance to tell their stories.

    • L84Tea says:

      I watched it. It was unsettling but also wonderful to see the chickens coming home to roost for all of those involved.

  11. bluemoonhorse says:

    Not only is the posing and the lighting crappy, but whoever designed the actual cover, puts Simone’s article title right over her butt. The second one, gray background with a gray-red outfit, of a POC shows some real backhanded crap. Annie couldn’t be that stupid and this is deliberate.

  12. Lizzie Bathory says:

    When she says sleeping a lot “was the closest thing to death without harming myself,” oof. Having dealt with trauma & depression, myself, I related to that so much. I feel for her & am so impressed with her continuing to speak out about her experience, as well as pushing for justice.

  13. Ann says:

    I recommend watching Athlete A on Netflix, but strong trigger warning: it is upsetting and at times graphic. These poor girls are treated like adult soldiers. They are all so talented but at what cost?

    I adore Simon. She is such a breathtaking athlete. It is straight magic watching her do floor routines. How can a human being do what she does?!

  14. Susan Montgomery says:

    I watched both Athlete A on Netflix and At The Heart of Gold another doc on HBO. Both are gut wrenching but I give the edge to the latter. Just horrible what happened these little girls and so many adults knew about it and failed to protect them.

  15. phlyfiremama says:

    These pictures are AWFUL. You have to try REALLY REALLY hard to not make Simone Biles beautiful, and for a so-called professional photographer to produce work like this is INEXCUSABLE.