McKayla Maroney Says Larry Nassar Was Given "Perfect Breeding Ground" for Abuse

McKayla Maroney told Elle why her Texas training facility became Larry Nassar’s “breeding ground” of sexual abuse and why he wasn’t just “one bad apple.”

By Lindsay Weinberg Aug 31, 2021 10:51 PMTags
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Convicted sex offender Larry Nassar has been accused of sexually abusing hundreds of women and girls while working as a doctor at Michigan State University and with the USA Gymnastics team. Three years ago, 332 survivors reached a settlement of $500 million. He's been sentenced to at least 140 years in prison for felony criminal sexual conductsexually abusing girls under the pretense of medical treatment and charges of child pornography.

It was no accident he abused young gymnasts, according to gold medalist McKayla Maroney, who has said Nassar molested her for years. She reflected on how he was able to "sneak in" to the sport during a new interview with Elle magazine. 

Specifically, she recalled attending the Karolyi Ranch training facility in Texas after joining the national team in 2010, two years before she went viral for her "Not Impressed" expression at the 2012 Olympics. 

The outlet reports that athletes slept in bunk beds with bugs and used dirty bathrooms. "We were not treated like Olympians, we were treated like we were in a military camp," Maroney, now 25, said.

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This facility, run by former national team coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi, was "a perfect breeding ground for Larry Nassar to sneak in," Maroney said.

(In 2017, an attorney for the Karolyis said they "vehemently" denied having knowledge of Nassar's actions. USA Gymnastics cut ties with the coaches and their training center in 2018. USAG has also said they've "fully cooperated" with the investigations and are "deeply committed to learning from these investigations, and finding ways to prevent abuse in the future.")

Maroney alleged that the adults didn't care about their welfare, only their successes. "Our coaches were so focused on us being skinny and us being the best to get the gold medal for their own ego," she stated. 

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Nassar molested Maroney during one of her first training camps, she said. Afterward, he told her that "to be a great athlete, we sometimes have to do things that other people wouldn't do," she said. "Basically, he was silencing me and saying, ‘This is what it takes to be great.'"

She told Elle how she and her teammates would react to the abuse: "We would be like, ‘No, don't do that. We just want you to work on our backs, our shins, our feet," she said. "We'd be annoyed. We'd be mad. We all hated it."

According to Maroney, the gymnasts "all talked about it in little ways" and were candid about what was happening to them.

"We never said, ‘We're being molested,' but we would say, ‘It's like we're being fingered.' We'd even say it was time to go get fingered by Larry. But we were 13 and didn't even know what being fingered was at the time. We were really young and naive from living in a gym," she told the magazine. 

But she found someone that would listen when she received a call from the FBI in 2015, asking about Nassar, per Elle.

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Maroney came forward publicly in 2017. In a social media statement, she said her abuse began when she was 13 years old and didn't end until she left the sport in 2016. She said "it happened" at the London Olympics before her team won gold and "it happened" before she famously won silver. Nassar would call it "treatment," she wrote. 

But being vocal about her past initially "felt extremely wrong for me," Maroney reflected on social media earlier this summer.  She said that "calling out abusers, and dwelling on all the dark negative pieces of my past" gave her life a "depressing tone," which she "hated." 

She shared, "I never wanted to be seen as a victim, I just wanted Larry Nassar in jail, and the people who enabled the abuse to be held accountable." 

But, as the gymnast told Elle this week, Nassar isn't the only one that needs to be held accountable. "It wasn't a case of one bad apple," she claimed. "Things are changing, but this was a systemic problem."