‘Athlete A’: What Did Simone Biles Have to Say About the Larry Nassar Abuse Scandal?

Athlete A, the new Netflix documentary investigates the story of USA Gymnastics, their team physician, Dr. Larry Nassar, and the abuse he inflicted on hundreds of female athletes. One young woman featured in Athlete A, Maggie Nichols, was deprived of her Olympic experience because she was brave enough to be the first to report Dr. Nassar’s abuse. How did her teammate, and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, fit into the narrative?

‘Athlete A’: how Maggie Nichols had her gymnastics career derailed, according to the Netflix movie

Athlete A
Maggie Nichols in Athlete A | Courtesy of Netflix

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At just 15 years old, Larry Nassar sexually abused Nichols after a back injury. Nichols’ personal coach reported the abuse to the USA Gymnastics organization. Instead of taking action, the complaint was covered up and Nichols was retaliated against when the time came for selection for the 2016 Olympic team. Interviewed in Athlete A, Nichol’s mother states: “USA Gymnastics took Maggies’ Olympic dream away from her. It was just so hurtful and so painful.” Her father agreed.

“We have fairly good ideas on what happened. Evidence, I would say,” he told the documentarians.

In a recent interview with Glamour, Nichols, now 22, shared the challenges of participating in filming Athlete A, while still in school and competing in gymnastics at Oklahoma University. After seeing the completed
documentary, Nichols said:

I’m very excited by how it turned out and how truly powerful it is. I think that a lot of people don’t realize how horrible the case really is and how many people were affected. It’s extremely raw and real.

Nichols also expressed appreciation for the support from and teammates and close friends. One of those friends, Simone Biles, though not featured in the film, has also sadly acknowledged she was molested by Larry Nassar.

‘Athlete A’: Where does Olympic champion Simone Biles fit into all of this?

Simone Biles
Simone Biles of USA at the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in 2019 in Stuttgart, Germany | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

In a January 2018 statement posted on her social media accounts, Biles wrote:

I too am one of the many survivors that was sexually abused by Larry Nassar. … There are many reasons that I have been reluctant to share my story, but I know now it is not my fault.

As shown in Athlete A, Nichols was initially asked to take part in a Hershey commercial featuring her friend Biles. After the crew started filming, they received a phone call from Steve Penny, former President of USA Gymastics, advising them Maggie would not be allowed to take part in the advertisement. Both he and Marta Karolyi knew Nichols had reported Larry Nassar’s abuse, but were also in charge of selecting the Olympic team members.

Despite Nichols’s overall 6th place finish at Nationals, she was not selected for the team. According to her father: “Maggie was crushed. She had many things taken away.”

Her mother, Gina concurred.

“After being abused by USAG, by Steve Penny, by Larry Nassar, all I wanted to do was get my child out of there,” she recalled in Athlete A.

In a YouTube interview from April of this year, Biles shared the Larry Nassar abuse had also “affected her life a lot.” Biles said:

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and all that stuff. So, I’ve been working with that. But, obviously it’s better, because I’ve been going to therapy for over a year now.

Simone Biles and her relationship to the issues shown in the Netflix documentary film

Biles went on to explain:

The reason I spoke out was I felt like if I could be a voice and I could come out with that, then it would open the door to other people that are scared to share that and to not feel like a burden on you. And, I really felt like it lifted a lot of weight off my shoulders. So, I felt like I could help other people around the world.

Biles also commended the over 150 women who provided impact statements at Larry Nassar’s trial.

“Shout out to all of the survivors for being so brave and speaking like the queens that you are…I stand with every one of you,” she said.