As former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar awaits sentencing for criminal sexual misconduct, Americans were outraged to learn that one of his victims, 2012 Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney, was restricted by a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) with USA Gymnastics (USAG) that would hit her with a $100,000 fine if she violated its confidentiality clause. After the outcry, USAG released a statement that they would not seek to enforce the NDA against her.
Nassar was arrested in November 2016 for state charges that he molested former patients and also pled guilty to a federal charge for possession of child pornography, a charge for which he was sentenced to 60 years in prison. Overall, more than a hundred women have filed criminal complaints against Nassar, and several dozen also filed civil lawsuits, according to NBC News. This week, victims and their family members have been giving victim impact statements as part of the sentencing process for the state charges. He faces up to life in prison.
The Wall Street Journal had reported that Maroney had received a $1.25 million settlement from USAG in exchange for her silence, but Maroney still came forward with her story about Nassar’s abuse on Twitter last October. Maroney also filed a lawsuit against Nassar, USAG, and the US Olympic Committee, alleging that the NDA she signed was not enforceable by law and was part of an effort to cover up Nassar’s widespread pattern of abusing young gymnasts under his care.
In her lawsuit, Maroney says that USAG “coerced” her into signing the NDA while she was still emotionally devastated by Nassar’s sexual abuse, which she says began when she was 13, in addition to the wave of stories about Nassar abusing other young women. She also felt pressured to settle so that she could have the money “to pay for psychological treatment for her worsening psychological condition.”
“I want people to understand that this kid had no choice. She couldn’t function. She couldn’t work,” said John Manly, Maroney’s attorney. “They [USAG] were willing to sacrifice the health and well-being of one of the most famous gymnasts in the world because they didn’t want the world to know they were protecting a pedophile doctor.”
California law prohibits confidentiality clauses in civil agreements that would restrict a victim from disclosing potential felony sex crimes, and Maroney’s lawsuit seeks to overturn that part of her settlement, which would impose a $100,000 fine if she spoke up.
As one of America’s best-known Olympic athletes, and a victim of sexual abuse, many felt sympathy for Maroney — and outrage at USAG for failing to protect her. Model Chrissy Teigen tweeted that she would be “absolutely honored” to pay the $100,000 fine if Maroney wished to speak out and USAG sought to enforce it against her.
The entire principle of this should be fought – an NDA to stay quiet about this serial monster with over 140 accusers, but I would be absolutely honored to pay this fine for you, McKayla. pic.twitter.com/lsBEgEqZpD
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) January 16, 2018
Maroney had deleted her Twitter account but released a statement through her attorney, thanking Teigen:
I’m not on social media right now, but I wish I was for this! I’m shocked by your generosity, and I just want you to know how much hope your words bring to all of us! I just can’t get over the fact that someone I don’t personally know is sticking up for me, let alone a strong woman that I’ve looked up to for years!
Thank you Chrissy, you’re so inspiring, and things are starting to change because of people like you! Just saying that was worth the decision to speak up regardless of a fine. You’re heart pure gold. God bless. All my love, McKayla
Finally, USAG released their own statement confirming they would not enforce the NDA against Maroney:
USA Gymnastics has not sought and will not seek any money from McKayla Maroney for her brave statements made in describing her victimization and abuse by Larry Nassar, nor for any victim impact statements she wants to make to Larry Nassar at this hearing or at any subsequent hearings related to his sentencing. This has been her right and USA Gymnastics encourages McKayla and anyone who has been abused to speak out. USA Gymnastics remains focused on our highest priority – the safety, health and well-being of our athletes and creating a culture that empowers and supports them.
Maroney’s attorney Manly released his own statement to Sports Illustrated in response, excoriating USAG for its “misrepresentations” and characterizing their actions as not taken in good faith, but done because public sentiment forced them to do the right thing:
USA Gymnastics finally acknowledges that the gag order they forced on Ms. Maroney and her attorney was unenforceable. Sadly, USA Gymnastics continues to make misrepresentations about Ms. Maroney. They say McKayla has “always had the right to speak.” Not true. Under the agreements terms she could not speak in court unless subpoenaed. She could not even have her statement read without fear of a lawsuit against her by USAG. A victim impact statement is a voluntary act. It’s not a subpoena.
Let’s be clear. The only reason this statement was issued is because people were outraged at USAG’s behavior toward Ms. Maroney and her family. So outraged that people were kindly offering to pay the six figure USAG penalty so McKayla could speak. Everyday Americans get that no one should be silenced about child molestation. This is especially true when the abused is a young athlete who competed in the Olympic Games for our country and brought honor and dignity to our nation. It is truly sad that USA Gymnastics and the USOC didn’t and don’t get it. They have no choice to relent because the cleansing sunlight of truth is shining upon them and they can no longer hide their misdeeds.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.