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Shannon Miller on how to protect gymnasts from abuse

More than 150 young women testified to the abuse they suffered at the hand of former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar before he was sentenced to life in prison, revealing how the sport failed to keep so many athletes safe. What changes need to be made for U.S. Gymnastics to move forward and prevent future abuse? Olympic gold medal gymnast Shannon Miller joins Judy Woodruff to share her thoughts.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    After days of powerful testimony, former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to life in prison yesterday.

    But, as the hearing ended, the judge and a number of women who testified said it is crucial now to focus on what needs to change moving forward.

    We're going to focus on that tonight with a renowned gymnast, Shannon Miller. She won more Olympic medals than any other U.S. gymnast, and led the team that was dubbed the Magnificent Seven to gold during the 1996 Olympics.

    Miller wasn't assaulted by Nassar. But she is a leading voice working to reform the sport.

    I spoke with her earlier today, and we started with her reaction to the testimonies she heard during the sentencing hearing.

  • Shannon Miller:

    I think I have just been in a state of shock and sadness, outrage.

    And to listen to the victim-impact statements, as a mother, as an athlete, as a woman, it is — it is absolutely heartbreaking. And I take those voices with me each day as I continue to relentlessly focus on agenda-based change. Change has to happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have been talking and writing about that.

    Before we talk about changing the system, though, I want to ask you if you think others besides Larry Nassar should be held accountable, the U.S. Olympic Committee, Michigan State, other institutions?

  • Shannon Miller:

    I think there is a lot of accountability to go around. That is for sure.

    I think this is something that happened by one man, but I think oftentimes it's not allowing the voices to be heard, creating an atmosphere where athletes can not speak up, or, if they do, they are not heard. Things are not followed through on.

    So, I there's a great amount of accountability that needs to take place. And I think certainly within USA Gymnastics one of the things that is of utmost importance is not just the new CEO that has come in and the change in leadership, but really a change throughout the organization from the board of directors to certain personnel.

    I think there is a lot of people in the gymnastics community — in fact, I would say a majority of the gymnastics community, they want to see change. They want to do better. And it starts with holding people accountable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, last night, we interviewed sports training specialist Robert Andrews from Houston. And I'm quoting here.

    He said- "There are quite a few gyms out there with horribly abusive coaches running the show."

    And he said, on the women's side, "There is a tremendous amount of psychological abuse, shaming, humiliation."

    Is that the system that needs fixing?

  • Shannon Miller:

    It's incredibly difficult to watch this unfold, because this is not the gymnastics I knew. This is not the gymnastics experience that I faced.

    I had my personal coaches. I lived at home. I went to public school. I trained. And I got to go out and represent my city and my state and my country. That is the gymnastics I know and I love. It's about flipping and tumbling.

    It is not about whether or not your child is safe on any level when they go into the gym, other than maybe an injury or two. And we have to have comprehensive abuse-prevention education. It needs to be mandatory for every member of USA Gymnastics.

    And it needs available for all children, all athletes, parents, coaches, administration. It can be age-appropriate and that's great, but it covers all types of abuse, including bullying and body shaming and cyber-bullying.

    These are all issues that athletes face. And so we have to make sure that they are protected and that they are also armed with that knowledge and education, so they know when they can speak up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So how confident are you that that reeducation can take place, when this other system has been in place for so long?

  • Shannon Miller:

    You know, the interesting thing is, I am more confident than ever that change can take place.

    And sometimes you have to burn the field to plant anew. And that's the thing that we're focused on here. These victims — not victims, survivors, that have been through this ordeal, and they have had the courage to speak up and speak out. So let's use that.

    And, again, I think there are so many — there are so many gyms across the country, there are so many athletes, there are parents, there are people that want to see that change. And they want to help with that change. They want this to be a safer and more empowering sport.

    So if we unite and we get together, we can power through the difficult conversations and the processes and the best practices. All of those things can happen. They are out there. A lot of the things I talk about are common sense. You don't have a trainer in the same room with a female athlete alone.

    So there is hundreds, if not thousands of these small things that are absolute commonsense that you can put into place. And I think now is the time for change. And it's already begun. I would like it to go faster, and that's why I am continuing to push and push hard moving forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned the parents. There have to be parents out there watching all of this, wondering if they should let their children, especially their daughters, go into gymnastics, given what is going on.

    How do you give them confidence? What is the parents' role here?

  • Shannon Miller:

    Yes, I think the parents' role — and I'm a parent of two small children, who both will go into the gym this Saturday.

    But I think it is our role to worry, and to be a part of it, and to be concerned and to be educated. But it's hard. And I think it's important that there is an understanding that it's not just about one person or one segment. It's about making sure that the coaches are educated and the athletes as well, the parents as well.

    But we all know, as parents, we cannot be with our children 24/7, whether it's at school or any other sport or gymnastics or a field trip. We cannot be in control of them 24/7, as much as we would like.

    So we have to make sure that we are creating places that are as safe as possible. And I think part of that is making sure that this education is mandatory and that there are very specific guide lines that these gyms, if you want to be a USA Gymnastics member club, then there are very strict guidelines on what you have to follow in order to have that designation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Shannon Miller, we thank you so much for talking with us.

  • Shannon Miller:

    Thank you.

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