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Abuse in U.S. women’s gymnastics program ‘truly one of the tragedies of American sports’

The sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed U.S. women's gymnastics took a new shocking turn on Thursday. Former U.S. Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert died by suicide just hours after being charged with human trafficking and sexual assault. Christine Brennan, a sports reporter for USA Today who has covered Olympic sports for years, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, there were once again shocking developments in the world of women's Olympic sports today.

    Former U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics coach John Geddert died by suicide just hours after being charged with human trafficking and sexual assault, among other crimes.

    Christine Brennan, longtime sports reporter for USA Today, has covered Olympic sports for years.

    Christine Brennan, thank you so much for joining us.

    This is just another terrible turn in what seems to be a steady stream of awful news coming from women's gymnastics.

  • Christine Brennan:

    To begin to fathom this terrible, dark nightmare, this awful labyrinth of lies and deceit that these men — Larry Nassar, of course, is the name that I think many people know, in jail now serving a 60-year term in federal prison for his sexual abuse of so many of these young women, with more potential charges and jail time to come.

    And now John Geddert, the coach who worked hand in hand, with Larry Nassar side by side for at least a quarter-of-a-century, maybe more, in Michigan, at this gym in Lansing, Michigan. And we're talking hundreds of young women who were sexually abused.

    And that's one of the reasons there was such joy in the gymnastics community when Geddert was brought to justice, with the Michigan attorney general, Dana Nessel, announcing all of these charges, massive charges.

    And then, of course, the news that he died by suicide adds just another layer to it, almost unbelievable tragedy, and a nightmare within something that we expect usually as just so beautiful and so pure and so lovely, these kids playing sports.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One of the many questions I have, Christine, is, how did it take so long for this to come out?

    The stories have been there. I read today the gymnast Rachael Denhollander said, as long ago as 2000, over two decades ago, she said people knew that this was going on. And she put it in her book a couple of years ago.

    Why has it taken this long for this to be known and for there to be charges?

  • Christine Brennan:

    Judy, this is a question that should be shouted from the rooftops. Why was no one listening to these young women?

    And why was the power dynamic in this sport, as it is in many sports — youth sports, why was it so difficult for any of these young women to believe that they would be heard, or that they would even feel comfortable enough to speak out?

    And this goes to the very heart of, obviously, abuse, in this case, horrible years-, decades-long sexual abuse, but also the power dynamic involved with almost any sport. And it's something that throughout sports in the U.S. and around — really around the world, people should be looking at.

    This is triggering, I think, so many conversations that hopefully get us to a better place. But you have got these gymnasts who are being abused by Larry Nassar. And there's the — in the charging documents, there was also charges that they Geddert actually abused one teenage girl.

    And you have got this going on, and no one speaks out. And this has been a question: Why? Why wouldn't they have spoken out?

    Well, you think about this, and you're hoping to go to the Olympic Games, or you're hoping to make a big state competition or regional competition. And it would take a lot for a young teenage girl who spent years and years in the gym, and her parents are spending all this money to — maybe even mortgaging their home again, just to be able to have this girl follow her dream — to then be able to step up and say: I'm being sexually abused.

    And in some cases, they — the girls didn't even really know what this was. When you had Larry Nassar saying, I have to work in this area of your body because of your back or whatever pain you have, and they didn't know better.

    And so the notion that no one looked out for these kids, that no one was able to speak out for them, and that they just felt so hampered from speaking out themselves, it is truly one of the tragedies of American sports, and something we will be talking about for years to come.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we want to remember and think about, as you were telling us, those young girls who have grown up to be young women, but who carry this with them for their entire lives.

    And I'm sure we are going to be hearing more about it.

    Christine Brennan, thank you very much.

  • Christine Brennan:

    Thank you, Judy.

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