An Open Letter to the New York Times Regarding Gymnastics, Abuse, and Sub-standard Journalism

laurie hernandez on beam at the rio olympics
laurie hernandez on beam at the rio olympics

Dear New York Times,

I hope you’re listening. I’m writing this post in response to one of yours: “A Gymnastics Coach Accused of Emotional Abuse Speaks Out.”

Myself and members of The Gymternet believe this article should be taken down or drastically improved. More importantly, we think you owe apology to the public, particularly survivors of abuse.

Your ethical standards preach giving your readers “the complete, unvarnished truth.” This article is not that. And as it is your policy “to correct [your] errors, large and small,” as soon as you become aware, we’d like to turn your attention to the following:

Maggie Haney emotionally, verbally and physically abused her athletes. As you know, this resulted in a suspension from USA Gymnastics, the national governing body of the sport in the US. However, this does not mean that Haney can no longer coach — it means that she cannot participate in any USAG sanctioned events or be a USAG certified gym. But she can continue coaching and abusing gymnasts without USAG.

In your article, Haney positions herself as a victim and minimizes the impact of her actions. She places blame on the parents, rather than admitting culpability or a shred of remorse.

Abuse in gymnastics has been ignored for too long. At long last, athletes are discovering their voice and their agency. Articles like yours are a serious threat to this shift in the sport. As momentum gathered in the Nassar case three years ago, many survivors were asked why they chose to stay silent for as long as they did. Articles like this are the reason why.

While Haney did not, to our knowledge, sexually abuse gymnasts like the former doctor, we should not downplay her harmful actions. Abuse of any kind affects survivors for our entire lives.

In your own article, two-time Olympic medalist and former MG Elite gymnast, Laurie Hernandez, details her negative experience with Haney. This is something Hernandez copes with every day.

Much of the abuse Haney put her gymnasts through was missing in your article. Here are just a few examples of the abuse Haney’s ex-gymnast, Riley McCusker, endured (according to McCusker’s lawsuit):

  • April 2017 — Haney forced McCusker to train on broken wrist
  • Fall 2017 — Haney forced McCusker to train on hamstring injury and fractured hip bone
  • January 2018 — Haney forced McCusker to train on injured foot (stress fractures)
  • September 2018 — Haney screamed so loudly McCusker fell off the beam
  • Spring 2019 — Haney forced McCusker to train on injured shoulder
  • June 2019 — Haney and coach Victoria Levine forced McCusker to continue to train despite Rhabdomyolysis diagnosis
  • General complaints against Haney and Levine — Body shaming, promotion of unhealthy eating and weight loss habits, promotion of amenorrhea, bullying and public shaming

Did you bother reaching out to McCusker or her attorneys while drafting this article?

While your article attempts to discuss both sides of the situation, you missed crucial opportunities to present a more complete picture.

For instance, Haney claims that the culture of silence that enabled monsters like Nassar to abuse hundreds of children has shifted too far in the other direction. Where is the evidence? Could the author have provided a counter argument? Where was the investigation of this claim? Letting this opinion sit at the end of this piece is irresponsible.

Additionally, Haney says the accusations against her came out of nowhere. Again, we do not see any evidence of this and the author fails to think critically and challenge this statement.

Further, is there any actual proof that coaches are being unfairly accused as Haney claims? If there is truth to that statement, then by all means, publish these words. But to publish this opinion without investigating further and providing evidence is once again irresponsible and simply bad journalism.

We’d also like to add a counter argument to Haney’s assertion that gymnasts who don’t take her side can’t handle the pressure. Her ex-athletes, Hernandez and McCusker, proved many times that they can handle elite training and competition. But they moved across the country to different gyms and coaches to escape her abuse. That should be acknowledged at some point in the article.

Haney also assumes that gymnasts will remain underachievers without abuse — I mean, tough love. Again, this is one opinion and there’s no evidence that this is the truth. And even if it is…who cares? I’ll gladly give up medals and glory for children to grow up happy, safe and in a nurturing environment.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we’d like to address something that the gymnastics world is slowly learning in the wake of Nassar’s abuse: It is possible for two people to have entirely different experiences with an individual and one should not negate the other. While there were gymnasts and parents who were somehow pleased with Haney’s conduct, that should not and does not undermine the experiences of athletes who have suffered at her hand.

Portraying Haney as a sympathetic character may influence parents to send their children to her gym — USAG sanctioned or not — and puts those children in harm’s way. Objective reporting needs to include the facts, and we feel that your article fails to illuminate the documented abuse Haney committed.

Sincerely,

Stephanie Ventura on behalf of The Gymternet

Special thanks to Nathália Borgonovi and Jessica Price for their contributions.

Written by

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store