Athlete A and the tragedy of women in sports

The new documentary about the Larry Nassar abuse scandal only scratches the surface of a systemic failure

Larry Nassar and Maggie Nichols.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images, Scott Olson/Getty Images)

When you talk about gymnastics, you have to talk about flying. All athletics rely, to some degree, on this sort of glittery hyperbole — be it the way runners or ski-jumpers or rowers discuss that strange and mysterious freedom that comes from physical mastery over your own body — but gymnastics is different. Unlike practically any other sport, its best-known athletes are almost exclusively young girls. And when they compete, their defiance of gravity represents more than just the years of training required to make stunts look effortless; it's also the lift-off of the dream in the young women watching, who otherwise might rarely see themselves as being the marquee event at the elite levels of competitive sports.

Netflix's Athlete A, out Wednesday, excavates the way we have failed these girls' athletic dreams. The documentary specifically follows the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal that first came to public light in the pages of The Indianapolis Star in September 2016 and revolved around the organization's cover-up of extensive sexual abuse by the national team doctor, Larry Nassar. But in the afterimage of the film is an even more chilling story — one in which this country systematically fails to protect and promote young female athletes of all different sports, robbing them of achieving their potential down the line.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.