Maggie Nichols has been a star in the gymnastics world for years, but only recently has her widespread impact on the sport been realized by the masses. The Netflix documentary Athlete A chronicled her role as the "Athlete A" in the group of survivors who reported former Michigan State University and United States Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar for sexual abuse. In addition to everything she’s already done for the gymnastics world, what Maggie Nichols is doing after Athlete A proves she’s not finished making an impact on the sport.
In 2015, Nichols became the first athlete to formally report Nassar’s abuse to USAG. Since then, according to Athlete A, more than 500 survivors of Nassar have come forward about his sexual abuse, including Olympians Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, and McKayla Maroney.
On Nov. 22, 2017, Nassar pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with minors, for which he was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. A week later, he pleaded guilty to an additional three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, for which he was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison. (Nassar also pleaded guilty to three counts related to child pornography, for which he was sentenced another 60 years in prison, earlier that year.)
But although Nassar will serve the rest of his life in prison, the U.S. Department of Justice is still looking into USAG, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the FBI for the handling of the Nassar claims. USAG reportedly lied to Nichols’ family about how her claims against Nassar were being investigated, allegedly in an attempt to cover up the incident. As of June 2020, USAG is still in litigation over sexual abuse claims from the survivors of Nassar. Elite Daily reached out to USAG for comment but did not hear back by publication time. However, a public statement from USAG CEO Li Li Leung said USAG has "implemented stronger policies and preventative measures, launched multiple educational efforts, and made sweeping organizational, leadership, and personnel changes" and also "prioritized changing the sub-culture" within the gymnastics community that allowed Nassar’s abuse to happen.
Athlete A brings more attention to the years of abuse athletes faced at the hands of Nassar, as well as the overall "systemic abuse and institutionalized corruption within the world of gymnastics." But the Netflix documentary is also centered around Nichols, and what happened to her gymnastics career after she came forward about the abuse she experienced. After being a leading contender for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, she was not selected to compete in Rio. Nichols said this could have been because of her lingering knee injury, but her mother implied in the film that the decision to not include Nichols could have been retaliation for her accusations against Nassar.
Nonetheless, Nichols moved on to do great things within the sport. After not making the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, she retired from elite gymnastics and went on to compete at the collegiate level with The University of Oklahoma. There, she broke the school’s team record for perfect 10.0 scores, won the NCAA all-around title two times, and helped with a NCAA team championship. Even world-champion Biles said Nichols was "the Michael Jordan of college gymnastics."
Nichols was set to finish her senior season with the Oklahoma college team this year, but unfortunately the season was cut short in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. "I think we had so much left to show everyone," Nichols told ESPN about the abrupt end to her career. "[It] was very sad because everyone wants that opportunity to go to Big 12, and then regionals, then nationals, and to ultimately win that national championship ring."
But Nichols has remained positive. "Before [the season] got canceled, my senior season was amazing," she said to Glamour. "I mean, I couldn’t have asked for anything better both for my team and myself."
The end of Nichols’ competitive gymnastics career doesn’t mark the end of her involvement with the sport, however. She officially accepted the role of student volunteer coach next year for her University of Oklahoma team. "I’ll go into the gym a few times a week for practice, and get to coach the girls like a real coach," she told Elle. "I’ll be able to travel to a few of the competitions as well. [It] will be really exciting to be on the other side of the floor."
Nichols also told Elle that becoming a full-time coach is on her radar, but she’s also looking into sports broadcasting as a potential career move. "I just know I want to do something in sports," she said. "This next year will be a lot of exploring and seeing what I like and what I don’t like."
Whatever Nichols does next, she’s made it clear she’s not finished making an impact. "I don’t want to be remembered just as ‘the gymnast,’ she said to Glamour. "I want to be remembered as an inspiration, someone who people looked at who spread positivity and inspiration and strength."
Athlete A is now available on Netflix.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.
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