“When we do get outsiders,” Ms. Hopkins said of her “hard-core gym fan” readership, “it’s usually in the heat of the moment when gymnastics is in the news.”
TheGymter.net caters largely to women in their early to mid-20s and attracts a number of active teenage gymnasts, according to Ms. Hopkins — the contemporaries of many of the women and girls who delivered victim impact statements at Dr. Nassar’s sentencing hearing.
And while the commenter Weirwoodtreehugger is anonymous, age and sex unknown, with a cat photo avatar, the idea of exacting revenge against an adult by means of a toy speaks volumes about the targets of Dr. Nassar’s abuse: children.
That young readers who may relate to the victims of Dr. Nassar are finding sympathetic ears on the gymternet does not surprise Spencer Barnes, 31, the editor of The Balance Beam Situation.
Mr. Barnes said that gymnastics writers themselves were “duped” by Dr. Nassar, who befriended them on social media. “Everyone feels like they were groomed by him,” Mr. Barnes said. “He presented himself as the one good guy in a sea of exploitative characters, and all gymnastics fans were so desperate for that person to exist that we were willing to buy it.” Ms. Hopkins wrote an article for HuffPost about feeling manipulated by Dr. Nassar.
Jessica O’Beirne, the host of GymCastic, a podcast devoted to gymnastics news and discussions of its culture, interviewed Dr. Nassar in 2013 and has left the episode up in the podcast’s archive, albeit with an altered title, “Serial Pedophile Ex-Doctor Larry Nassar Interview.” She agrees with Mr. Barnes and Ms. Hopkins that she, too, was “groomed” by Dr. Nassar after he became a trusted source. “In the industry you get close to sources, and I think there was a delay in reporting because there was a delay in people thinking this could be true.”
She and her on-air crew, which periodically includes Ms. Hopkins and Mr. Barnes, have tirelessly pursued the Nassar story since September 2016, when an episode titled “Jane Doe vs. USAG Doctor” was broadcast, detailing the first police report and first lawsuit against Dr. Nassar as reported by The Indianapolis Star.
“I didn’t hesitate at all” to cover the Nassar story, she said, “because I just absolutely believed the victims.” She expressed her frustration about the news media coverage of this story as it first developed, comparing it to the Penn State abuse case involving the former football coach Jerry Sandusky. “If we had the N.F.L. network, people couldn’t get away with this,” she said.
Ms. O’Beirne said that her efforts to educate her listeners about the Nassar case and its repercussions for gymnastics and beyond have been rewarded by a comment that Ms. O’Beirne called “the most incredible insane amazing ‘can’t believe there is hope in the world’ feedback.” A woman called into GymCastic to say she had been sexually assaulted, and her assailant called her to apologize after watching the footage of Dr. Nassar’s victims reading their statements in court. “Oh my God, revolution is possible,” Ms. O’Beirne said. “My mouth is still hanging open. The power of people speaking out can legitimately change the world.”
We are looking for the voices of the gymternet — gymnasts, coaches, judges, gym parents and spouses — to contribute to this conversation in the comment section.
How has Dr. Nassar’s trial affected your relationship with the sport?
What are the next steps the sport needs to take from within?
And, perhaps most importantly, do you still love the sport? Would you recommend it to the next generation of athletes?
Comments that respond to these questions will be marked as NYT Picks.
A Times reporter may contact select commenters for a follow-up story.