Over one hundred women took the stage at the 2018 ESPY Awards to shed light on sexual abuse and receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at Wednesday’s ceremony.
A total of 141 female athletes, including Aly Raisman, gymnast Jordyn Wieber, Tiffany Thomas Lopez and Sarah Klein, were representatives for all the survivors who spoke out about the abuse they endured by their team doctor, Larry Nassar, over the past decades.
Presented by Jennifer Garner, the actress took the stage to give a passionate message about the USA gymnastics and Michigan State University athletes who claimed they were sexually abused while doing their best to make their dreams come true.
“We’re about to tell you a story that is difficult to hear. It’s a story about what can happen in sports when something goes terribly wrong, when the dream of being an athlete turns into a nightmare,” Garner expressed. “Even if the story we’re about to tell you is hard to hear, we have to hear it.”
Her speech was followed by a powerful and emotional video where Raisman, along with a number of other brave women, retold their story and vowed to never let it happen again.
Following the clip, Klein was first to give a speech, stating: “It is a privilege to stand up here today with my sister survivors as we represent hundreds more who are not with us tonight. Make no mistake, we are here on this stage to represent an image for the world to see a portrait of survival. Speaking up and speaking out is not easy. Telling our stories of abuse over and over again in graphic detail is not easy.”
Raisman also opened up about her experience, explaining that her teammates would report the abuse, yet went unheard.
“1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016. These were the years we spoke up about Larry Nassar’s abuse,” the gold medalist began. “All those years we were told, ‘You are wrong, you misunderstood. He’s a doctor. It’s OK. Don’t worry. We’ve got it covered. Be careful, there are risks involved.’ The intention? To silence us in favour of money, medals and reputation.”
“But we persisted, and finally, someone listened and believed us,” she added, thanking Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who was in attendance and who sentenced Nassar up to 175 years in prison for sexual assault in January. “Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this nightmare was that it could’ve been avoided.”
“Predators thrive in silence… whether you act or do nothing, you are shaping the world we live in. All we needed was one adult to have the integrity to stand between us and Larry Nassar. If just one adult had listened, believed and acted, the people standing before you on this stage would have never met him. To all the survivors out there, don’t let anyone rewrite your story. Your truth does matter. You matter and you are not alone.”
Prior to presenting the women with the award, ET‘s Nischelle Turner spoke with Garner backstage about presenting the athlete’s story.
“This is a very intense moment,” Garner stressed. “Just to be there for these women, but I think when you’re there for someone… You know, when I first watched the package to do the voiceover, and then last night we had a very long rehearsal, that was really important to me because I knew I needed to get my emotions out before tonight, because it’s not about me, it’s about them. So I will not let myself go there. I will be there and just, I’m just there to serve them.”
The actress also shared that she spoke with her children about feeling safe and knowing when to talk to your parents.
“This morning, actually, I was telling them about where I’d been last night because I missed bedtime and I was just telling them and it opened up a conversation that I wouldn’t have had this morning,” she shared. “It’s so important to find a way to talk to our kids and help them know that they’re always safe coming to us. They can tell you anything, anything. I don’t know, I bumbled my way through the way anyone would, but it is, it’s just really important to keep the conversation going.”
Nassar was a doctor for USA Gymnastics for 30 years and was accused of sexually abusing more than 100 young girls over that time. Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas are among the women who have accused Nassar of abuse over the years. In November, he pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct. In January, the former Team USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor was sentenced in Ingham, County Michigan, to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting athletes under his care. Nassar, who is currently serving a separate 60-year sentence in federal prison for child pornography, was also sentenced to an additional 40 to 125 years in prison for sexual abuse in Eaton County, Michigan.
For more on the scandal, watch below.