If you haven’t already heard about the #MeToo movement, it’s safe to say we’re surprised. This global-reaching movement has been around since 2006, though in recent years, awareness has grown incredibly across various different communities, industries and countries. In 2017, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted her encouragement for victims of sexual abuse and assault to come forward to help build awareness for just how widespread the problem and, in light of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a shocking number of women, both celebrities and citizens, began speaking out about their experiences.
With this in mind, it was only a matter of time before sports had their moment. Since 2017, a shocking number of female athletes have come forward with allegations and stories of unfair treatment, gender bias across all sports and sexual abuse and assault. Here, we’re taking a look at some of the biggest cases of the last few years.
Female Athletes Are Taking A Stand
It’s no unknown fact that female athletes aren’t treated in the same manner as their male counterparts. From limited publicity and popularity in sports such as football to a lack of women in leading coaching or management roles across the entire industry, unfair treatment is no shock. However, what has shocked the world is just how many of these athletes there really are. Allegations were made against coaches, doctors, managers and more, showcasing the darker reality of being a female in the sporting world.
Serena Williams, the female tennis star recently in headlines for her fight against pregnancy discrimination in Tennis, said that female athletes “are taking control, and that’s what it’s all about,” which is when it become clear that the fight for female athletes in sport isn’t just about #MeToo. More and more of these women are speaking up about gender biases towards women all over today’s world. From the lack of women in management roles, down to the very fact that even female horses are inferior to their male counterparts and are subjected to female gender bias in horse racing. However, 2018 saw more and more women across every sport starting to take a stand and it all began with the first huge court case:
Dr Larry Nassar
At the beginning of 2018, 150 women and younger girls submitted allegations against a doctor by the name of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics (which also underwent an abuse scandal in 2016) and Michigan State University sports doctor. This scandal has only grown over three years, with lawyers even claiming that upwards of 500 girls are now speaking up about abuse by the hands of this man.
The allegations and resulting statements detailed how the doctor had been sexually assaulting and abusing athletes for over 20 years of his career, with many cases against those who were underage. Olympians Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman were two of the survivors to give impact statements, however, they certainly weren’t the only women to give raw accounts of the events.
Nassar was ultimately sentenced to 40-175 years in prison, which was essentially a life sentence. The president at the University was also charged with lying to the police and lost her job, and some other people at the university and at the national governing body also face charges.
Later that year, Jerry Richardson, the former owner of the Carolina Panthers, was accused of sexual harassment. The case was less public than that of Larry Nassar, he did also face charges of racial misconduct in the workplace, only serving to cause more damage to his reputation and, of course, his future in the industry. While his sentence wasn’t as severe as Nassar’s, he was subjected to a $2.75million fine from the NFL and was forced to sell his team and retire from his position.
Towards the end of 2018 and into 2019, it came to light that South Korea’s elite sporting industry was rife with sexual, verbal and psychological abuse. The South Korean women’s curling team were some of the first to come forward, complaining of abusive behaviour from their handlers that also included threats to bench the team captain simply due to her wanting to start a family, and withholding prize money from the entire team.
A number of South Korean skaters also come forward complaining of sexual abuse and harassment, as well as rape and other excessive and criminal charges. Shim Suk-Hee, an Olympic champion skater, submitted allegations that she had been raped by her former coach regularly, which led to a number of female athletes not only in skating but in judo, taekwondo and wrestling, to come forward with similar accusations.
With experts claiming that the abusive treatment of women has been long-standing in South Korea’s elite sports, these allegations aren’t as surprising as initially thought. With a brutal training regime, male-run dormitories and committees and the regular overlooking of these issues, these allegations are shining a light on an industry that reportedly fails to safeguard its athletes.
The world of female athletics and sport is rife with fights to improve equality overall and the MeToo movement is a sure sign that this is certainly underway. From the successful cases that have seen abusers imprisoned or fined to the ongoing cases still fighting for justice, female athletes are continuing to speak up about their experiences. What do you think?