At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal TV Poster Image
Powerful docu about enabling and surviving sexual abuse.

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Positive Messages

It demonstrates how predators can get away with sexual misconduct and assault, even under the noses of parents, coaches, and other adults. It also shows how the decision of survivors to come forward can lead to the incarceration of their abuser, and end a systematic cycle of abuse. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Female survivors demonstrate strength and courage by talking about what happened, and publicly reclaiming their lives without shame to help others. Coaches and administrators enabled Larry Nasser’s behavior order to secure the success of their athletic programs. Multiple organizations failed to take the necessary steps to investigate the allegations and remove him from his position.

Violence

It centers on the ongoing sexual assault of young female athletes and dancers. On occasion, these acts are discussed in some detail. Archival footage shows a violent reaction of a parent in court. The physical and emotional abuse gymnasts may endure during training is discussed in detail. 

Sex

The lack of sexual experience among young survivors is discussed. Nasser alleges that some of these acts amounted to consensual sex. 

Language

The word “f--k” is stated as part of quoted statement. Otherwise, the language is clean. 

Consumerism

Under Armor, Nike, and other brands of athletic gear and apparel are visible. Logos for Michigan State University, Twistars USA Gymnastics Club, and other gymnastics-related organizations are also shown. None of these things are presented in a marketing context. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that At The Heart of Gold: Inside The USA Gymnastics Scandal is an HBO documentary that examines the ongoing sexual abuse of young female gymnasts and other athletes at the hands of a popular Michigan sports doctor. By giving a voice to the survivors, it underscores the courage and strength of the young women, many of whom publicly shared their stories in order to empower themselves and help others. It also offers details about the actual assaults, and the abusive coaching techniques and institutional deficiencies that created a culture that enabled this abuse, but does so articulately, and with mostly clean language. It is a difficult story, but one that parents may consider watching with their older teens in order to help them understand what sexual misconduct is, how it can happen, and who to go to for help if necessary. 

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What's the story?

AT THE HEART OF GOLD: INSIDE THE USA GYMNASTICS SCANDAL examines the events leading up to one of the largest sexual abuse scandals in American history. In 2016, after an ongoing investigation into USA Gymnastics (USAG) was published by the Indianapolis Star, Michigan State University sports physician and Women’s National Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was arrested, and eventually sentenced to life, for sexually abusing young female athletes and other children for over 20 years. Through a combination of interviews and courtroom footage of victim impact statements, some of the 300+ young survivors share their stories. Additional interviews with former athletes, coaches, attorneys, journalists, and advocates reveal how MSU and USAG systematically put their athletic programs ahead of the well-being of their athletes, and created a culture that enabled Nassar to successfully carry out these crimes. It’s a difficult and complicated story, but one that never loses sight of the strength and courage of the women who came forward. 

Is it any good?

The powerful documentary gives a voice to the survivors of Dr. Nassar’s sexual abuse, many of whom endured his assaults for years without fully understanding what was happening to them. It reveals how easily the serial pedophile was able to manipulate the often-abusive gymnastics training culture in order to foster a sense of trust among the young, sexually inexperienced athletes. He was then able to groom them (and often their unwitting parents and other adults) into accepting his invasive “treatments” as legitimate medical procedures. It also shines a harsh spotlight on MSU and USAG, underscoring the damage caused by sports institutions that systematically prioritize making money and gaining prestige off of athlete success, while protecting their own interests at any cost. But At The Heart of Gold never allows the audience to forget the women, among them young high school students, mothers, and Olympic medalists, who publicly shared their stories despite their right to remain anonymous, in order to fight back, reclaim their lives, and end the cycle of abuse in their sport. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the reasons survivors agreed to share their stories for At The Heart of Gold. Why is this courageous? What do their stories teach us? 

  • How has sexual misconduct been treated in popular media over the years? Have media conversations and representations of abusive sexual behavior become better or worse since the #MeToo movement? 

  • There are lots of conversations about sexual misconduct in the news and through documentaries like this one. What are some ways adults can explain what is happening to young children when they know little about sex? How can the subject be constructively approached with teens and tweens? Check out some books that might help them understand more about these issues.

TV details

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