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Saturday Sports: Sexual Abuse, Russian Doping

Nov 11, 2017
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's time for sports.

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SIMON: Two great U.S. athletes have come forward to talk about the sexual abuse that they endured from men in their sports - and new evidence of Russian doping. We're joined now by NPR's sports correspondent, Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: And let us start with the great Diana Nyad, maybe the greatest distance swimmer of all time, man or woman - by the way, a former NPR commentator. She had an essay in The New York Times this week about how her longtime coach Jack Nelson, who - I looked it up - got laudatory obits when he died in 2014 - sexually abused her from the age of 11. And Diana's account is both sickening and necessary to read.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. And not surprising that she's joining the chorus of voices during this moment in time when so many people are coming forward with stories of harassment and abuse. Of course, coaches and athletes have one of the most common power-trust relationships, especially for kids. And it, too, gets violated. Diana has the advantage of being a public person and having a platform. And she wants to use that now as she has in the past. She says she's been telling her story for nearly 50 years in an effort to help herself and to help others who don't have a platform find their voices on this issue.

SIMON: And we should mention in the past 24 hours, Aly Raisman, the great gold medal gymnast...

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Talked about being abused by the former team doctor Larry Nassar.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Yesterday, she became the most prominent of more than a hundred former female athletes who've made these allegations. Nassar - Larry Nassar currently is in jail. He's awaiting trial on sexual misconduct charges. He says he's innocent of those charges, although he did plead guilty to possession of child pornography. Aly Raisman is 23 now, and she says Nassar started treating her when she was 15. And in speaking out now, she's also questioning the culture in her Olympic sport that allowed Dr. Nassar to, as the allegations state, abuse young women for more than two decades.

SIMON: Do we dare to hope that more young athletes are now going to be emboldened to speak out and not put up with, after all, what are crimes?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, we do. And, you know, Scott, hopefully, they feel as if the organizations behind their sports are fully supporting them, as well. In recent scandals involving Olympic sports such as gymnastics and swimming, it was revealed the governing bodies weren't always responsive and allowed predatory coaches to remain in the sports and simply move around to different places. The governing bodies responded to the scandals by adopting and strengthening so-called safe sport policies. They hired new leaders. They stressed the importance of reporting incidents. One hopes this vigilance is happening and helping.

SIMON: Another scandal - I don't mind saying a lesser one - the World Anti-Doping Agency says it's obtained a database that confirms more than a thousand Russian athletes competing in over 30 sports were doping. The findings suggest that doping is routine, not exceptional on Russian athletes. How can any other athlete in the Winter Olympics in South Korea next year compete fairly against a Russian athlete?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Well, I assure you that's a question those other athletes are asking and one the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, is going to ponder as it figures out what to do about Russia. This database from the Moscow lab apparently will show how much more widespread the doping system was, even more than the numbers you cite there. Certainly, it's going to increase the call for Russia to be banned outright from the games coming up in February. But, of course, Russia is a huge Olympic power player. We'll see what the IOC does when it meets in early December to decide this matter.

SIMON: And some actual games - the Boston Celtics defeated the Charlotte Hornets 90-87 last night. A lot of people thought the Celtics - their season would be over when Gordon Hayward suffered that gruesome injury last month.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: Turns out they have bounded back despite, haven't they?

GOLDMAN: Great leaps and bounds. You know, last night, down 12 at the start of the final quarter, they roared back without their two best players, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, out with injuries. The Celtics have now won 11 in a row - best record in the NBA, playing great defense. And, Scott, let's mention one of the most underappreciated young head coaches in the league, Brad Stevens. He looks like he's 17. But don't let that fool you. He's pulling this team together with great calm and coaching smarts. Boston hasn't skipped a beat since losing Hayward They are the beast of the east right now.

SIMON: Yeah. In fact, I even wonder if they have room for Gordon Hayward when he comes back...

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) That's right.

SIMON: ...The way they've been - I mean, you wouldn't want to (laughter) change that formula, would you?

GOLDMAN: I think they'll make a little room.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much for being with us.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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