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Sport and the gymnastics abuse scandal

Psychologist, author and former NBA player John Amaechi tells CNN that sport's standing in society could be a reason for the gymnastics sex abuse scandal.

Posted: Jan 27, 2018 4:19 PM
Updated: Jan 27, 2018 4:33 PM

Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor who admitted to using his medical position to assault and molest girls under the guise of medical treatment, was sentenced by a judge in Michigan to 40 to 175 years in prison on Wednesday. This comes after more than 150 women and girls said in court that he sexually abused them over the past two decades.

The stories that these women and girls have told in court shocked many, and questions remain on what USA Gymnastics and Michigan State knew and when, as well as how this sexual abuse could go on for so long.

John Amaechi, a psychologist, author and a former NBA player, told CNN Sport's Amanda Davies in a recent interview -- recorded before Nassar's sentencing -- that people underestimate the "almost supernatural" position of sport in society, saying it's like church.

"Sometimes people don't realize their zeal, their passion, their love of sport as an adult," Amaechi said.

"Anyone who thinks a child is making a proactive decision that they want to have a lifetime in gymnastics at the age of five is kidding themselves.

"That child is looking at their parents and thinking, 'My parents love me in this sport.' There's a chance a five-year-old will think, 'My parents may not love me as much if I don't do this sport.'

"If a child thinks they can increase their love they get from their parents by doing something even if they hate it, even if they find it injurious, even if someone is hurting them, they will continue to do it."


There is an "institutional problem," Amaechi continued.

"If you look at the institutions that have had the significant challenges, they tend to be insular, closed, governed in a way that is less than transparent, setting themselves up as paragons of virtue," Amaechi said. "That is where the similarity is.

"We give them a different space. We think if there is somebody doing something in that space that we wouldn't expect in another kind educational environment, there must be good reason for it, because we know sport is good.

"The danger comes with that assumption. Sport is an empty vessel if we allow it be filled with rogue elements, people who would rather protect their sports than your child."

However, Amaechi believes this can be changed.

"We have to stop mythologizing sport," Amaechi said. "We have to stop pretending that it's out for the best for our young people and realize that, with our great vigilance and oversight, we can use sport for great things.

"We can make sure our coaches are educated to a much higher level than they are now. We can make sure that it delivers the outcomes that it promises right now.

"Because at the moment, most sports, they promise your daughter and son will come out at the end of this with leadership skills and transformational interpersonal skills, and all of these other things, and most sport does not teach that.

"In fact, not only do they not teach these great skills above the line, they actually cause harm to our young people.

"We can do something about that, but we have to stop pretending that in of itself, sport is good."

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