UF Gymnastics

The Florida gymnastics team was rattled after learning that former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused over 265 of his patients.

Taylour Marks / Alligator Staff

When a person thinks of the word “doctor,” certain synonyms might come to mind: safety, comfort, healing. From now on, when people think of the name Larry Nassar — a man once admired and renowned by gymnasts around the world — the only image that will appear is one of pain and distrust.

The former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison on charges of sexual abuse. Over 265 women have spoken out on the doctor’s abuses, including Olympic medalists Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas.

At UF, the topic hangs like a heavy cloud over the school’s gymnastics program.  

“It has generated a lot of discussion on our staff,” said Stacey Higgins, Florida’s assistant athletic director for sports health. “We all keep questioning, ‘How did this happen?’"

Higgins said that she and her colleagues take sexual harassment, abuse or any type of concern raised by a UF student seriously.

“We make it known to our staff and to everyone that we’re not gonna cover anything up,” Higgins said. “We’re gonna report it. We’re gonna let the proper people investigate it.”   

If Higgins or anyone else on UF's athletic training staff are informed of a colleague behaving inappropriately, the person to contact is executive associate athletics director for administration Lynda Tealer.

Tealer said the most important part of reporting an issue or a concern is making sure students know all of their options.

This includes reporting an incident to a trusted adult, who is then obligated to follow up with a supervisor before the complaint goes to the university’s Title IX coordinator, the university police or the dean of students office.

“There aren’t specific rules about protecting people in a specific sport,” Tealer said. “There’s standards of practice that physicians are held to, our athletic trainers are held to, massage, physical therapists, all of that.”

Though Nassar’s actions have affected gymnasts across the nation, some athletes, like Florida senior Rachel Slocum, are using Nassar's wrongdoings as an opportunity to learn. She studies health education, a major that has made her more aware of issues that take place in the health science field, such as sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“As I further my career, I’m gonna make sure policies and stuff are put in place so stuff like this doesn’t happen again,” Slocum said.  

When the Gators take on No. 17 Auburn tonight in the Auburn Arena, they will continue to carry the same family-oriented positivity they compete with every week.

“It’s a very trying time for our sport,” coach Jenny Rowland said. “But I truly feel that we’re such a strong community that it will be able to shed a very positive light again on that level of gymnastics.”

Follow Alana Gomez on Twitter @alanaa_gomez and contact her at [email protected].

Alana Gomez is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida gymnastics team. She has previously covered UF men’s and women's cross country. She has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.