Athlete A (2020)

athlete a poster 2020 movie documentary
8.5 Overall Score

Tough story boiled down in a logical way

Could have actually been a longer form documentary

Movie Info

Movie Name: Athlete A

Studio: Actual Films

Genre(s): Documentary/Sports

Release Date(s):  June 24, 2020

MPAA Rating: PG-13

athlete a usa gymnastics team documentary

What America sees (and wants to see)

Maggie Nichols is an elite athlete.  A love of gymnastics turned into a career when Maggie’s skill was discovered at an early age.  Selected for training by U.S.A. Gymnastics, Maggie thought her dreams were becoming reality, and the Olympics were in sight…but something happened.  Team doctor Larry Nassar committed a crime against Nichols.  When the crime was reported, Nichols and her family believed it would treated with respect and by the law.  This didn’t happen, and Maggie’s account begin to spread and with others started to come forward stories of Nassar plus evidence of past reports.  As The Indianapolis Star looked into the abuse allegations, a deeper problem was revealed to be festering in U.S.A. Gymnastics.  Maggie finds herself as “Athlete A”…but she will find her name.

Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, Athlete A is a sport true-crime documentary.  The film was to be released at Tribeca but was instead released directly to Netflix on June 24, 2020 due to COVID-19.  It received mostly positive reviews.

Living in Indianapolis and being part of news, U.S.A. Gymnastics and the revelation of the crimes involved was an immense and long story.  As the crimes trickled out, the web began to get bigger and stronger.  Athlete A has a lot of territory to cover with a lot of sensitive issues.

athlete a usa gymnastics team doctor larry nassar

An enabled predator

The problem of telling a story of abuse is that you have to go into detail without completely turning off the audience because of the heinous nature of the crime.  The film does tell some really disturbing moments from the accusation against Nassar but this cannot be avoided (like the revelation that he was bold enough to act while parents were in the room).  The fact that the story comes from multiple athletes establishes a pattern that is (unfortunately) necessary to convict someone like Nassar.  It isn’t fair, but it is where we are as a society.

The documentary then demonstrates how this aspect was covered up by U.S.A. Gymnastics.  The number of people and the level of involvement of U.S.A. Gymnastics is debated and less clear.  The film does a good job showing the conflicting information coming from U.S.A. Gymnastics (and to some extent Michigan State) and shows that the organization was just as culpable because of the systematic cover-up involved.

athlete a maggie nichols oklahoma university gymnastics

Rediscovering the love of the sport

The set-up for the abuse is ingrained in the training.  You have a good cop-bad cop situation.  The abusive nature of the coaching broke the young women and opened them up for people like Nassar who was kind to them.  In this sense, The Karolyi and U.S.A. Gymnastics turned a blind eye because they were getting the results they wanted…the “gold” overpowered the right.

There still is a lot of injustice in this case in that many of those involved still haven’t received any punishment.  Another sad aspect of this case is the collapse of the investigative media.  The Indianapolis Star is a relatively small (and shrinking paper), yet it had the foresight to commit resources to the investigation and the realization of its importance (and doing it right).  Without the Star and dedicated investigators, stories like this might be overlooked.  Athlete A is a tough watch and maybe could have been served better in a longer form, but it does have moments of vindication for the victims…but it would have been better if their achievements would have only been only in events and not an awful situation.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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