Former Gymnast Sarah Klein Discusses Coach John Geddert's Sex Abuse Charges
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
John Geddert was head coach for the 2012 U.S. women's Olympic gymnastics team, the Fierce Five who took home the gold medal in London that year. He worked closely, professionally and personally, with the national team doctor, Larry Nassar, who is currently serving what amounts to life in prison for multiple sex crimes.
John Geddert was suspended by U.S.A. Gymnastics in 2018 amid complaints about his abusive coaching style. Last week, he was charged with human trafficking, including forced labor and sexually assaulting a teenage girl. On Friday, Geddert died by suicide. Sarah Klein is a former gymnast and now an attorney who trained under Geddert, and she's been outspoken about the abuse she suffered at his gym. She joins us now.
Thank you so much for speaking with us.
SARAH KLEIN: Thank you so much for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: First of all, I'm really sorry. I mean, this must have been a really hard week for you.
KLEIN: Yeah, thanks for saying that. It's been an extremely, extremely difficult week - you know, just a real roller coaster of emotions. When we learned of the charges against Geddert, it felt like a big sigh of relief. It was something that we've been waiting for for many years. You know, seeing Nassar put behind bars for the rest of his life was a wonderful thing, but it wasn't the full story. You know, we all, in a sense, grew up together. I was 8 years old. There were no Olympics necessarily on the horizon. And to kind of have this moment of now Larry's in prison and John Geddert's dead has been really hard to wrap our minds around.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Geddert was your coach for a decade.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you describe your experience training under him?
KLEIN: It was like a cult. He was a charismatic, you know, sort of larger-than-life figure with such arrogance that not only did the gymnasts sort of buy into it, but the parents and the families did, too. He emulated the Karolyi coaching style.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Bela Karolyi.
KLEIN: Yes, Bela and Marta Karolyi. It was based on fear, intimidation, calling names, physical abuse, emotional abuse, really sort of removing the spirit of the child in order to utilize their body as a means to winning gold. So it was a brutal, brutal training environment based on screaming, yelling, throwing, hitting, starvation, disallowing any sense of self to ever be formed. Every day walking into the gym, we all trembled with fear. We would often vomit before practice because you never knew what you were going to be able to expect, and you were only as good as your last move.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've said publicly that you consider Geddert worse than Nassar. Why?
KLEIN: Far worse. I would take 17 years of abuse from Larry Nassar if it meant I wouldn't have to spend one more day with John Geddert. Geddert broke us. Geddert broke our spirits, broke our psyches, broke our bodies physically, caused us to believe we were so worthless that we should contemplate suicides. And then our broken bodies would hobble back to Larry Nassar's training room, which John set him up in, in the very back of a gym with heavy metal doors, no windows, no access to the room by parents. And Larry would be there with a kind word, with a hug, with a smile. Larry would build you back up, give us some sense of hope and some sense of love.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And he took advantage of that.
KLEIN: Absolutely took advantage of that but in a way that was so confusing that even I, you know, as a 25-year-old first-year law student, Ivy League graduate, still believed wholeheartedly that this medical treatment that Larry was doing to me was actually intended to help me and that Larry would never, ever, ever hurt me. John would hurt me, but Larry would not hurt me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, listening to this, I can't help but think about how abuse leaves its mark. And I imagine you've been reflecting on how what happened to you has impacted your life. Do you mind sharing your thoughts on that?
KLEIN: People have asked me, you know, are you OK? I am not OK, and it's going to take a long time to unpack the reality that John Geddert is now dead. We were so eager to see justice in this case, and we felt so close to having him actually held to account.
And you know, who I blame is U.S.A. Gymnastics and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee. They knew who Nassar was and who Geddert was. They knew exactly what they were doing. They had complaints. They had knowledge. They saw it themselves, and they did nothing. And the reason they did that is because these evil, vile human beings wanted to make money off of us, and they did. This sport needs to be fully deconstructed. U.S.A. Gymnastics must be decertified. The Olympic Committee needs to be burned to the ground by Congress, and we have to keep our children safe.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sarah Klein, thank you very much.
KLEIN: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sarah Klein is an attorney and a former competitive gymnast. We reached out to U.S.A. Gymnastics for comment, and they issued this statement - quote, "we had hoped that news of the criminal charges being brought against John Geddert would lead to justice through the legal process. With the news of his death by suicide, we share the feelings of shock, and our thoughts are with the gymnastics community as they grapple with the complex emotions of this week's events." The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee did not respond to requests for comment.
[POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: March 2, 2021 In this story, we incorrectly say that the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee did not respond to requests for comment. It was the International Olympic Committee, not the USOPC, that did not respond. The IOC referred the request to the USOPC on March 1, and CEO Sarah Hirshland offered this comment: "It's the voices of the survivors that matter most at this time. They continue to show bravery and strength in the most difficult circumstances — including today's events," Hirshland said, referencing the charges filed against John Geddert and his death. Previously posted March 1: In this report, we incorrectly say John Geddert died on Friday, Feb. 26. In fact, he died on Thursday, Feb. 25.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.