Mixed in among the blue and gold, the Ithaca College gymnastics team sported a new accessory last weekend: a simple teal ribbon.
This ribbon, a seemingly basic and minuscule gesture, represents so much more than just a pop of color. Across the country, club and college gymnastics teams did the same as both a sign of unity and respect for those affected by sexual assault and as a step toward a new era in the sport they love.
Teal is the official color of sexual assault awareness, and the action comes less than a week after Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State team doctor, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for decades of sexual abuse.
“Every single gymnast has come from USA Gymnastics, and all of the gymnasts that have accused [Nassar] were in the same programs that we were in,” junior gymnast Tori Gery said. “It was our direct community, and we wanted to reach out to show our support for them, and we are here for them as humans rather than just for the program and just to win gold medals.”
The sport of gymnastics is at a crossroads right now and, after being on the hot seat for not doing more to prevent the abuse, is now starting over with new leadership at the top. USA Gymnastics has a long way to go before it regains the trust of its athletes, and many have wondered if the organization can ever regain their trust. One Sports Illustrated writer went as far to write that “American gymnastics is no longer a sport. It’s a conspiracy of pedophiles and their enablers.”
But gymnastics is a sport, and it is one of the toughest out there. Even if the sport’s leaders have done more wrong than they can ever undo, there are still those who are working to make the sport better. If people think that these athletes are going to let the bad seeds ruin the sport they love, then they clearly don’t know the power and determination these gymnasts have.
It may be just a piece of cloth, but the ribbon shows that gymnasts who have never even met one another can come together in a time of great distress and provide more class and support than the leaders who were supposedly on their side could ever do.
“Nobody can take advantage of a single girl because there are hundreds and thousands behind each one of them and we are all banding together,” Gery said. “It just shows how tough gymnasts really are because gymnasts have dealt with the worst possible thing but still continue to thrive in their gymnastics. Rather than giving up, they are working towards change, so it just shows how great people they are.”
The teal ribbon is an act of resilience against those who have ever done wrong to a gymnast, and it is a sign that if the right people are put in place and the right actions are taken, the sport can become a healthy and happy environment.