USA Gymnastics’ fall from grace has been complete in the years following the 2016 Olympics; as the women’s team came home with their second consecutive gold, Indianapolis local news pieced together innocuous tips to uncover a series of sexual abuse cover-ups the organisation had combatively denied. The resulting expose garnered the testimonies of hundreds of current and former gymnasts, worldwide publicity, and consecutive sixty-year sentences for former team doctor Larry Nassar.

The strength of Athlete A lies in its denial of Nassar’s case as anomalous in a sport that has routinely valued victory over children’s health and wellbeing, as well as its refusal to leap to unearned conclusions. Nassar’s abuse spurred IndyStar’s investigation, but the clarity with which institutional malpractice and the physically and mentally damaging culture are explored – from footage of athletes performing on injuries to an animated chain of command highlighting each failure in reporting sexual assault – makes this the story of the barrel, not the bad apple.

At the same time, Athlete A notes suspicious activity but does not infer without evidence, highlighting that many cover-ups may never be known. Maggie Nichols – the first athlete whose abuse was reported – is the jumping off point to explore these cycles of violence, and she and her family air their questions, doubts, and frustrations with no easy answers foisted upon them.

The documentary’s primary limitation is that there are two investigations in one. As the Nassar investigation is so well-known and clear cut, the time spent examining the development of US Gymnastics’ cutthroat culture and its historical players feels surface level.

Athlete A does not bring a new problem to light and may not offer much to those who followed the court case closely, but its dedication to the gymnasts’ stories and reporters’ tenacity makes it a worthy testimony.  


Available to watch on: Netflix


CAST: Maggie Nichols, Steve Bert, Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia, Tim Evans

DIRECTOR: Bonnie Cohen, Jon Shenk

WRITERS: Bonnie Cohen, Jon Shenk

SYNOPSIS: This documentary follows Maggie Nichols, the first gymnast to report Larry Nassar, and the IndyStar reporting team who uncovered USA Gymnastics’ failure to report sexual abuse.