On February 25, 2021, John Geddert, the coach of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics team died by suicide after being charged earlier that day with twenty-four felonies, including 14 counts of human trafficking-forced labor resulting in injury, six counts of human trafficking of a minor for forced labor, and one count each of continuing criminal enterprise, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, second-degree criminal sexual conduct and lying to a peace officer during a violent crime investigation. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel stated that Geddert “used force, fraud, and coercion against the young athletes that came to him for gymnastics training, for financial benefit to him.” Although these charges are not directly connected to those of disgraced doctor Larry Nasser, they demonstrate systemic flaws within the U.S.A. Gymnastics organization, as Nassar worked at the gym owned by Geddert and was convicted for criminal conduct committed at that gym.
Geddert was alleged to have used “his strong reputation in gymnastics to commit a form of human trafficking by making money through the forced labor of young athletes,” as the case centered around the treatment of the girls whose families paid Geddert to train them. Geddert’s alleged criminal conduct spanned from 2008 to 2016, and his victims continue to suffer from the trauma they experienced in the form of eating disorders, suicidal ideation, suicidal attempts, and self-harm. Further, his victims reported endured excessive conditioning, emotional abuse, and physical and sexual abuse. Survivors of Geddert’s alleged abuse share stories of career ending injuries inflicted by the coach. Makayla Thrush recounted an incident where Geddert “threw her on top of the low bar of the uneven bars and ruptured lymph nodes in her neck, gave her a black eye and tore muscles in her stomach.” Thrush also reported that Geddert told her multiple times that she ought to kill herself. Some of these injuries resulted in survivors needing to see Nasser, who sexually abused the girls under the guise of medical treatment. Geddert often forced them to perform while injured, “subjecting his athletes to forced labor or services under extreme conditions that contributed to them suffering injuries and harm.”
Charging Geddert with human trafficking and other related offenses could deter other coaches from committing similar abusive practices, according to John Manly, a lawyer representing the victims of Geddert and Nassar. The Attorney General’s office recognized that while Geddert’s alleged conduct might not seem like the typical understanding of human trafficking, the financial gain through systemic abuse is common among trafficking cases. This case demonstrates that traffickers prey on victims’ vulnerabilities, as “young impressionable women may at times be vulnerable and open to trafficking crimes.”
Unfortunately, due to Geddert’s death, victims will be unable to seek justice through the legal process. Despite news breaking about his charges, Geddert was not arrested and taken to court; Nessel’s office permitted him to turn himself in, showing “no indication that Geddert intended to flee or hurt himself or others.” However, a 2012 studyshowed that the suicide rate for male child sex offenders is 183 times higher than that of the population at large. Further, Australian researchers found that “exposure or threatened exposure of pedophilia and/or early or potential legal punishment,” which may trigger the suspect to die by suicide. Especially after the suicide of Jeffrey Epstein in 2019, high-profile suspects charged with human trafficking should be placed under suicide watch to ensure they do not escape legal justice.
Geddert’s suicide shines a light on the harmful shortcomings of the Olympic Gymnastics team to establish preventative measures for abusive practices. In response to Geddert’s charges, a U.S. Gymnastics spokesperson statedthat they had hoped these charges would “lead to justice through the legal process.” They have not released any statements about how they plan to fix the problems within the organization.
The CSE Institute stands in solidarity with the survivor-athletes of John Geddert, Dr. Larry Nassar and the U.S.A. Gymnastics organization at large as it continuously failed victims and survivors. We commend the bravery of victims and survivors, many of whom came forward to disclose descriptive details of their abuse to the public. We encourage the U.S.A. Gymnastics organization to develop strategic measures to prevent and respond to abuse, and create a safer, supportive environment for all athletes.