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Saturday Sports: Former USA Gymnastics Coach Charged With Sex Crimes Dies By Suicide

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports, but no band this week. Shocking news for USA Gymnastics - at the same time, some big changes happening at the Atlanta Dream's franchise, and good news from a true scholar athlete. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Thank you for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Ex-USA Gymnastics coach John Geddert took his life this week after being charged with numerous counts of human trafficking and sex crimes. Of course, we are sorry for his family. But what does this mean for the USA Gymnastics program and survivors of that abuse?

GOLDMAN: Well, for survivors, it was a huge swing of emotions Thursday - gratified, relieved that he was being brought to justice for the abuses his victims say went on for decades, and then his suicide, which many of them believe is a horrifying admission of guilt. But many are also angry because the world won't see him stand trial.

USA Gymnastics has been trying to recover from the devastating scandal involving sports doctor Larry Nassar and his serial sexual abuse of gymnasts and other female athletes. And now with Geddert this week, another blow to the organization's image. And it brings back questions about how USA Gymnastics let all that happen. And it puts the spotlight back on what it's doing to keep athletes safe now.

SIMON: You once profiled John Geddert's program.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: I found your piece typically fair and insightful.

GOLDMAN: Thank you.

SIMON: He didn't like your story - in fact, wrote you a letter to say thanks for nothing.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. It was way back in 1997. I saved the letter because it really stood out for its anger. He said I lied and maligned his gymnastics club in Michigan by presenting it as having a hyper-competitive environment, caring only about winning. In reality, the story talked about the positives of what he was doing developing athletes, along with skepticism.

Now, there are witnesses who say his physical and emotional abuse of athletes was happening then - I didn't witness any - as was his enabling of Nassar. They were close friends and associates. And some of Nassar's victims say they were abused at Geddert's gym in the late '90s and of course going forward. And you know, Scott, what strikes me, especially this week rereading that letter, is his hubris, really, in lashing out while these bad things were going on. And it jibes with what at least one victim said. He was a classic narcissistic abuser who felt protected in what he was doing.

SIMON: Tom, I got some lovely email this week (laughter) sports news in an email. Claire Dworsky, an avid soccer player who was one of the first winners of the Kids Science Challenge in 2009, she was interviewed on this program. She is now at West Point and has collaborated on an important finding in a paper, hasn't she?

GOLDMAN: Well, she has. I shared the email with you. It's a study on whether turf or artificial grass sports fields are better for the environment. She got a letter of commendation for her research from the San Francisco City Council and the mayor. Also, she's studying cybersecurity at West Point.

Oh, Scott, and before all this, she was the first girl to play in her high school football team and score as a placekicker. You know, I would say our future looks a little brighter with young people like Claire Dworsky.

SIMON: Oh, that's wonderful. I - quick last question. Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler has sold her stake. Big news, right?

GOLDMAN: It is big news. It ends that contentious tenure when she owned the team. In the last year, she angered players on the Dream when she came out against the Black Lives Matter movement and the league's focus on social justice issues. The Dream players helped Raphael Warnock beat Loeffler in the Georgia runoff election. The league didn't force her to sell, but the controversy sped up a sale that was already in the works. And one other thing - one of the new co-owners is former Dream player Renee Montgomery, who is now the first WNBA player to be a team owner and executive.

SIMON: Yeah. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF ED LONGO AND THE APPLIED ARTS ENSEMBLE SONG, “LOVE ON THE LINE”) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.