Over the past two years Dominique Dawes has quietly been one of the most vocal critics of abuse culture existing within USA Gymnastics. Dawes’ criticism revolves around efforts to promote her newly established gym, and to have that gym reflect a complete cultural shift in line with the values of the #GymnastAlliance movement.
Dominique Dawes has stated her main motivation for starting up a new gym is her motherhood and having children who are reaching an age where they can start enrolling at the local gym. This has encouraged Dawes to ask herself why not create the safe/protective gymnastics environment for others that she wants for her very own kids?
As Dawes has gone about promoting her own gym and trying to explain the message she wants her club to be associated with, her stance has come to evolved into becoming a harsh critic of how the sport has failed in the past. At a certain point, Dominique’s words have ceased to be relevant to just the founding of a new club, but a larger milestone that one of USAG’s most important gymnasts of the 1990s is vocally opposed to the organization in every which way.
In the following video, you can see Dominique in her own words and while she’s wearing a mask as she speaks, it is easy to tell just how much passion Dawes has in her voice when she talks about her mission statement. As Dominique Dawes sees it, building a healthy culture inside her gym takes priority over everything else:
“If it means I won’t have Olympians produced in this gym, so be it. I am more concerned I am more concerned about your kids being happy, well rounded…”
But the above quote in a local television interview only scratches the surface of how much ferocity Dominique Dawes speaks with on this issue. Below are quotes from four different Facebook posts where Dawes describes her thoughts on USAG and being a club owner:
With the Summer Olympics less than 6 months away, I am more driven than ever to create a much healthier culture in the sport of gymnastics, for your kids and mine. This is WHY I opened the Dominique Dawes Gymnastics & Ninja Academy. Come check us out! Building Happy & Healthy Kids every single day. (Link)
Why am I started a gymnastics gym at 43 years old with four little kids you may ask? The abusive culture in the sport of gymnastics NEEDS TO CHANGE. It’s a culture based on fear, intimidation and silence. The abuses are prevalent and leave kids that become adults battered and broken. That will NOT happen at the Dominique Dawes Gymnastics Academy, the TRUE home of Dominique Dawes..Let’s bring JOY, SMILES, LAUGHTER & TRUE FRIENDSHIP back into this beautiful sport. (Link)
AMEN, Simone! I feel the exact same way. Thank you for being such a strong voice, in hopes of righting these wrongs in the sport of gymnastics. This is WHY I started my gymnastics academy and I plan to open more. I want to protect my kids, today’s and tomorrow’s generation of gymnasts so they don’t experience the unhealthy culture that was filled with fear, intimidation and silence. (Link)
People keep asking me if I am starting a competitive gymnastics program at my gym. And, some don’t even believe that a three-time Olympian would have a gym without high level competition. Well, let me say this, my kids will NEVER be associated with USAG, an organization that has admitted to rewarding coaches for abusing their athletes. This is not a hard decision for me to make, my kids matter to me and your kids do too. (Link)
Dawes’ message, thoughts, and opinions are loud and clear. On the website belonging to her gym one of the statements every parents see:
Words leave a lasting impact on the self esteem of a young child, which is why it’s beyond gold medals here at Dominique Dawes Gymnastics Academy
Dominique Dawes represents so many positive values. She is willing to share her own stories where she feels she was failed back when she was a child athlete. Her rhetoric reflects someone who does not want to treat her pupils in the same way she was treated. But most importantly, Dominique Dawes has a particular disgust and hatred aimed at USAG.
I want you to think about what witnessing the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal must have been like from Dawes’ perspective.
Dominique Dawes has stated she was not abused by Nassar. Dominique Dawes achieved breakout success in the early 1990s alongside a generation of gymnasts and coaches where there are few individuals from that era who would later become Karolyi critics. But Dominique Dawes was something else.
She was a gymnast of the late 1990s.
Dominique Dawes was one of the few gymnasts from the early 1990s who stayed around long enough to be part of an Olympic quad which was impacted by the Nasar sexual abuse scandal. Dominique Dawes was a 2000 Olympian, 31% of the gymnasts who competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials that year later came forward as a Nassar Survivor.
When combined with other examples of gymnasts like Vanessa Atler who weren’t sexually abused but have been critical of USAG culture for other shortcomings, a majority of 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials participants can be described as being vocal critics of abuse cultural in some way.
For Dominique Dawes, watching the Nassar scandal unfold must have been deeply personal. These weren’t names she was vaguely familiar with, gymnasts from a different era who she met here and there at USAG gatherings. These were Dominique’s teammates. Gymnasts she shared countless hotel rooms, media sessions, and practice sessions with.
One recurring theme with #MeToo and #GymnastAlliance is gymnasts not realizing how young and innocent they were until years later when they were adults and able to reflect on their youth. Dominique Dawes was 23 years old while being teammates with athletes still in high school. She witnessed the youth and innocence first hand of gymnasts she would later realize had been abused.
The reason I bring this up, is to demonstrate that even though she is not a Nassar survivor, this scandal was very close to home for Dawes in a way it isn’t for most, and that may explain why Dawes speaks with so much resolve. That on top of Dawes coming to realize that the coaching style she was subjected to as a child was problematic and she is determined not to pass that on to the next generation.
“People that probably wanted to speak out were too fearful to speak out, because if you come from an environment where there’s a lot of emotional and verbal and physical abuse, and then there’s another abuse kind of mounted on top of it, you’re kind of like, well, this is just acceptable. This is just the norm. There’s no safe.”
The above quote is one of many times Dawes’ has spoken out. Her Facebook posts and interviews with local media combine to produce over a dozen occasions in the past year and a half where she has criticized the culture of the sport. On one occasion speaking on a podcast for over forty minutes.
“But whenever I’m picking up the phone and I speak to teammates of mine and we reminisce about our days in the gym, there’s a lot of pain that comes up. There’s a lot of emotional scars.”
Dominique Dawes has even cut Kelli Hill out of her life. Refusing to respond to the “many times” Hill has attempted to reach out to her.
Note: If you want to find the source of the quotes at the bottom of this article, Google them and you will find the article. I’m refusing to link directly to this specific article because the website has very intrusive features which I refuse to subject my readers to.
To conclude this article, I will feature six more quotes from Dominique Dawes. But I also want to remind readers that we think of Dawes primarily for her role in 1992 and 1996 with her 2000 Olympic comeback being treated as an afterthought in the context of her previous accomplishments.
But remember that Dominique Dawes is at the unusual crossroads of being a nationally renowned child prodigy of the late 1980s, and a participant of the 2000 Olympics. Her experiences in two different eras of USAG history gives Dawes a one of a kind perspective to analyze how so many things went wrong in gymnastics. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Dominique Dawes is one of the most vocal advocates in trying to find a solution.
“While I might have reached the pinnacle in the sport, it was a very harmful environment, physically, verbally, emotionally and it’s not worth the sacrifice, it’s not worth the cost”
“They rewarded coaches for abusive behavior, for physical, verbal and emotional abusive behavior, that behavior resulted in us winning a gold in 1996 and making history, however, it’s not worth the cost.”
“I opened up to one of my teammates there and shared with her what I was going through, and I remember regretting it because of the ramifications, let’s just say, that I was forced to endure as a very young person, and I remember not wanting to speak up to my parents at all.”
-Said in reference to her being only 12 years old
“I remember the times where I would hide in a bathroom for a whole 5-hour training session, because I was too terrified to go out and work on a particular move, and to know that a young person’s fear and emotional health was completely ignored, completely ignored, breaks my heart.”
“What gives me the courage today to speak out is thinking that I am standing up and protecting my own four children and today’s and tomorrow’s generation of gymnasts.”
“There’s a lot of unhealthy people still involved in the sport, and that’s why there does need to be an internal investigation of USA Gymnastics. They need to be protecting those athletes, from physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse and sexual abuse. So many people don’t want to put their kids in the sport of gymnastics because of that unhealthy experience. I want to change what the sport of gymnastics offers to young girls and boys, and that’s why I’m so passionate to take the pain I went through and drive it into this greater purpose and this deeper passion.”