LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - More than 100 survivors who went public with gut-wrenching stories of abuse by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar joined in a show of solidarity on Wednesday as they accepted an award for courage at the annual ESPYs ceremony.
The honorees smiled, held hands and exchanged hugs as they filled the stage at the glitzy event attended by top athletes and celebrities in downtown Los Angeles.
“It is a privilege to stand up here today with my sister survivors as we represent hundreds more who are not with us tonight,” said gymnast Sarah Klein, the first known victim of Nassar.
“Make no mistake. We are here on this stage to present an image for the world to see - a portrait of survival, a new vision of courage,” she added.
Klein, softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez and three-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman spoke on behalf of the 141 survivors as they received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, an honor named after the late tennis star and presented to people who make an impact beyond the playing field.
Raisman recounted the years that girls and women complained about Nassar while he served as a team doctor for USA Gymnastics and at Michigan State University. “1997. 1998. 1999. 2000. 2004. 2011. 2013. 2014. 2015,” she said. “All those years we were told ‘you are wrong, you misunderstood’.”
“We persisted and finally someone listened and believed us,” Raisman said as audience members wiped away tears and gave the group a standing ovation.
Nassar pleaded guilty in November 2017 to molesting female athletes under the guise of medical treatment in incidents dating back to the 1990s and was sentenced to life in prison.
Authorities said Nassar abused more than 260 women and girls. Nearly 200 of them gave often emotional testimonies during sentencing hearings earlier this year.
The ESPYs, which pay tribute to the top athletes and performances of the past year, are presented and televised by Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) sports network ESPN.
Washington Capitals player Alexander Ovechkin won best male athlete after helping his team win the National Hockey League championship. Olympic snowboarder and gold medalist Chloe Kim won best female athlete.
The ESPYs also honored three coaches killed in February while trying to protect students during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They were Aaron Feis, Scott Beigel and Chris Hixon.
Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Michael Perry, William Maclean