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HumanDocs screening: “At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal”

See the Tennessee premiere of this HBO documentary this Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Shamblin Theatre. Plus: Panel discussion featuring Hunter Stanfield, April Ezell, Jim Thomas and Kathy Hargis.

Kalli Groce  | 

At the Heart of Gold

Lipscomb University’s HumanDocs Film Series presents the free Tennessee screen premiere of “At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal,” Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Shamblin Theatre. This HBO documentary, which is part of the Courage First program from The Foundation for Global Sports Development, takes an in-depth look at the decades-long abuse of athletes by Dr. Larry Nassar and the system that allowed it to happen for so long. 

The film is directed by Erin Lee Carr. It was also nominated for Best Documentary at the 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards.

“At the Heart of Gold” tells a story of unprecedented abuse through the shared experiences of dozens of survivors, as well as coaches, lawyers and journalists. It follows the story all the way through to Nassar’s arrest, trial, sentencing and the subsequent fallout in amateur sports.

A nightmare in the world of gymnastics

According to Couragefirst.org, between 2 and 8 percent of youth athletes will be victims of sexual abuse while engaging in sport. In 98 percent of cases, perpetrators will be coaches, teachers or instructors. 

For more than 30 years, Nassar worked with athletes, especially gymnasts, as a respected trainer and team physician. For more than two decades, he was the osteopathic physician for the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team, as well as a physician at Michigan State University. During that time, he sexually abused hundreds of female athletes. 

In 2016, Rachael Denhollander went public with her story in The Indianapolis Star, and many more women filed lawsuits against both Nassar and the institutions that had protected him for so long. This finally led to his firing and the criminal charges that made this one of the most high-profile trials in recent history. At his sentencing, 156 women bravely made statements. Several of these women continue to tell their stories in “At the Heart of Gold.”

A broken system

In the wake of this and other scandals in the world of college sports, there have been several changes to the guidelines surrounding Title IX, the federal civil law that protects student athletes from discrimination, to address sexual misconduct. The NCAA has tried to take a proactive stand by making it obligatory for athletes, coaches and staff to report any incidences to the proper authorities.

“In many of these cases, people knew about specific incidents and violations and either turned a blind eye or reported it to someone within the athletic department,” said Kathy Hargis, associate vice president of risk management and Title IX coordinator at Lipscomb. “Some athletic departments [where scandals have occurred] thought they could handle it internally, and it never got reported to the appropriate people. 

“Lipscomb and the NCAA make annual training mandatory for both the coaching staff and athletes here. They know they have an obligation to report anything inappropriate directly to the Title IX coordinator.”

There has been a lot more scrutiny since the Nassar case. “A horrible event like that raises questions, but it also raises the spotlight on athletic programs,” said Hargis. “The NCAA has become a lot stricter on both training and outreach.”

About the premiere

The HumanDocs showing of “At the Heart of Gold” is the first Tennessee screening of the film through Sidewinder Films’ college tour. All films in the series are free and open to the public, and include a panel discussion or talk-back session after the screening.

The panel discussion following the documentary will feature Lipscomb experts: Hunter Stanfield, professor of family science; April Ezell, instructor in kinesiology and former player and coach; Jim Thomas, professor of education and communication and former executive assistant to the president; and Hargis, associate vice president of risk management and compliance and director of the Title IX office.

HumanDocs screens a series of social-justice documentaries at Lipscomb each semester. The series, sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and presented by the Lipscomb Honors College, is intended to develop students personally, encourage lifelong learning and inspire service in a changing world.

For more information on this event, contact Ted Parks, associate professor of foreign languages and co-curator of Lipscomb’s HumanDocs Film Series, at ted.parks@lipscomb.edu or 615.966.6616.

To watch a trailer of the movie and find more resources, such as a blog post titled “Help Make Your Kids Resistant to Abuse: Thoughts on Parenting From a Nassar Survivor,” visit CourageFirst.org

Note: “At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal” contains potentially disturbing details of sexual abuse. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.