Following Marathon Nassar Sentencing, Aquilina Discussing Reform At Albany's Aurora Games

Aug 14, 2019

Next week, Albany will host the first Aurora Games — a multi-sport international competition for women. It comes during a challenging time for gymnastics. A high-profile figure from one of the sport’s darkest hours will be in Albany for the event.

A circuit court judge in Michigan, Rosemarie Aquilina gained international headlines at the nadir for USA Gymnastics: the sentencing of disgraced team doctor Larry Nassar on multiple sex crimes charges in 2018.

“I’ve just signed your death warrant….I find that you don’t get it, that you’re a danger, you remain danger,” she told Nassar.

After Nassar pleaded guilty to state and federal six crimes, Aquilina positioned herself as an advocate, allowing nearly 150 of Nassar’s victims to address the court at the sentencing hearing.

“I was really honored that they felt comfortable enough, when I said, ‘What is it you’d like me know?’ They told me. And they felt that that was a question that wasn’t blaming or shaming, that they finally had a place they could talk, and what I’m hopeful for is that that happens not just in every courtroom, but in every classroom, every workplace.”

As one of the keynote speakers, Aquilina is set to hold a workshop at the Albany Capital Center August 21 at 5 p.m., next door to the Times Union Center, where gymnastics is just one of the sports on the docket for the Aurora Games.

The Nassar scandal — in which a trusted official was allowed to abuse girls under his supervision for years — has led to an uncertain future for USA Gymnastics, even as another Summer Olympics looms less than a year from now.

Citing familiarity with military chain-of-command from her experience in the Army National Guard, Aquilina says athletics at large, not just gymnastics, needs a better reporting process so that victims of abuse are encouraged to come forward.

“Whether it is physical assault, emotional or financial, there is someone where it is reported, documented and immediately investigated. We no longer can tolerate going for 30 years without an investigation even though there have been voices to the crime,” Aquilina said.

In the insular world of gymnastics, world-class amateurs were coached to trust team officials as they vied for precious few Olympic slots, giving Nassar access and power over his victims.

Last year, three-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman, one of Nassar’s victims who addressed him in Aquilina’s court, spoke at the University at Albany.

“For us if one adult had the character and had been educated to do the right thing and actually cared to do it, then he would have been stopped a very, very long time ago, and it would’ve saved generations,” Raisman said. “And so often when there’s an abuser it’s not just one victim; there’s many, and the abuse can go on for generations.”

Aquilina says the Nassar case is a moment for reform in sports in the #MeToo era.

“What we need to do is protect voice and protect these athletes, and not just Olympians, but all over the world,” she said.

Basketball, hockey and tennis are among the other sports that will be part of the Aurora Games.