A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article suggesting the possibility of ending non-disclosure agreements, and it made reference to the fact that gold and silver-winning Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney was paid $1.25 million by USA Gymnastics to keep quiet about her sexual assault claims against Larry Nassar.
Nassar, the 54-year-old disgraced former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor, has been accused of sexually assaulting over 260 people over the course of roughly two decades under the guise of medical treatment.
He was finally arrested in December of 2016, and he was sentenced to between a total of 140 and 360 years in prison over the course of three sentencing hearings in December of 2017, January of 2018 and February of 2018.
Nassar's sentencing hearing in December of 2017 resulted in him being sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on three counts of child pornography. His sentencing hearing in January of 2018 resulted in him being sentenced to between 40 and 175 years in state prison on seven counts of sexual assault.
Finally, Nassar's sentencing hearing in February of 2018 resulted in him between an additional 40 and 125 years in state prison on three more counts of sexual assault.
Nassar is currently serving his 60-year federal prison sentence in United States Penitentiary Tucson in Tucson, Arizona, which is a maximum-security federal prison that offers a sex offender program for sexual predators such as Nassar.
In regard to non-disclosure agreements, there are certainly advantages to them. As the Wall Street Journal article states, they are used quite frequently in businesses to keep employees from sharing secrets and from discussing other business-related activities.
However, they are far too frequently used to settle sexual assault allegations, as we saw recently with the Harvey Weinstein scandal as well. They effectively end up protecting serial predators.
But the question that the Wall Street Journal discusses is quite an interesting one: should non-disclosure agreements be banned? Using the Nassar scandal as a basis, here is why the answer to this is not as straightforward as you might think it would be.
Nassar was finally arrested in December of 2016 roughly three months after Rachael Denhollander became the first person to publicly abuse him of sexual assault when she told her story to the Indianapolis Star in September of 2016.
It was right around this time when Maroney signed the non-disclosure agreement with USA Gymnastics to keep quiet about her sexual abuse allegations against Nassar and about the non-disclosure agreement itself. As referenced above, she was paid $1.25 million to keep quiet.
Maroney violated the terms of this agreement when she ended up being the first of five gymnasts from the 2012 and 2016 United States Olympic women's gymnastics teams to reveal that Nassar had sexually assaulted her. She did so by coming forward with allegations against him in October of 2017 on her Twitter account.
However, the fact that she violated the terms of this agreement was not publicly known at the time.
Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and Jordyn Wieber are the other four gymnasts from the 2012 and 2016 United States Olympic women's gymnastics teams who have come forward with sexual assault accusations against Nassar of their own.
Two months after making her sexual assault allegations against Nassar, the 22-year-old Maroney revealed that she had been forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement with USA Gymnastics to keep quiet about her abuse and the agreement itself when she filed a lawsuit against the USA Gymnastics the United States Olympic Committee and Michigan State.
However, USA Gymnastics denied trying to silence Maroney.
But next month in January during Nassar's sentencing hearing in Ingham County, Michigan, the sentencing hearing that resulted in Nassar being sentenced to between 40 and 175 years in state prison, Maroney faced the threat of $100,000 fine if she spoke out about Nassar's abuse, a fine that model Chrissy Teigen offered to pay.
Here is what Maroney had to say about Teigen's offer, according to Sports Illustrated.
“I’m not on social media right now, but I wish I was for this! I’m shocked by your generosity, and I just want you to know how much hope your words bring to all of us! I just can’t get over the fact that someone I don’t personally know is sticking up for me, let alone a strong woman that I’ve looked up to for years!
"Thank you Chrissy, you’re so inspiring, and things are starting to change because of people like you! Just saying that was worth the decision to speak up regardless of a fine. You’re heart pure gold. God bless. All my love, McKayla”
There was really no doubt that USA Gymnastics had tried to pay for her silence. But they ended up revoking the possibility of a $100,000 fine after Teigen made her offer to Maroney, whose victim impact statement ending up being read on her behalf in court in front of Judge Rosemarie Aquilina and Nassar himself.
Here is what USA Gymnastics' statement on the matter said, according to ESPN.
"USA Gymnastics has not sought and will not seek any money from McKayla Maroney for her brave statements made in describing her victimization and abuse by Larry Nassar, nor for any victim impact statements she wants to make to Larry Nassar at this hearing or at any subsequent hearings related to his sentencing.
"This has been her right and USA Gymnastics encourages McKayla and anyone who has been abused to speak out. USA Gymnastics remains focused on our highest priority -- the safety, health and well-being of our athletes and creating a culture that empowers and supports them."
However, John Manly, who is Maroney's attorney, had this to say about the same matter, according to ESPN.
"They say McKayla has 'always had the right to speak.' Not true. Under the [agreement's] terms she could not speak in court unless subpoenaed. She could not even have her statement read without fear of a lawsuit against her by USAG. A victim impact statement is a voluntary act. It's not a subpoena.
"Let's be clear. The only reason this statement was issued is because people were outraged at USAG's behavior toward Ms. Maroney and her family. So outraged that people were kindly offering to pay the six figure USAG penalty so McKayla could speak. Everyday Americans get that no one should be silenced about child molestation. This is especially true when the abused is a young athlete who competed in the Olympic Games for our Country and brought honor and dignity to our nation. It is truly sad that USA Gymnastics and the USOC didn't and don't get it. They have no choice to relent because the cleansing sunlight of truth is shining upon them and they can no longer hide their misdeeds."
So why on Earth would USA Gymnastics bother paying Maroney $1.25 million to sign a non-disclosure agreement and then not fine her after she violated the terms of that agreement to speak about both the sexual assault that she was forced to endure at the hands of Nassar and the agreement itself?
It's quite simple, actually.
As far as gymnasts go, McKayla Maroney is a high-profile athlete. She was a member of the gold medal-winning 2012 United States Olympic women's gymnastics team, which has been nicknamed the "Fierce Five", in London during the Summer Olympics.
Until the "Fierce Five" won the gold medal in London in 2012, the United States Olympic women's gymnastics team had not won the gold medal since the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
Maroney was also the overwhelming favorite to win the gold medal in the women's individual vault finals to the point where NBC announcers Al Trautwig and Tim Daggett thought that she was pretty much a lock to do so.
Unfortunately, she ended up falling on her second vault in the final round, ending what was an astounding streak of 33 consecutive vaults during which she landed her dismount.
Maroney ended up settling for a silver medal behind Romania's Sandra Izbaşa, and the face she made while standing on the podium while the Romanian national anthem was being played instantly became a viral meme.
But at the time when Nassar was arrested in December of 2016, which was right around the time when Maroney was forced to sign the non-disclosure agreement that she signed with USA Gymnastics, there were no high-profile gymnasts who had revealed their sexual assault accusations against Nassar of the 100 or so people who had done so at that point.
As we now know, USA Gymnastics knew that they needed to do whatever they could possible do to save face at this point, and they happened to believe that the best way to do this involved paying Maroney $1.25 million to keep quiet about the sexual assault that she was forced to endure at the hands of Nassar.
When Maroney first came out with her accusations against Nassar this past October, what could USA Gymnastics say? Could they come out publicly and criticize her for violating the terms of the agreement while at the same time claiming to care and admire the courage of her and others for coming forward?
Obviously not; how bad would that have looked on so many levels?
Then more and more high-profile gymnasts began publicly accusing Nassar of sexual assault. Aly Raisman did so the following month in November, and Gabby Douglas did the same just a few days after Raisman did. The scandal slowly and slowly began to creep into the national spotlight because of the accusations by these gymnasts.
USA Gymnastics' apology statements in regard to how much they admired the courage of the victims and how they were devastated that this could have ever happened continued, and they also continued to be met with heavy criticism and backlash for their apparent insincerity given the fact that they were not instituting any major changes as a result of the scandal.
Among those who have criticized USA Gymnastics is Aly Raisman, who has undoubtedly been the most vocal gymnast of the gymnasts sexually assaulted by Nassar in terms of speaking out against the organization in addition to the United States Olympic Committee and Michigan State University.
It was in December of 2017 when Maroney revealed that she had been forced to enter a non-disclosure agreement with USA Gymnastics. She also revealed that she was paid $1.25 million to do so.
Again, if USA Gymnastics expected anyone to believe their statements about how much they care for the victims and admire them for their bravery and courage, how on Earth could they actually impose a fine on Maroney for speaking out against Nassar and then revealing the non-disclosure agreement she entered into?
Also, even though she did violate the terms of the non-disclosure agreement, how could they fine her for having her impact statement read on her behalf in court in January?
If USA Gymnastics had any interest in saving face, which was the whole reason behind having Maroney sign the non-disclosure agreement to begin with, they couldn't, and as referenced a few paragraphs ago, they didn't.
This was the case because of the fact that the situation had already elevated to the national spotlight, which is something that USA Gymnastics were trying to prevent by paying Maroney $1.25 million to begin with. Their hopes that no high-profile gymnasts would come forward with sexual assault allegations were shattered.
They had effectively paid Maroney $1.25 million for nothing, and as a result of the fact that the scandal entered into the national spotlight following the sexual assault allegations against Nassar made by Maroney and so many others, they had no clear or logical way to fine her during their continued desperate attempt to save face.
They thought that if they could keep Maroney from revealing her sexual assault, this scandal would not elevate to the level that it elevated to. In their minds, as long as no high-profile gymnasts came forward with sexual assault allegations against Nassar, they would not receive nearly as much backlash as they would have received otherwise.
"Otherwise" ended up being the case thanks to Maroney's bravery and courage, and USA Gymnastics literally had no way to respond as far as their non-disclosure agreement with her went.
The organization's decision ultimately backfired, and it did so so hard that fining Maroney or anyone for anything at this point would do far, far more damage than it would do good. With saving face the continued goal, their non-disclosure agreement with Maroney ended up coming back to bite them as opposed to helping them in the end.
That brings me back to the question as to whether or not non-disclosure agreements should be banned. At the end of the day, it depends.
There are plenty of good uses for non-disclosure agreements, but then again, there are many times when these agreements are used inappropriately like we saw when USA Gymnastics tried to keep sexual assault survivor McKayla Maroney from talking about the assault that she was forced to endure at the hands of Larry Nassar.
There are many factors to consider in order to come to a conclusion here, so a conclusion is hard to reach.
Non-disclosure agreements should probably not be completely banned because of some of the upsides they have, especially in the business world, but there should be extra measures taken to ensure that they are not used to essentially buy the silence of victims of sexual assault.
But look at what Maroney did and throw all of that talk out the window.
USA Gymnastics forced Maroney to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which she did, and she received $1.25 million from the organization to ensure ("ensure") that she would not speak of the sexual assault that she was forced to endure at the hands of Nassar or the non-disclosure agreement that she signed with the organization itself.
She proceeded to do both anyway in addition to suing USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic Committee, and Michigan State.
What Maroney proved is this: there comes a time when enough is enough. She knew she had signed the non-disclosure agreement with USA Gymnastics and that they had paid her $1.25 million to do so, and she knew that she could face a hefty fine if she violated the terms of that agreement.
But she went ahead and came forward with her sexual assault allegations anyway. And what could USA Gymnastics realistically do about it? Absolutely nothing.
On a side note, while USA Gymnastics have stated that they did not use any other non-disclosure agreements to silence any of Nassar's victims aside of Maroney, keep in mind the fact that they also denied paying for Maroney's silence when she revealed that she had signed a non-disclosure agreement with the organization in December.
But the whole concept of what a sexual assault-related non-disclosure agreement is supposed to be was completely shattered by Maroney's courage and bravery, and she paved the way for several other high-profile gymnasts to come forward with their sexual assault allegations against Nassar as well.
To put it bluntly, McKayla Maroney is a hero.
At the end of the day, the discussion about whether or not non-disclosure agreements need to be done away with actually doesn't need to be had. Yes, I just wrote over 2,000 words having that discussion, but basing the answer to the question on Maroney's actions in the Nassar scandal cause the question to pretty much answer itself.
I believe that this discussion doesn't need to be had based on my belief that in the very near future, non-disclosure agreements to settle cases involving sexual assault won't exist. Why would anyone risk buying someone's silence only to have them come forward with sexual assault allegations anyway?
Maroney proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this scenario is certainly possible, and USA Gymnastics' focus on saving face caused them to be put in a position where they could literally do nothing about it once it happened.
How much longer are people really going to be willing to take that risk after what happened involving the non-disclosure agreement between Maroney and USA Gymnastics?