Sunday, October 17, 2021

‘Fierce’ documentary on sexual abuse in sports examines the athlete who took on the abuser

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Aly Raisman may have accomplished something superhuman during the 2012 Olympic Games: an all-around medal and two team golds in gymnastics. Then, last year, the former gold medalist went public with allegations that Dr. Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics team doctor for almost two decades, had sexually abused her under the guise of treatment. The months that followed were rough for Raisman, who had already been forced to deal with the death of her father and the passing of an iconic sportswriter, Rick Belz.

Despite the emotional toll, Raisman was determined to speak out against a powerful man who gained control over her career. Instead of giving in to the mental stress, the 23-year-old took action, advocating for widespread change in an effort to prevent similar abuses from happening again. Her powerful testimony helped lead to Nassar’s sentencing on child pornography charges, and followed that up with testimony in his sentencing for child molestation. The story of the abuse, detailed in the new Lifetime documentary “Fierce,” will hopefully inspire Raisman and others who feel at risk to speak out.

The 60-minute documentary, featuring interviews with Raisman, actress and former gymnast Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick, sports psychologist Sam Fischer, and other high-profile figures, is the first big-screen project to use Raisman’s story to shed light on sexual abuse in the world of sports. The documentary explores the changes that will help eliminate the abuses that continue to take place, but focuses on the plight of women who have been assaulted by others in the past.

“From childhood, not being allowed to be who you are, being sexually abused, being the only girl in the class … it’s painful for girls to stay in that place,” Raisman says in the documentary. “You just have to let go of that fear.”

Michele Ganeless, the president and chief executive of Lifetime, said the channel used Raisman’s journey as inspiration to create the project.

“Our filmmakers, Michele Ganeless and Meghan Lyvers, had a lifelong respect for Aly Raisman, and the story behind her successful rise to greatness and transformation into a powerful activist after being sexually abused inside the sport she loves is inspiring,” she said in a statement. “Fierce is a film that highlights this heartbreaking epidemic within women and girls that has no place in our society, let alone on television.”

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