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Former USA Gymnastics Coach Charged With Sexual Abuse Dies By Suicide

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to talk about some difficult subjects now. Just hours after Michigan's attorney general charged a former U.S. Olympic gymnastics coach with multiple felonies, the coach was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot. The charges against John Geddert included sexual assault, abuse of minors and human trafficking. Geddert was a decorated gymnastics coach noted for taking the 2012 Olympic team known as the Fierce Five to a gold medal.

The case against Geddert emerged over the course of the investigation and conviction of Larry Nassar, the former U.S. national team doctor who abused hundreds of girls and women, often at the gym run by Geddert near Lansing, Mich. Gymnast Isabell Hutchins talked about the abuse she suffered during her testimony at Nassar's trial back in 2018.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ISABELL HUTCHINS: The dynamic duo that is Larry Nassar and John Geddert had lasting effects on me that go beyond physical ones. My gymnastics career ended then, even though I continued for a couple years after leaving Twistars.

MARTIN: The name of that gym where the abuse happened. Police found Geddert's body at a highway rest stop on Thursday afternoon.

Joining us for more, USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan. Christine, thanks for being here.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So first off, can you just tell us more about who John Geddert was in the gymnastics world?

BRENNAN: He was 63 years old, really the all-powerful coach of young gymnasts who came to his gym in Lansing, Mich., to follow their dreams, Rachel, be they state competition, regional or even the Olympic Games. And he reached the pinnacle of his career as head coach of the gold medal-winning U.S. women's gymnastics team in London at the 2012 Olympic Games, the Fierce Five, as they were known. I interviewed him in the mixed zone there at those Olympics - steely-eyed, strong-willed, demanding, no-nonsense. And of course, I and all of these - all the reporters covering that team, that very popular team at the time, had no idea what was going on just below the surface, obviously, the horrors that are alleged with John Geddert.

MARTIN: Explain the charges.

BRENNAN: Well, the charges - there's 24 felony charges that were - the attorney general of Michigan, Dana Nessel, that she charged him with yesterday before, of course, his death by suicide. And the most interesting was the charge of human trafficking. And that term refers not only to sexual exploitation, but also to coerced labor. And Nessel charged Geddert and said that he had subjected his athletes to forced labor or services under extreme conditions that contributed to them suffering injuries and harm. In other words, the excessive training that Geddert demanded of these young women and girls was the equivalent of forced labor that resulted in injury to 19 athletes, all of whom were minors. And so that charge really is an effort by Nessel designed to stop coaches and other people in power in gymnastics from abusing young athletes who might be too intimidated or frightened to speak out themselves.

MARTIN: Now Geddert won't face justice. Where does this leave his victims?

BRENNAN: Traumatized, Rachel, all over again. If you consider the joy that they felt, the gymnastics community, you could see it on social media when the charges were announced by Dana Nessel, the Michigan attorney general, and then the horror of hearing of his death. Obviously, that is itself a tragedy in that he will not face those charges, but also that they really have to now deal with this all over again.

These young women had their childhoods stolen by Geddert and by Nassar. And then to have to deal with the guilt and the frustration and all those feelings and emotions bubbling to the surface again as they did, you really feel for these young women who obviously were just trying to play their sport and - do their sport and follow their dreams.

MARTIN: USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan, thank you.

BRENNAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.