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Takeaways from the Athlete Leadership Connection Panel: “Using Your Voice to Make a Difference”

“Even though I am a victim, I do not and will not live my life this way.”

Olympic gymnast Jordyn Wieber’s testimony — projected on a screen in front of 80 champion and college athletes during the “Raising the Bar: Using Your Voice to Make a Difference” panel at the 2018 Athlete Leadership Connection — resounded through the room. Wieber, an Olympic gold medalist and featured speaker on the panel, is the quintessential example of an athlete who has utilized her platform to speak out. Earlier this year, she testified in the prosecution of Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics doctor who sexually abused dozens of young gymnasts for years. At the ALC, Wieber was joined by founder and CEO of What Will it Take Movements Marianne Schnall and journalist Sam Marchiano, and together, the group provided valuable and inspirational insight about how athletes can and should use their voices.

Here are three of the key takeaways and most quotable moments from the panel:

The more you have the courage to speak out, the more others will follow

“At first I said, ‘I want to be anonymous. I don’t want anyone to know…’ There were multiple days in a row of victims wanting to read their statements,” Wieber said. “I started to see how powerful they were, how fierce they were, how strong they were. I think on top of that I started seeing Simone Biles and Aly [Raisman] tweeting about how upset they were with USA Gymnastics. Simone actually said ‘I’m still training, but I don’t want to go back to the Ranch.’ And the next day, they closed the Ranch. That was when I started to see how powerful our voices are, and that we can really impact change and cause change. That’s when I decided I was going to read my victim impact statement.

“The more we spoke out, the more others began speaking out too because they felt inspired and they felt they could too.”

Athletes are in a better position to speak out today than ever before

“It’s amazing to see that athletes feel comfortable speaking out about things they feel aren’t right,” Wieber said. “When I was competing, we’re literally taught not to argue with the coaches or question anything. It’s a culture of silence. You’re taught to be stoic and not to have any emotion, which is so weird.

“It’s so powerful and so amazing that Simone feels comfortable tweeting about [Mary Bono’s anti-Nike Tweet]. She knows she has a voice and she knows she can impact change and she feels comfortable doing that.”

Speaking out allows for personal growth

“I do feel like speaking out at the sentencing and all of the speaking I’ve been doing since then, it has made me understand a lot about more about who I am and who I’ve been for the past few years,” Wieber said. “There’s that side, the personal side, but I also feel like it’s better in so many different areas in my life. I feel like it’s made me a better coach, it’s made me a more empathetic person and more compassionate. It’s given meaning to what happened to me. When something bad happens to us … you have this moment where you say ‘Why did this happen to me?’ Finding a way to make meaning of that is such a powerful thing.”

The Women’s Sports Foundation would like to thank Jordyn, Marianne and Sam for sharing their experiences and for continuing to advocate for women and girls in sport. To learn more about Marianne, an accomplished author, journalist, speaker and interviewer, please click here. Sam is an adjunct faculty member at New York University and has worked in sports media for more than 20 years.