For greater than a decade, Jennifer Sey has been inspiring social activism in her work as Levi’s senior vice chairman and chief advertising officer, and in her life as a former aggressive gymnast and early whistleblower concerning the sport’s teaching abuses and cruelty to younger ladies.
Now, she’s used her platform to supply “Athlete A,” a strong movie making its debut Wednesday on Netflix concerning the takedown of USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar. Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, the documentary tells the story of the athletes, their attorneys, the Michigan State College detective and Indy Star journalists who introduced him to justice for sexually abusing greater than 500 victims underneath the guise of giving them medical therapy.
“I initiated the movie due to having written a e book in 2008 which is now thought of an early whistleblower’s account,” Sey advised WWD, referring to her memoir, “Chalked Up: My Life in Elite Gymnastics,” detailing the tradition of ache she endured beginning at age six when she was impressed by Nadia Comaneci to enter the game, and develop into a seven-time member of the U.S. nationwide staff, earlier than retiring after a string of accidents earlier than the 1988 Olympics.
The e book was a watershed, serving to Sey to seek out her voice — which is distinguished within the movie — and others to seek out theirs. When the Nassar scandal broke in 2015, Sey grew to become a sounding board for California sexual abuse lawyer John Manley who represented greater than 200 victims, and for distinguished survivors Jamie Dantzscher, Rachel Denhollander, Aly Raisman, Maggie Nichols and plenty of extra. “I felt this kinship, as a result of regardless of being a lot older…we had such comparable experiences. I felt like I might present some hope that they may get by means of this and rebuild their vanity,” stated Sey, who traveled to Washington with a number of the victims to talk to Congress on behalf of the 2017 Protected Sport Act.
“At a sure level earlier than Nassar went to jail, I felt this story may very well be advised successfully as a movie and it will give these ladies an even bigger voice,” stated Sey. When she met the movie’s San Francisco-based administrators, she introduced a PowerPoint to make her case. “I felt strongly that it wasn’t, ‘Let’s inform this salacious story about this physician who’s probably the most prolific pedophile within the historical past of the game.’ I wished it to be an examination of the tradition that allowed this to occur.”
When the administrators signed on, Sey rallied sources. “Maggie was the primary to report back to USA Gymnastics, Jamie the primary to file a civil go well with, and Rachel the primary to go public giving her identify and likeness to her story, which is what introduced on all the opposite ladies. I used to be capable of get these ladies on board as a result of they knew and trusted me,” she stated.
Sey chatted with WWD about her first movie challenge, parallels between the style and gymnastics worlds, and what work is left to be achieved.
WWD: Did you ever have any direct expertise with Larry Nassar?
Jennifer Sey: No, I believe we missed one another by six months. His first job as a coach was in 1987 and I left the game in early 1988. However he had friended me by means of social media, which is bizarre, as a result of I used to be a voice inside the group. I keep in mind receiving notes from him over time, commending me on talking up, which is basically creepy now that I give it some thought. However that’s how he hid in plain sight, it was purposeful, by pretending to help athletes.
WWD: What’s it concerning the gymnastics tradition that allowed him to flourish?
J.S.: The tradition of emotional and bodily abuse is disorienting for youngsters, it creates a tradition of obedience since you need to keep away from that wrath, and also you doubt your personal notion of what was taking place. You’re feeling in your coronary heart and physique that you’re hungry however are advised you’re fats, so which one is it? You’re advised you’re weak and pathetic as a result of your ankle is damaged, mine was, and also you’re not coaching to your full capability. I can solely think about whenever you as a baby go into this man’s workplace and are already questioning issues, and he does this factor that’s clearly fallacious however you’re imagined to be grateful to be there and revere him, you query your personal notion of that, and that allowed him to do that eternally. This stuff are all items: the bodily, social and sexual abuse.
WWD: The style trade has a lot of its personal abuses. How has your perspective on gymnastics influenced your work at Levi’s?
J.S.: On the non-public entrance, when my e book got here out in 2008, I form of stored it a secret, as a result of I didn’t need anybody to know I had any pursuits apart from my job. I didn’t discuss my youngsters or have footage of my youngsters out, both. As a result of if I used to be up for a promotion, I didn’t need there to be something that might get in the way in which of anybody pondering that I wasn’t 150 p.c devoted to my job. And I don’t suppose I used to be fallacious to suppose that as a result of for girls for a very long time, within the Eighties and early Nineties, that was a actuality. However [the book] really had the other impact. There was renewed respect for a way I used my voice. So, I believe Levi’s is a particular tradition in that means. It validated that when you use your voice, you’ll be able to have an effect and create change and I began to use that extra to the office within the points I believed we should always take a stand for as a model. And in 2013, I began to have much more say over that because the chief advertising officer. And during the last seven years, we’ve progressively develop into extra values-led in how we talk.
So far as the trade, it’s every part from excessively skinny fashions — and we’ve achieved a superb job in taking lead round physique variety — to how ladies are the bulk of people that devour, purchase, and take note of trade, and nonetheless the bulk are males on the high degree. I proceed to do what I can internally and externally on that. As a human, in merging these two elements of myself, I’ve gotten extra assured of talking out in all features of my life with out mincing phrases and with out fearing repercussions, that goes for the trade, inside my firm and inside athletics and the Olympic motion.
WWD: In some ways, U.S. Gymnastics grew to become a model at ladies’ expense, and that’s one thing trend has to grapple with, too.
J.S.: Sure, on the earth’s expense and human expense. However by means of our Employee Nicely-being Program, we work with suppliers and factories to construct out packages they are saying they want of their communities, whether or not it’s monetary training or little one care, it varies. And the vast majority of our product is made in Employee Nicely-being factories. And quite a lot of our charitable giving is round supporting provide chain employees who are typically ladies with youngsters, so we’re very attuned to this.
WWD: How will this movie hit in at present’s political local weather?
J.S.: We started making it because the #MeToo motion was changing into well-known in 2017 and ’18, so there was overlap. That’s not been the middle of the dialog in the previous couple of weeks with the Black Lives Matter calls to social justice. These actions are discrete, actually, however all of them match underneath the header of giving equality and voice to those that don’t have one. What’s significantly egregious about this abuse is these are youngsters, they’re elite athletes however youngsters, educated like this from six, seven, eight years previous.
WWD: Do you get pleasure from watching gymnastics anymore?
J.S.: For a few years, I didn’t. There’s a component within the movie the place I describe watching Kerri Strug do a vault on a really severely injured ankle. That actually bothered me. I’m certain it’s a really proud second in her life, however that might have gone in a different way. She might have landed on her head and damaged her neck. I do watch now however with skepticism. I watch the Olympics, and would stand by these athletes as the best on this planet. The final line in my e book is “I miss it on daily basis.”
WWD: Is there nonetheless unfinished enterprise within the sport?
J.S.: A lot, we’ve not even scratched the floor. U.S. Gymnastics would love us to suppose there may be one unhealthy apple, and now that he’s gone every part is okay. However he’s a product of an abusive tradition and so they haven’t even began to declare a zero-tolerance coverage. They haven’t achieved an unbiased investigation, there are individuals who labored there when Nassar labored there who nonetheless are there. The skin world has celebrated the survivors, however inside gymnastics, that has not occurred. I consider in sports activities for teenagers, however I additionally consider mother and father want to grasp the coach’s philosophy. I don’t suppose it’s essential hover, however it is best to ask about it. I additionally need children to know their expertise is legitimate and they need to converse up when one thing just isn’t proper. I believe if I had been taught that, I may need achieved that for myself earlier than my early 40s.