Making Athlete A wasn't easy, but the positive reception to the Netflix documentary has made it worth it for Jennifer Sey. The former gymnast served as a producer on the documentary, which follows a team of investigative journalists from The Indianapolis Star as they broke the story of doctor Larry Nassar assaulting young female gymnasts.
More than 250 women and girls have accused Nassar of sexual misconduct. In January 2018, the former Team USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting athletes under his care. The following month, he was sentenced to an additional 40 to 125 years in prison after pleading guilty to an additional three counts of sexual assault.
Sey wasn't one of Nassar's victims, but in 2008, she published an exposé about her career as a gymnast, titled Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics' Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams. She remembers being "berated, belittled and threatened" over her claims at the time, and she tells ET's Deidre Behar that coming forward then allowed her to gain the trust of athletes ready to tell their stories about Nassar.
"I sort of became that go-to person," she says. "I got to know, in 2016, the lawyer who was representing these athletes. And so I got to know many of his clients. I got to know them and they trusted me."
Sey felt that these women's stories needed to be told on a broader scale, so she pitched the idea for Athlete A to directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. "I sort of pitched the idea not as a Nassar tell-all, but as [a film] that uses Nassar to access the broader culture of abuse," she recalls. "They wanted to do it, lucky for me."
The mom of three says she didn't mean to become a "whistleblower," but has felt the need to expose the alleged culture of abuse in gymnastics.
She says of her own experience in elite gymnastics, "We were berated, belittled. We were weighed several times a day and we were told to lose weight by any means necessary, and we had one or two or three percent body fat. We were teenagers, we should have been menstruating. We weren't. ... We were told we were lazy. We were forced to train on broken bones. I trained on a broken ankle for two years, and I feel the repercussions of that today."
Sey empathized with the Nassar survivors, whose world is "already upside down" by the tough coaching they endured to perform in elite gymnastics. "You already think that everything is your fault, and if you're perceiving this to be problematic or if you're perceiving this to be a sexual assault, you must be wrong," Sey says of victims' mindsets. "'Not him, he's a great doctor. You must be wrong because you are fat, lazy, and pathetic'. That is the problem with this kind of cruelty in coaching, is it infiltrates your thinking and you come to accept abuse in any variety."