July 19, 2018 / 4:13 AM / 3 months ago

Scores of gymnasts who survived doctor's abuse take stage at ESPYs

LOS ANGELES, July 18 (Reuters) - More than 100 survivors who went public with emotional stories of abuse by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar appeared on stage together to accept an award for courage on Wednesday at the annual ESPYs ceremony.

Members of the group held hands, exchanged hugs and smiled proudly as they filled the stage at the glitzy ceremony in downtown Los Angeles.

"Make no mistake. We are here on this stage to present an image for the world to see - a portrait of survival, a new vision of courage," said gymnast Sarah Klein, the first known victim of Nassar.

Klein, softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez and three-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman stood in front of the group of 141 survivors and spoke on behalf of the group to receive the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, an annual honor named after the late U.S. tennis star and presented to people who make an impact beyond the playing field.

Raisman recounted the years that girls and women complained about Nassar while he served as a team doctor for USA Gymnastics and at Michigan State University.

"1997. 1998. 1999. 2000. 2004. 2011. 2013. 2014. 2015,” she said. “All those years we were told ‘you are wrong, you misunderstood.”

“We persisted and finally someone listened and believed us,” she said as some audience members teared up.

The ESPYs are presented annually by Walt Disney Co sports network ESPN.

Nassar pleaded guilty in November 2017 to molesting female athletes under the guise of medical treatment in incidents dating back to the 1990s and was sentenced to life in prison.

Authorities said Nassar victimized more than 260 women and girls, including several Olympic gold medalists. Nearly 200 of them gave often emotional testimonies during sentencing hearings in Michigan earlier this year.

The ESPYs, which pay tribute to leading sports performers and performances of the year, also honored three coaches killed in February during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They were Aaron Feis, Scott Beigel and Chris Hixon. (Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Michael Perry)

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