Rachael Denhollander, who sent a message that was heard by hundreds of other women when she refused to remain silent about the sexual abuse of former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar, was presented with Sports Illustrated's "Inspiration of the Year" award. And she was introduced by Christine Blasey Ford, who also sent a message by coming forward with her own allegations of sexual assault.
"In stepping forward, you took a huge risk and you galvanized future generations to come forward even when the odds are seemingly stacked against them," Ford said in a video that was addressed to Denhollander. "The lasting lesson is that we all have the power to create real change and we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by the acts of others."
Ford alleged during Senate confirmation hearings on the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh that she was sexually assaulted by him more than 30 years ago.
Denhollander launched a #MeToo movement in the Olympic sport, one that resulted in the conviction of Nassar, who is serving an effective life sentence that includes a 60-year term for federal child pornography crimes and a 40- to 175-year sentence for assaulting nine girls and women in Michigan, and the upheaval of the sport.
Denhollander, now a lawyer and the mother of three, filed suit against Nassar in federal court, with more than 25 former gymnasts — including some of the sport's biggest stars, and some husbands joining in. More than 300 women have said they were sexually assaulted by Nassar and it was Denhollander who was the last to confront Nassar during his trial. During her powerful statement, she described what the decision to come forward had cost her, addressing Nassar.
"The cost, emotional and physical, to see this through has been greater than many would ever know," Denhollander said at the trial. "And Larry, I don't need to tell you what the cost of your abuse has been to me because you got to read my journals, every word of them. Because those had to go into evidence to make this happen.
"I want you to understand why I made this choice knowing full well what it was going to cost to get here and with very little hope of ever succeeding," she continued. "I did it because it was right. No matter the cost, it was right. And the farthest I can run from what you have become is to daily choose what is right instead of what I want."
Earlier this week, an independent study concluded that, in the 14 months after two top executives at the U.S. Olympic Committee learned in July 2015 that Nassar — the longtime physician for Team USA women gymnasts — was suspected of sexual abuse, they failed to take any steps to ensure Nassar was no longer working with children, didn't inform anyone else at the organization about the allegations, and deleted emails mentioning Nassar by name.
The inaction by the two USOC executives — along with similar missteps by officials at USA Gymnastics, Michigan State and the FBI — enabled Nassar to sexually assault dozens more girls and young women, investigators found, until September 2016, when a report by the Indianapolis Star began his downfall.
The award ceremony, which took place Tuesday night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, will be shown on NBC Sports Network at 9 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.