Two years ago, one of the biggest sexual abuse scandals in sports history broke wide open. Larry Nassar, MD, was tried and convicted of sexually abusing middle-school-age female gymnasts over a period of decades. Many of the sexual assaults took place at Karolyi Ranch in Texas, the former National Team Training Center for the national gymnastics team. Nassar was the USA Gymnastics national team doctor from 1996 to 2014 and a former osteopathic physician at Michigan State University (MSU). A year ago, MSU agreed to pay $500 million to 332 alleged victims in order to settle their lawsuits.
Malibu resident David Ulich has co-produced an 88-minute documentary on the scandal, “At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Olympics Scandal,” which sheds light on the culture that enabled Nassar to get away with his behavior for so many years and kept the young women silenced. It illustrates how officials knew about the sexual abuse, but continued to enable it by covering it up. The film includes first-person interviews and excerpts from the victim impact statements delivered by 150 women in Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s Michigan courtroom during Nassar’s trial.
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last Thursday, and will be available on HBO beginning May 3 at 8 p.m.
After the Nassar trial, Congress passed legislation requiring mandatory reporting of sexual abuse in amateur sports. In addition, the entire board of USA Gymnastics resigned, the chief executive of the United States Olympic Committee resigned and there was a move to decertify USA Gymnastics as the sport’s governing body.
This is Ulich’s fourth documentary, but the first one that’s feature length and the first one where he’s a producer as opposed to executive producer. His involvement in the film business gets complicated—he’s a partner at the mega-law firm Sheppard Mullin and leader of the Non-Profit Sector Team. In 1996, he cofounded the nonprofit Foundation for Global Sports Development (GSD), which created Sidewinder Films in 2015 to reach a broader audience. This is how he got into the documentary filmmaking business.
In coming up with a topic for the fourth documentary, Ulich said that even before the Nassar case came to national attention, he and co-producer Steven Ungerleider felt that sexual abuse in athletics was the area where they wished to focus.
“There were rumors of abuse in both gymnastics and swimming, and I felt that the sports’ governing bodies were not adequately addressing these issues, so we decided to make our film to help draw attention to this problem and hopefully prevent it from happening again,” Ulich wrote to TMT. The Nassar case happened shortly after they came up with the topic and provided the perfect case study.
At the Tribeca Film Festival, Ulich said, “Our whole goal was to increase awareness of this issue, and we’re so proud of our partnership with HBO. The more people who see this film, the more institutions, government and individuals can get together to help solve this problem.”
“I want to call for institutional reform at all levels, including all athletic governing bodies,” he continued. “There needs to be more transparency and renewed confidence in these agencies so the public feels safe in having their children participate in sports.”
The documentary is not the only effort Ulich has launched to help fight back against abuse.
“Our goal is to help educate both children and parents to be aware of signs of abuse and how best to report it. The Foundation for Global Sports Development will be launching Courage First, an initiative that will offer in-person, facilitator-led presentations for children and teens, while adults will access online learning tools including podcasts, newsletters, videos and more,” Ulich wrote. “At the Olympic Training Center at Karolyi Ranch, there was a sign that said ‘Parents are not welcome.’ No parent should send their child to a place or activity where they are not welcome to support and protect their children.”
Ulich recently joined LA 2028—Los Angeles Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games 2028. When asked how he was selected, Ulich wrote, “I was on the LA2028 Bid Committee that helped bring the Olympics to Los Angeles and was selected for that due to my long-standing relationship and familiarity with the Olympic Movement and the International Olympic Committee.”
“At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal” will be screened at the Malibu Film Society on Thursday, May 9 at 7:45 p.m. at the Malibu Screening Room at 24855 PCH. An audience Q&A with the filmmakers will immediately follow.