On August 24, an Olympics gymnastics coach was arrested on charges of suspected child molestation. Marvin Sharp, 48, owner of Sharp’s Gymnastics Academy, was detained by local and state police after a female students filed a complaint about the coach with the authorities. According to Indianapolis’s WTHR, while Sharp has only been accused of the single charge and has not been formally charged, investigators have confiscated electronic equipment and other evidence from his home in search of suspected child pornography.
This is what you need to know:
1. This Arrest Comes Just Days After Another High Profile Child Molestation Case in Indianapolis
On August 19, another Indianapolis native, Jared Fogle, 37, was charged with engaging in sexually explicit acts with children and receiving and distributing child pornography. Fogle — who rose to fame as the national spokesmen for Subway Restaurants — agreed to plead guilty to the charges and pay $1.4 million in restitution to the 14 stated victims in his indictment. Fogle engaged in the explicit acts from 2007 to June 2015, according to the United States Attorney Office in Indianapolis.
“Today, Jared Fogle has been charged and has admitted to participating in a five-year criminal scheme to exploit children,” U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler said at a news conference. “This is about using wealth, status, and secrecy to illegally exploit children.”
News of Fogle’s pending guilty verdict — which will likely see the former spokesman imprisoned — also came after USA Today found that Fogle’s foundation, the Jared Fogle Healthy Lifestyle Nationwide School Grant Program, never actually gave out a grant and only spent $73,000 a year on average between 2009 and 2013 — mostly used in executive compensation. The foundation promised in 2008 to give up to 50 schools $20,000 grants to help combat childhood obesity.
Fogle became Subway’s pitchman in 2000 after news of his “Subway diet” — in which he allegedly lost 245 pounds through a combination of sensible eating, walking and eating Subway sandwiches — went viral. Subway’s sales doubled on the success of the Fogle campaign, leading to a 15 year relationship. Subway and Fogle “mutually agreed” to part paths after news of the allegations broke.
2. Sharp was the Coach of Several Olympic Gymnasts, Including Bridget Sloan
In 1998, Sharp participated in his first Olympics when he coached Bridget Sloan and Samantha Peszek, members of the U.S.’s silver medal-winning national team. For his participation, Sharp was inducted into the USOC’s Order of Ikkos, which recognizes successful coaches of Olympic athletes. Sharp would also coach Team USA in the 2011 Pan-Am Games, where the team won gold in the all-around.
According to his gym’s website, the 14 year old gym has sent more than 100 athletes to national and international championships.
3. Despite the Allegations, Sharp has Plenty of Supporters
According to Indianapolis police records, while Sharp is only facing 1 charge of child molestation currently, there is the potential of charging him with 7 additional charges, including 1 new child molestation felony charge and 4 counts of sexual misconduct with a minor. The charges bear a maximum sentence of 48 years imprisonment.
Despite this, Sharp has his share of supporters. “I heard the news. I stand by Marvin. I have never seen him behave in any way whatsoever other than respectfully toward any gymnast. Gymnastics is a sport where its very nature puts male coaches at risk of false accusations. I have seen such a thing happen to another coach. I certainly hope this can be cleared up quickly before it affects his very positive and respectable career,” Michele Callahan, a current coach at Sharp’s Gymnastics Academy, wrote in a statement to WTTV Indianapolis.
“He’s probably, of all the coaches I have ever come across, the least likely I would ever think to do something like he’s being accused of,” a female gymnast who trained with Sharp told WTTV anonymously.
“Everything is done at the knees, at the hips on the hipbone, on the shoulders, elbows, abdomen area,” she said. “Sometimes to save a kid, you’re going to have to grab them wherever you can grab them, but it was only for those very, very rare instances where something went extremely wrong.”
4. Child Abuse in Women’s Gymnastics is More Common than Most People Think
Being an internationally competitive female gymnast is a hard road. Due to the fact that the female body will gain 5 percent body mass during puberty, most female gymnasts are only able to perform at a competitive level while pre-pubescent. In a joint paper by Maria Claudia Pinheiro, Nuno Pimenta, Rui Resende and Dominic Malcolm, pressures to control weight and improve performance — up to and including corporal punishment — are causing irreversible damage to these developing bodies.
“I remember that I was not able to do some exercise and he/she called me and pushed me to the stairs and said: ‘if you do not want to do it, leave’,” recalled one interviewee that anonymously contributed to the paper. “I remember that when I was walking towards him/her from the beam to the place where he/she was I was thinking about what was going to happen. I think that was then that he/she pushed me down the stairs and I fell.”
Beyond this performance-driven abuse, there is also a rampant strain of sexual abuse in the women’s gymnastic community. In a 2012 CNN report, several former gymnasts of Doug Boger spoke out on the abuse they received from him. Boger was acquitted in 1982 on child abuse and battery charges.
One gymnast, Anne Malver, recalled a time when Boger took her to his apartment. Malver thought they were heading to a trophy store. She ended up naked as he “forced himself inside of me.”
“And I’ll never forget the words he whispered in my ear at that time: ‘This is what you want. This is what all the girls want.'”
Boger denies the allegations of sexual abuse.
This case is far from unique and represents a culture in which results and appearances matter more than the actual experiences of the participants. “Looking back, I was hoping someone, anyone, an adult with some common sense would have done something,” wrote Jennifer Sey, a champion gymnast, concerning the case of Don Peters, who was accused of molesting several underage gymnasts, including Doe Yamashiro. Peters is banned from coaching with USA Gymnastics-affiliated gyms. “But no one did. And the effect on me was: You girls don’t matter.”
5. Sharp is Facing Possible Federal Charges
WTHR has reported that Sharp is facing both state and federal charges. The allegations, surrounding a 2013 encounter with a then 12 year old student in which Sharp allegedly had her pose in her underwear in inappropriate photos and touched her genitalia, has resulted in 1 count of knowingly receiving child pornography and 1 count of knowingly possessing child pornography with the United States District Court of the Southern District of Indiana.
Sharp is also accused of inappropriate touching with other students to his gym.