This year's ESPY Awards took an emotional turn when it came time for the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, awarded to those who came forward with their stories of sexual abuse by disgraced former doctor Larry Nassar.
Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman, former Michigan State softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez, and gymnast Sarah Klein, who identified herself as Nassar's first victim, accepted the award during Wednesday's ceremony.
"We’re about to tell you a story that is difficult to hear," Jennifer Garner said, introducing the award. "A story about what can happen in sports goes terribly wrong. We have to hear i…to make sure it never happens again."
"Abuse. Silence. Victory. Abuse. Silence. Victory. The cycle was repeated for generations," Garner continued in a voiceover of a moving short film featuring many of the women.
All together, 141 women—including Klein, Raisman, and Thomas-Lopez—came to the stage as the video concluded, creating an image that will not easily be forgotten.
"It is such a privilege to stand up here with my sister survivors as we represent hundreds more who are not with us tonight," Klein said. "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." And she did not hold back when it came to calling out the United States Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, and Michigan State University, saying they placed "money and medals above the safety of child athletes."
Raisman echoed that sentiment in her speech as she listed the many years, beginning in 1997, that someone spoke up about Nassar's abuse and was not believed "in favor of money, medals, and reputation."
She also called attention to the inaction of so many over 30 years of Nassar's crimes. "The ripple effect of our actions—or inactions—can be enormous, spanning generations," she said. "Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this nightmare is that it could have been avoided… All we needed was one adult to have the integrity to stand between us and Larry Nassar. If just one adult had listened, believed, and acted, the people standing before you on this stage would have never met him…To all the survivors out there, don't let anyone rewrite your story. Your truth does matter. You matter. And you are not alone."
Raisman concluded her speech with a simple yet impactful statement: "We may suffer alone, but we survive together."
The message may have been hard to hear, but it was also hopeful.
As SELF wrote previously, Raisman has been open about the emotional and psychological effects of surviving such abuse, continuing to talk about it, and listening to others' stories. "I am very triggered, sometimes for a few days. I want to support them, but I make sure that I take good care of myself after," she said in an interview with InStyle.
Still, Raisman and her fellow survivors continue to take a stand publicly in the hopes that it helps others know they're not alone. "As a survivor, I am here to say that if we can just give person the courage to use their voice, this is worth it," Klein said. "If one more victim of sexual abuse feels less alone tonight, then our suffering has meaning."