Behind The ScenesespnWStarting 5

Producing “Sister Survivors” roundtable a powerful, memorable endeavor for all involved

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week, espnW published part of a poignant roundtable with some of the “sister survivors” who came forward to speak against the abuse they experienced as patients of Larry Nassar. espnW’s D’Arcy Maine was one of the prime drivers of the roundtable project, and here, in her own words, she discusses the process and the behind-the-scenes of the roundtable.

The full, 45-minute roundtable discussion is posted on espnW.com, and ESPN The Magazine’s Mina Kimes will conduct a mainstage interview with two of the survivors, Sarah Klein and Jordyn Wieber, here at the 2018 espnW: Women + Sports Summit.

Here, D’Arcy Maine explains the evolution of the sister survivors roundtable concept:

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Like so many across the country, those of us at espnW watched in stunned silence, often through tears, as each of the more than 150 brave survivors revealed their own personal experience during the sentencing portion of disgraced former Michigan State and national gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.

But despite the overwhelming sadness to their stories and horrific details, it quickly became apparent these women were not going to let this break them. Far from it. This wasn’t just a moment – this was a movement.

Since January, a small group of us from the espnW editorial team, including Jena Janovy, Laura Purtell, Aimee Crawford and Ericka Goodman-Hughey, and under the leadership of [Editor-in-Chief, ESPN The Magazine, espnW, and The ESPYS] Alison Overholt, have worked on finding ways to help tell their stories.

We were so moved by seeing 141 of the survivors accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYS, and realized their voices were so much stronger together. In hopes of hearing more of their important insight and perspective, we invited five amazing women — Amanda Thomashow, Sterling Riethman, Tiffany Thomas Lopez, Trinea Gonzcar and Grace French — to ESPN to participate in a roundtable discussion.

Moderated by [ESPN Enterprise Unit reporter] Tisha Thompson, the group was on set for well over two hours as part of a conversation focused predominately on the future of the movement, the importance of believing sexual assault survivors and how to prevent such a case from every happening again.

It was an extraordinarily moving and powerful experience to hear firsthand, and we hope that translates in the final videos from the day.

Filmed in the Outside the Lines studio, producer Sara Johnson and director Biana Peltin gave the space a complete makeover and made it a warm, inviting place with an intimate feel. Under their incredible guidance, a nearly all-women crew (!) made it a truly unique environment, and created an atmosphere of comfort and trust for the participants.

It’s hard to fully put into words what the experience was like. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to speak with a number of these women for the past several months, and I am always struck by their courage, eloquence and determination to create real and substantial change. But, perhaps more striking is how much I can relate to them – as almost any woman who grew up playing and loving sports likely could.

There were so many unforgettable moments from the day – but hearing 23-year-old Grace French discuss why she’ll never have biological children, nor even feel safe going to a doctor of any kind, and Tiffany Thomas Lopez, 15 years her senior and who initially reported Nassar in 1998, burst into tears in a mixture of guilt and sadness, is something most of us in attendance will likely never forget.

Tara Chozet contributed to this post.