Rich Polk/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

Rachael Denhollander was the first woman to publicly accuse USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault.

By Jenna West
December 13, 2018

Former gymnast and lawyer Rachael Denhollander received Sports Illustrated's Inspiration of the Year award Tuesday.

Denhollander was the first woman to publicly accuse former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault. 

She filed a federal lawsuit against Nassar at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. Two-hundered and fifty-one other former gymnasts, along with 23 husbands of gymnasts, also brought up claims consolidated into Denhollander's suit.

Following Denhollander's lead, more than 300 women in total have said they were sexually assaulted by Nassar.

Nassar was sentenced up to 175 years on Michigan state charges of sexual assault, in addition to a sentence of 40 to 125 years in prison on three counts of sexual assault. He also was given a 60-year sentence on federal child-pornography charges.

Prior to Denhollander giving her acceptance speech, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford appeared in a video statement to present the former gymnast with the award.

Ford came forward publicly in September, accusing then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaluting her when she was 15 years old. She testified about her allegations during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination later that month.

Ford addressed Denhollander in the video by saying, "I am in awe of you, and I will always be inspired by you."

You can read Denhollander's full speech below:

"I am honored to be accepting the award this evening. I accept this on behalf of my sister survivors and on behalf of every victim who is still living in silence. May this be a reminder to us to stand with them. This award means that their voices matter, that their stories matter and that we are here with them. And for all of us, we have gathered here today to celebrate sports and athletics. It’s an integral part of our culture and it should be. Athletics brings out some of the best in humanity. It shows us what the human body is capable of. We revere athletes who have followed their dreams no matter what it costs. They have demonstrated incredible courage. But we also know that the areas that we revere and love the most are the places where it is hardest to speak the truth and hardest to pursue what is right. And there is a dark underbelly in our sports culture with sex trafficking, with child abuse, and it needs to end. So let this award today be the beginning of demonstrating courage not just on the field but courage in pursuing what is right. Pursuing our dreams no matter what it costs. But also pursuing what is right and speaking the truth no matter what it costs. Thank you."

SI's Sportsperson of the Year award ceremony will be telecast on NBCSN on Dec. 13 at 9 p.m. ET. Comedian and actor Joel McHale will host this year’s event.

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