So far, I’ve really given Michigan State University a pass and that ends today. Most of the known facts of the Larry Nassar crimes and cover-up came from USA Gymnastics and former USAG elite athletes. Sure, MSU was mentioned because Nassar was employed by the institution for decades, but most of the knowledge of the now-largest sexual abuse case in the history of sports in the United States put a majority of the blame on how USAG royally dropped the ball on 1) protecting athletes from a serial pedophile and 2) covering up Nassar’s (and many other abuser’s) crimes.
Michigan State not only knew about Nassar’s abuse in 1997, but maybe earlier.
Now with the over one hundred victim statements read in court–and this will probably increase as more survivors come forward–we are getting a greater picture of not only MSU’s involvement, but also the system of enabling that gave Nassar his power.
There are three main players in this game: USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University, and John Geddert’s and his gym, Twistars. I’ve talked at length about USAG and a little about MSU and Geddert, but today, I am specifically detailing MSU’s System of Enabling.
I just want to start with this simple fact: not one MSU employee has yet to be fired.
1997: “I was silenced. I just wasn’t going to say anything else.”
Larry Nassar began working at Michigan State University after finishing his primary care medicine fellowship at the institution in 1997. He was hired as a team physician and assistant professor. This is the year following the 1996 Atlanta Games where he was seen carrying Kerri Strug after her famous vault that clinched the first team gold medal for the American women.
In addition to his duties at MSU, Nassar also worked as a team physician at Holt High School and continued working with coach John Geddert, who opened his new gym, Twistars, also in 1996. Because of his busy schedule, Nassar also “treated” patients in the basement of his home and MSU. It was there, in 1997, that the first documented case of abuse occurred that was largely ignored by Michigan State.
Larissa Boyce was sixteen years old the first time she met Larry Nassar and was treated in the basement of MSU. She was a gymnast with Spartan Youth Gymnastics, a program for upcoming gymnasts that was coached by MSU’s Gymnastics Head Coach Kathie Klages. After Nassar molested her, Boyce and a 14-year old unnamed friend (also a gymnast in the program, who states she was abused as well) approached Klages and described the abuse. Klages refused to believe that Nassar, being a person she trusted for years, would be abusing gymnasts. Instead, she insisted that the girls were mistaken and the treatment was legitimate. An ESPN interview with the athletes states:
“‘I was silenced. I just wasn’t going to say anything else,’ Boyce says.
‘They just kept it quiet, and that is what’s so hard — knowing that if adults were to make the right decision and do the right thing at the right time, that the abuse could have stopped,’ the second gymnast says.”
In her victim statement last week, Boyce said: “Larry had adults on his side, protecting him, enabling his abuse and helping him achieve a God-like status… You and Kathie silenced me… You took away my confidence. You took away my innocence, and you took away my voice, but today is a new day. Today, I am claiming my freedom from you.”
Klages did not report the complaints to the police or university officials; instead, she told Boyce: “I can file this, but there are going to be serious consequences for you and Nassar.” Michigan law requires teachers and school administrates to notify police of suspected abuse. While the occupation of coaching is not blatantly included in the law, attorneys have included coaches under the “teacher” role.
1999: “He’s an Olympic doctor and he should know what he is doing.”
In 1999, MSU runner Christie Achenbach made a complaint about Nassar’s abuse to the Assistant Running Coach, Kelli Bert. Bert stated that she did not remember the conversation, but that if it did happen, she would have reported the complaint to Michigan State. No report was filed.
2000: “I felt like they thought I was a liar.”
Nassar began abusing Tiffany Thomas Lopez, a scholarship softball player, in 1999. In 2000, she notified four people at the institution that she felt that Nassar’s treatments were actually sexual abuse but was ignored. In an interview she stated that, “Initially I was told, ‘No, this was not a sexual assault. This is by the book.’ And then I was told that ‘this is something Dr. Nassar has created to help you and the pain you’re in.’ So it was as if he was the mastermind behind this new treatment.”
Two of the four trainers– Lianna Hadden and Destiny Teachnor Hauk–are still employed by Michigan State University.
2002: “There are people that are hesitant to speak up because they think a victim wanted to be assaulted.”
In 2002, Jennifer Rood Bedford also told Lianna Hadden that Nassar was sexually abusing her: “In the end, she wanted me to understand that filing a report, it would involve an investigation, making an accusation against Nassar and statement that I felt that what Nassar did was unprofessional or criminally wrong.” In a 2017 statement to police, Hadden stated that she never had one athlete complaint against Larry Nassar.
2004: “I was basically choking, and I said, ‘I. Was. Not. Lying.'”
Kyle Stephens is the only non-medical survivor to have come forward against Nassar. Last week, she was also the first person to read her survivor statement at Nassar’s sentencing. Family friends with the Nassar’s, Stephens was six years old when he first started molesting her. At age twelve, she began recognizing the acts as abuse and told her parents. In 2004, her parents spoke to Michigan State professor and clinical psychologist Dr. Gary Stollak and Nassar. Following the meeting, Stephens’ parents forced her to apologize to Nassar for the allegations she made against him.
Her parents, especially her father, did not believe her. Prior to leaving for college, Stephens again told her father that the abuse was not a lie. Finally believing her, Stephens’s father committed suicide in 2016.
Dr. Gary Stollak was required by law to report sexual abuse but did not notify authorities. He retired from Michigan State in 2010 and testified that he suffered a stroke following his retirement that severely alters his memory. Stollak also stated that he disposed of his clients notes as well.
2014: “I was ignored and my voice was silenced.”
Amanda Thomashow was a recent graduate of MSU when she was abused by Nassar: (warning: graphic language below)
“Thomashow — who had kept her identity concealed until this week — told the investigator Nassar worked on her shoulder and massaged her breast ‘like your boyfriend would while you were making out with him,’ according to the report.
She tried to stop him, but Nassar continued, massaging her over the top of her clothes and then moving his hands underneath her sweat pants.
‘He began to massage her with three fingers in a circular motion in her vaginal area,” according to the Title IX report. ‘She states that he was extremely close to inserting a finger into her.”
She immediately reported to MSU the abuse that occured in Nassar’s office. MSU began a Title IX investigation; the police department also started a separate criminal investigation. The IX report includes interviews from Dr. Brooke Lemmen, Dr. Lisa DeStefano, Dr. Jennifer Gilmore (all MSU specialists) and Destiny Teachnor Hauk. Lemmen, DeStafano, and Gilmore were all colleagues of Nassar and told police that the treatments were not abuse. The Title IX complaint stated that Nassar was not at fault.
Michigan State did not notify USAG or Twistars that Nassar was under investigation. He was allowed to continue to see patients while the complaint was under review. According to police records at least twelve women were abused by Nassar during this time.
DeStafano and Gilmore are still employed at MSU. Lemmen resigned from MSU in 2017 after she discovered that the university was considering firing her after the administration found out that she had: “‘removed ‘several boxes of confidential treatment records’ from Michigan State University’s Sports Medicine Clinic at Nassar’s request, according to documents in her personnel file that the Lansing State Journal obtained Friday through the Freedom of Information Act.”
2016: “She just kept defending him.”
Former MSU gymnast Lindsey Lemke was first abused by Nassar in 2008. She saw him “at least three times a week for three years” until she switched gyms. During her collegiate career, she transferred from the University of North Carolina to MSU, where she saw Nassar once.
In December 2016, as allegations against Nassar mounted, Lemke’s parents became concerned that Lindsey too was a survivor and she stated that, yes, she was among the group of women abused by Nassar. She called MSU Gymnastics Coach Kathie Klages, who assured her that the abuse was in fact a legitimate treatment. Klages also asked her gymnasts to write a letter of support to Nassar when he was first arrested.
In January 2017, Lemke filed a lawsuit against MSU and Klages was suspended two weeks later (she retired the next day). In her victim statement to Nassar, Lemke stated:
‘Shame on you,’ she said of Michigan State.
She said she was terrified of what the university would do to her because she came forward. Lemke said Michigan State “created an environment where victims were afraid to speak up.”
Lemke addressed Kathie Klages, Michigan State former women’s gymnastics coach, who allegedly was told of abuse in 1997 and remained silent for years. Lemke said that Klages deserves to to be behind bars with Geddert and Nassar.
‘To (Michigan State President) Lou Anna Simon: You are no president of mine as a student and former athlete of MSU. Guess what? You’re a coward too,’ Lemke said.”
You can watch Lindsey’s statement (AND YOU SHOULD) here.
- 1997: Nassar began working for MSU
- 1997: First complaints of abuse about Nassar to Klages.
- 1999: Abuse is reported to Kelli Bert.
- 2000: Complaints of abuse to athletic trainers Lianna Hadden and Destiny Teachnor Hauk.
- 2002: Complaints of abuse reported to Lianna Hadden.
- 2004: Dr. Gary Stollak hears allegations of abuse.
- 2014: Title IX Complaint filed. Dr. Brooke Lemmen, Dr. Lisa DeStefano, Dr. Jennifer Gilmore, and Destiny Teachnor Hauk defend Nassar’s treatments.
- 2016: MSU athlete reports abuse to Kathie Klages
Major Players in the System of Enabling
- Kathie Klages: Former Women’s Gymnastics Head Coach of MSU and retired in 2017. Klages previously worked for John Geddert (along with Nassar) and after retiring from MSU, resumed working for Geddert for a period of time.
- Lianna Hadden: Still employed at MSU
- Destiny Teachnor Hauk: Still employed at MSU
- Kelli Bert: Former Head Coach at MSU
- Dr. Brooke Lemmen: Still employed at MSU
- Dr. Lisa DeStefano: Still employed at MSU
- Dr. Jennifer Gilmore: Resigned from MSU in 2017 after removing Nassar’s records from the university.
- Dr. Gary Stollak: Retired from MSU in 2010.
I don’t want to compare different criminal acts of abuse. There are currently hundreds of Nassar survivors coming forward, and there could potentially be thousands. If we look at the last large-scale sexual abuse acts at the institutional level–Penn State–then Michigan State NEEDS to be held accountable. The university currently employs those that helped enable Nassar to abuse athletes and children for over twenty years. Their President has not resigned. In the case of Penn State, three administrators were sentenced to charges of child endangerment after Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of abusing ten young boys.
Little Girls Don’t Stay Little Forever. They Grow Into Strong Women that Destroy Your World.
Current number of victim impact statements as of day 5 are 158 (originally slated for 88 survivors to speak).