“It’s the ones who covered it up that made it worse”: April 2019 Update on MSU, the USOC, and USAG

“We demonize the Nassars & the Sanduskys and they’ve done horrible things, but it’s the ones who covered it up that made it worse & created more victims.”

At the Heart of Gold Documentary

If you need a recap, check out my previous blog.

Whelp, bad news if you opened this link thinking: “It’s been over a year since the sentencing. USAG has a new CEO and that At the Heart of Gold documentary I saw on HBO waiting for the new Game of Thrones episode seemed really positive. Surely, we are moving in the right direction!” Unfortunately for all of us, there’s a lot to unpack here. Grab a snack and take a seat as this is a long post.

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I have news for you, friends.

This quote from ESPN sums it up:

For a moment, it felt like gymnastics was turning a corner. After three years of turmoil, and hundreds of accusers detailing Nassar’s sexual assaults, the sport and its amazing athletes were finally starting to be back in focus.

But then USAG’s new president and CEO had to remind everyone just how much work there is left to do to save the sport in this country.

Maine, D’Arcy. 24 April 2019. “Just When Gymnastics Started to Seem Right Again, Enter Li Li Leung and her Unthinkable Answer.” ESPN W. http://www.espn.com/espnw/voices/article/26595072/just-gymnastics-started-seem-right-again-enter-li-li-leung-unthinkable-answer.

Here is part “who even knows at this point” of my ongoing (and looks to be never-ending) series: “How Institutions Totally Mess Up Actually Holding Themselves Responsible for Enabling Sexual Predators and Make False Promises to Create Meaningful Change”.

Michigan State University

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Part of the new MSU exhibit: “Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak”.
  • On April 3rd the Michigan Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Larry Nassar; his forty year sentence will still be carried out. However, the state appeals court is still reviewing Nassar’s separate appeal based on the grounds that his rights were “violated” by statements made by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.
  • In late March Detective Andrew McCready of Meridian Township, Michigan, formally apologized to Brianne Randall-Gray, a survivor of Nassar’s abuse. McCready was tasked with investigating Nassar in 2004 and admitted that he was fooled by the former doctor; he sided with him over Randall-Gray, who filed the complaint after she was molested during a scoliosis exam. The police launched their own independent investigation and Randall-Gray stated that, “They made a mistake, a mistake that they will live with the rest of their lives. I offered my forgiveness in the past and I continue to extend my forgiveness to them.”
Wow. A positive step? Accountability? Moving forward to enact policies toward change? What a concept.
  • Christine Moore, MSU’s Title IX investigator for the 2014 complaint by Amanda Thomashaw against Larry Nassar defended her actions and findings in court on April 8th: “I did the best I could at the time.” The Title IX conclusion favored Nassar; two reports were generated (one for Nassar and one for Thomashaw), which was the first in the history of the university. Moore is now an MSU assistant general counsel. She stated that she never informed then-president Lou Anna Simon of the complaint, although she did notify her supervisor, MSU police, and MSU general counsel.
  • MSU Assistant Chief Valerie O’Brien and Detective JJ Bradoc, a married couple employed at the university, were placed on paid leave administrative leave. O’Brien oversees the investigative division for Michigan State, which includes sexual misconduct. O’Brien handled the Title IX investigation brought against Nassar in 2014 by Amanda Thomashaw.
  • During a hearing to determine whether former MSU president Lou Anna Simon knew more about the complaints against Larry Nassar than she originally told police, Paulette Granberry Russell stated that she “cannot recall stating to President Simon a matter involving Larry Nassar” but:

Sometime between May 14 and May 19, 2014, Paulette Granberry Russell created an agenda for a meeting she would have with then-President Lou Anna Simon, was notified of a sexual assault complaint against Larry Nassar, exchanged emails with university officials about that complaint and other ongoing issues and met with Simon.

Banta, Megan and Carol Thompson. 15 April 2019. “MSU Official Says She Can’t Recall 6-Day Span Around When She Learned of Nassar Complaint.” Lansing State Journal. https://eu.lansingstatejournal.com/story/news/local/2019/04/09/msu-michigan-state-lou-anna-simon-nassar-lying-to-police-president/3244731002/
  • Prosecutors believe Granberry Russell (senior adviser in the university’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives) and Simon discussed the Title IX case against Nassar during a meeting in 2014.
  • “Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak”, an exhibition in special collaboration with sexual assault survivors, was opened on April 16th at Michigan State. The exhibit includes a wall of 505 titles (one for each known survivor), a timeline of the abuse, sculptures, and a triptych by sister survivor Jordyn Fishman. The exhibit will be on display until 2020. It’s a beautiful and impactful exhibit.

USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee:

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  • On April 24th, new CEO Li Li Leung stated in an interview with NBC News that she too was treated by Larry Nassar but that she wasn’t abused because her coach was present. This is a troubling statement because many of the women assaulted by the former doctor had parents, coaches, and other athletes present at the time. Remember: your own experience does not mean that others did not suffer in a similar environment. As CEO, this is insulting to all the athletes she clearly hasn’t listened to enough:

While it’s a relief Leung didn’t have to experience the horror and trauma, it’s astonishing how tone-deaf she sounds. So many of the survivors had parents or coaches in the room with them while their abuse happened, so to say that’s all that’s needed to prevent this is frankly insulting to all those who have come forward. Did she not take the time to watch any of the victim statements? So many of them talked about that very detail at great lengths.

Maine, D’Arcy. 24 April 2019. “Just When Gymnastics Started to Seem Right Again, Enter Li Li Leung and her Unthinkable Answer.” ESPN W. http://www.espn.com/espnw/voices/article/26595072/just-gymnastics-started-seem-right-again-enter-li-li-leung-unthinkable-answer.
  • After outrage over her comments intensified, Leung tweeted:

I understand how my comment seems insensitive to the survivors and their families, and I apologize. My intent was not to diminish what they’ve been through. I should have clarified that my experience was completely different from theirs and it is wrong to suggest I could have a solution based on my experience alone. I cannot know all necessary steps to take until I hear their stories, and hope they will have a dialogue with us regarding athlete safety and well-being going forward.

https://twitter.com/Li_Li_Leung
  • 1984 Olympic All Around Champion Mary Lou Retton furthered the terrible-ness that is tone-deaf commenting with your foot in your mouth by saying that athletes could avoid sexual assault “by going to a reputable gym.” What. Does. That. Even. Mean. The top elite athletes from the very top gyms in the country–Madison Kocian/WOGA, Gabby Douglas-Chow’s Gymnastics, Aly Raisman/Brestyan’s, Jordyn Wieber/Twistars, Simone Biles/Aimee Boorman–were abused at the National Training Center, ran by Retton’s old personal coaches, Bela and Marta Karolyi. The Karolyis are still under investigation for their involvement and “reputable” coach John Geddert has been abused by numerous athletes for allowing, and being a part of, abusive practices. The fact that Retton mentioned she had a call with Li Li to “pick her brain” when the CEO has yet to speak to Aly Raisman or Simone Biles speaks volumes.
  • On April 23rd, Senator Chuck Grassley formerly asked the United States Olympic Committee for more information on the halting of the decertification process against USA Gymnastics. In the letter, Grassley references the idea that USAG filed for bankruptcy as a way to stop decertification and gave them until May 10th to respond. The bankruptcy also places a hold on any lawsuits against USAG.
via Gymcastic Twitter
  • Last month USAG paid a total of $1.4 million in legal expenses (including $700,000 in legal fees to six law firms).
  • Nearly 200 girls assaulted by Larry Nassar at the Twistars Gym owned by the now-disgraced John Geddert, settled with the 2012 Olympic head coach for $2.12 million, the maximum payout allowed by Geddert’s insurance coverage. Remember that Geddert was a long-time friend and supporter of Nassar, who walked in on the former doctor abusing an athlete and responded by laughing at the gymnast’s discomfort.
  • On April 29th, the Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company filed a lawsuit in Denver against the the USOC stating that leaders of the organization knew of prevalent sexual abuse since at least 2010 but claim they had no cases brought forward by athletes; the insurance company believes they are not liable to cover the Larry Nassar lawsuits against the USOC because the organization “denied it had ever had an allegation or claim of sexual abuse” when filing for insurance coverage in 2015. This is counter to 2010 USOC documents that state: “the issue of sexual abuse is very real in sport and that a call to action is needed”. Sexual abuse claims were filed in the sports of gymnastics, field hockey, karate, swimming, curling, archery, rugby, rowing, snowboarding, and skiing.
USOC. WTF.
  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stated that she can not meet with survivors of Nassar’s abuse due to a “legal conflict.” DeVos was under scrutiny, particularly in Michigan, due to her changes in how sexual abuse cases and Title IX complaints are handled at the collegiate level.

But DeVos, who is from the Grand Rapids area, rejected the request to meet with Nassar victims until after the changes to Title IX are finalized, Slotkin said. 

“Therefore, I want to thank you for your request that I meet with Michigan State University Title IX survivor-advocates to hear about their experiences and views on how to prevent sexual assault on college campuses,” DeVos wrote. 

“However, as you are no doubt aware, the law prevents me from doing so at this time.” 

DeVos has criticized campus sexual misconduct rules established by the Obama administration and said her proposal is meant in part to be more fair to students who are accused of misconduct, saying one person denied due process is one too many.

She stressed that confronting sexual abuse on campus “head on” is one of her highest priorities as secretary. 

Burke, Melissa Nann. 8 May 2019. “DeVos: ‘Inappropriate’ to Meet Nassar Victims Due to Legal Conflict.” The Detroit News. https://eu.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/08/devos-hasnt-met-nassar-victims/1140848001/.
  • Women’s Athlete Representative and a member of the selection committee for competitions for USAG, 2004 Olympic medalist Terin Humphrey, posted online that “what some consider coaching, others consider abuse.” The meme further stated that athletes should “get ready” to be screamed at by coaches. 1984 Olympian Kathy Johnson Clarke replied: “Yes, at times elite athletes need to be called out for a myriad of ineffective, unproductive, behaviors, but in your face “ass-chewing” is abusive & destructive.”
  • USAG named Dr. Edward Nyman as the first full-time Director of Sports Medicine and Science for the organization. There was an almost immediate backlash from survivors and athletes (most notably Simone Biles, who tweeted: “I’m sorry…. what”). No real communication was made on what that job entailed or how the new director would interact with athletes. For the record, this position was purely administrative; he would not have been treating gymnasts personally, although no one knew that at the time.
  • The following day, USAG stated that “Dr. Nyman’s employment will not continue due to a conflict of interest, and we will immediately renew our search to identify a qualified individual to lead our sports medicine and research efforts.” They further replied: “To provide clarity, the decision to terminate Dr. Nyman’s employment was not based on any comments made on social media platforms or anywhere else. In accordance with our employment policies, we cannot comment further on this personnel matter.” WHAT. THE. HELL. What kind of disqualification does a director of sports medicine have and how did you not catch this before offering him the position?
  • USAG then stated on May 7th that Nyman was terminated “for his failure to disclose athlete safety complaints involving the club with which he is affiliated to USA Gymnastics.” His wife, Amy, owns the New Heights Gymnastics Club in Ohio and USAG has known of allegations of misconduct against the club (including intoxication of coaches in front of athletes) since at least 2017. The complaints are bad enough that USAG referred the club to the U.S. Center for SafeSport in February 2019. That’s right, THIS FEBRUARY. AS IN THREE MONTHS AGO FEBRUARY. Nyman countered that he discussed these complains with USAG in-house counsel Mark Busby before being hired by the organization. USAG released a statement citing:

“This demonstrated poor judgment and created a conflict of interest that disqualified him from serving in this important role. We are confident this was the best decision for the welfare of ‘our athletes and our community… We have learned through this process and received important feedback from our community about this position. Athlete safety is our north star and it will guide us to make the right decisions, no matter how difficult or how they may be perceived.”

Reid, Scott M. 7 May 2019. “USA Gymnastics was Aware of Allegations Against Nyman’s Gym Since 2017.” The Orange County Register. https://www.ocregister.com/2019/05/07/directory-of-sports-medicine-was-fired-by-usa-gymnastics-for-failing-to-disclose-safety-complaints-at-club-owned-by-his-wife/.

Wait, where have we heard that statement before? Right. Every. Single. Damn. Statement. Released. By. USAG.

  • Nyman then countered with his own statement explaining that he was open about the allegations and goes into detail on A LOT of issues he reportedly saw in his 24 hours working for the organization (no one is concerned with athlete safety, Li Li is focused on the image of USAG, and that the “change” he advocated for “scared” those at the top of the organization). If what he is saying is true (are we really surprised by them?) then USAG is in even worse shape than we thought. Nyman was tenured assistant professor at the University of Findlay and he states, he didn’t “need” to take on the role. The issue is the lack of communication and transparency here where USAG releases vague press releases and those wanting to tell their story are forced to do so through a Facebook post (rant).
  • His statement also mentions, by name, yet another potential case coming out of USAG: trainer Stephanie Peters’ complaint against a male national team member. Is a Facebook post the best way to “out” this information? Yikes. Double Yikes.
  • Nyman says he is not the co-owner of New Heights. But that has also been a source of controversy (yes, even more), considering he was listed as such in a BGSU press release.

The point here is simply WTF. The back and forth between Nyman and USAG demonstrates the serious lack of ability of USA Gymnastics to successfully investigate and hire someone in a position as important as head of sports medicine in the aftermath of the largest case of sexual abuse in the history of sports in the United States. On top of that, the failure to communicate the position and how this person would interact with athletes–some of whom are survivors still competing for the organization–is baffling to to me. Firing Nyman makes sense; but the point here is how the hell was he even hired in the first place? How inept and incompetent can you be?

If, and that’s a big if, USA Gymnastics is decertified, the big question is who will be in charge of not just the national teams, but the hundreds of clubs that make up the organization of the sport of gymnastics in the United States. At this point, could anyone or literally any other governing body do a worse job at mismanaging communication, athlete well-being, and safety? Even the mess that would be left in the wake of a decertified USAG would be better than the dumpster fire that is currently running the show. Can we truly trust an organization that has failed to learn from its mistakes? Is the USOC even capable of overseeing these governing bodies when they have allowed this abuse and mismanagement to thrive?

Remember that this goes beyond Larry Nassar. Shenea Booth, a gymnast who was abused by her coach over 200 times, starting at the age of fifteen, stated:

“Everything should change about USAG,” she wrote in a survey submitted to the organization last year. “The focus needs to be on the safety and well being of the athletes.”

Meanwhile, she wants to make sure the public knows that the problems with USA Gymnastics go beyond Larry Nassar — and didn’t end just because he went to prison.

“Unless people continue to speak… there’s a lot of stuff that could just kind of fall away.”

North, Anna. 30 April 2019. “Beyond Larry Nassar: Hundreds of Athletes are Fighting USA Gymnastics in Court Over Abuse.” Vox. https://www.vox.com/2019/4/30/18287522/larry-nassar-usa-gymnastics-bankruptcy-usag-assault

Taking a page from My Favorite Murder, here are the fucking hooray moments to get us through all this negativity:

  • The Believed Podcast won a Peabody Award.
  • Maggie Nichols (Athlete A, who originally started the investigation into Larry Nassar) won the 2019 All Around NCAA National Championship and won the Honda Award.
  • Trinea Gonczar and Amanda Thomashaw created Survivor Strong, an organization to advocate for survivors of sexual abuse and educate institutions on creating change.
  • Simone Biles is in the current issue of Sports Illustrated looking (and feeling) AMAZING.

Who needs a rage nap?

Currently:

Reading: What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (Carolyn Forché)

Watching: At the Heart of Gold (HBO Documentaries)

Larry Nassar Abuse at USAG & MSU: March 2019 Update

Check out my latest update here if you need a recap of where we currently stand in the wake of Larry Nassar’s abuse.

Ready for the next steps in our continued journey of “how institutions totally mess up actually holding themselves responsible for enabling sexual predators and make false promises to create meaningful change”?

Michigan State University

Survivors and supporters gather outside the Hannah Administration Building on Michigan State’s East Lansing campus.
  • In January, the U.S. Department of Education found Michigan State University in violation of federal law “by failing to comply with requirements that aim to ensure a safe campus, systemically underreported crime statistics, and — in the handling of sexual assault allegations against former athletics physician Larry Nassar — demonstrated ‘lack of institutional control’.” These violations of the Clery Act (passed in 1990) spread across MSU and included Greek Life, athletics, residence halls, and others; the report found that the university did not even have a “minimally adequate” system in place to report sexual abuse. Some of the violations include:
    • (2016) A strength and conditioning coach failed to report a call from a former MSU athlete detailing how Nassar had “touched her inappropriately.” Rather than adhere to the rules required to report abuse, the trainer instead brought the report to an associate athletic director. Neither the coach nor the associate athletic director reported the incident to area police or MSU’s Title IX office.
    • (2016) MSU’s Sexual Assault Program did not know they were required by federal law to report abuse on campus. As a result, the crimes reported to SAP were never included in the campus’s safety statistics. Additionally, “the Sexual Assault Program couldn’t give federal investigators any documentation at all about the crimes reported to them because ‘the University stated that the SAP office did not maintain such records’.”
    • (2014) Mandatory Reporting Training is basically, yikes. In 2014, the institution could not identify who on their staff qualifies as a a campus security authority. This designation is important because federal law requires anyone considered “campus security authorities” to report any serious crimes that occur at the university. MSU records state that they believed there were 50 such staff members at the time (today that number is 1,500). The training for a CSA included a Powerpoint and quiz that is emailed to the employee; however, the university “has no way of knowing whether the CSAs complete the training and quiz, and thus, no assurances that the CSAs are capable of performing their assigned duties”.
  • The Clery Act requires institutions to report accurate crime statistics including publishing reports of sexual abuse. Currently MSU’s application for recertification is on hold while they work to actually adhere to the requirements of the law. Their punishment includes lack of federal financial aid ($423 million dollars in federal funding per year) and fines per violation. It is important to note that the largest fine charged was the $2.4 million levied against Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky abuse was reported.
  • On February 28th, MSU opened a temporary fund for survivors of abuse and their parents. To receive funding for counseling and mental health services, the abuse had to occur either at MSU or to an MSU student-athlete. Remember that the old fund was halted in July of 2018 amid concerns over “possible fraudulent claims”. Then-president John Engler stated that the money set aside for the fund could be used instead for lawsuit payouts.
  • The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs filed complaints against two MIchigan State University trainers for “giving false statements to police about their knowledge of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar”. Destiny Teachnor-Hauk and Lianna Hadden (who both still work for MSU) can face fines and have their licenses suspended or revoked. Remember that Teachnor-Hauk failed to report abuse stated by softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez and also was one of the medical experts interviewed for the 2014 Title IX investigation of Nassar, an investigation which eventually cleared him of all charges. Two student athletes disclosed abuse to Hadden in 2000. Teachnor-Hauk was her supervisor at the time.
  • Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel stated in her first news conference on February 22nd that “a full and complete cooperation of MSU, frankly, continues to be a challenge… They have fought us every step of the way. It’s time for Michigan State University to do the right thing.” The university did not turn over 7,000 documents to her office; a portion of the documents (1,000) were eventually given after the state took MSU to court. Nessel further pleaded with the Board of Trustees to promote transparency and help with the investigation.
  • Former Michigan State student and athlete Nicole Casady, shared her story of abuse by Larry Nassar. First assaulted at a training camp and later at the university, she said she abused over sixty times.
  • The preliminary hearing for former MSU president Lou Anna Simon, charged with lying to police about her knowledge of Nassar’s abuse on campus began on February 5th.
  • Kathie Klages, former MSU gymnastics coach and one of Larry Nassar’s longtime friends, is currently awaiting trial for two counts of lying to police (seeing a trend here?). On February 7th, she filed a motion to “prohibit the release of certain personal information”.

USA Gymnastics

Li Li Leung is the new CEO of USA Gymnastics and is the fourth person in the position in two years.
  • Li Li Leung was named the new CEO of USA Gymnastics. Leung is a former gymnast at the University of Michigan and a vice president for the NBA. She also has a sports marketing background. She replaces Mary Bono, who resigned after four days in the role.
  • On March 5th, USAG filed a motion in bankruptcy court to pay Leung an annual salary $450,000 plus discretionary annual performance bonuses and a moving allowance of $15,000. It is important to note that USAG “forgot” to pay salary claims made by 2018 world championship coaches.
  • Leung’s announcement was met with controversy from survivors who found her background too similar to former CEO Kerry Perry and her work with the NBA (an organization with its own issues of abuse by athletes and staff) discouraging. Many were not happy that they were not represented in the hiring process.
  • USAG is suing 30 of their insurers for failing to pay the organization’s legal costs related to the 100 lawsuits brought against them by 300 women and girls relating to Nassar’s abuse. The battle over their insurance coverage (and whether their insurers will foot the $150 million bill) is related to the organization’s decision to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court is now responsible for deciding whether USAG had the proper coverage and if the organization was negligent in their responsibilities to their insurers: “the potential ultimate payouts to the victims is complicated by the mix of negligence and fraud claims USAG faces. Fraud and other intentional conduct claims are usually not covered under typical general liability insurance policies, experts said. USA Gymnastics is suing over both comprehensive general liability policies and directors and officers policies, according to its complaint”. They certainly failed the responsibilities they had to keep athletes safe.
  • During the bankruptcy hearing, survivors Rachel Denhollander, Tasha Schwikert, and Sarah Klein questioned the CFO of USAG, Scott Shollenbarger on the process. He could not answer many of the questions raised; Schwikert, the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, called the meeting “one big I-don’t-know.”
  • The deadline to file claims against USA Gymnastics was extended to April 26th.
  • The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) will double the funding to the organization’s Safe Sport program to $6.2 million annually. Safe Sport is funded by the Olympic governing bodies in the US and is charged with investigating any reports of sexual abuse.
  • One of the USOC’s insurers, Arch Specialty, claims that the organization knew about the Larry Nassar abuse in USA Gymnastics before applying for their $8 million policy in 2017 (!!). In a Colorado court Arch Specialty reports that their policy only covers sexual abuse that could not have been foreseen by the organization and they are therefore not liable to pay out for any settlements related to Nassar’s abuse.
  • As of March 8th, the USOC has paused steps to decertify USA Gymnastics as the governing body for the sport. USOC chief executive Sarah Hirshland stated: “We believe that USA Gymnastics’ intention in filing bankruptcy was an attempt to resolve litigation they are facing in an expedited and organised way… We believe that is a really important step for USA Gymnastics and don’t think disrupting that in any way by pursuing the section eight hearing at this point is helpful to that process”.
  • A bill extending the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases an additional three years in Indiana was stalled at the statehouse last month. The bill, designed to give survivors of abuse more time to file reports, was developed after Indianapolis based USAG was found to have allowed years of abuse of athletes. The Judiciary Committee’s Chair, Sen. Randall Head, sent the bill to a summer study committee stating: “The topic of statute of limitations have some implications that have not been testified about this morning. If we open the statute of limitations for everyone until 2022, it’s possible that victims could get justice. But then 10 years after that there could be other people that say, ‘Wait, you need to open it up again.’… I don’t think we’re ready in this committee this morning to make a decision regarding the statutes of limitations and all of those implications”.
  • Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also stated that her office will investigate former coach and 2012 Olympic Team Head Coach John Geddert. Eaton County began an investigation into Geddert after multiple survivors came forward with stories of physical and mental abuse in his gym, Twistars; “no timeline” was determined for when that investigation would be completed. Nessel has now taken over the case and put prosecutor Danielle Hagaman-Clark in charge of leading the investigation and that “any and all potential crimes will be pursued”.
SAME.

For all of our sanities, I want to end on a high note.

This quote by Simone Biles will hopefully get you through this madness:

“A badass is a woman who has confidence in herself, along with a bit of attitude and some swag.”

https://www.instyle.com/news/simone-biles-badass-woman

Currently–

Reading: The Marrow Thieves (Cherie Dimaline)

Watching: Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

Listening: Lux Prima (Karen O & Danger Mouse)

Extra special thank you to Gymcastic for all of their continued coverage.

Post-Nassar Fallout Continues: October Updates on MSU and USAG.

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The US Women’s Team (from left to right) Ragan Smith, Morgan Hurd, Simone Biles, Kara Eaker, Riley McCusker, and Grace McCallum

This week the United States women and men compete at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Doha, Qatar. These athletes are competing amid new controversy and unrest (what a surprise, oh wait, no this is the new norm) surrounding the leadership at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.

Here we go:

Larry Nassar recorded himself drugging and raping a student-athlete; MSU covered up the abuse.

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Larry Nassar in 2018.

As the September 10th deadline for lawsuits approached, a shocking (or at this point is it?) account was filed that detailed the drugging, rape, and as a result, impregnation of former Michigan State University field hockey player Erika Davis by Larry Nassar. The assault occurred in 1992 and the university, even when presented with video evidence, not only refused to fire Nassar, but also forced Davis and her coach to resign.

Davis was 17 when she was seen by Nassar for “treatment” after injuring her knee. Nassar, not a licensed physician at the time, was working as an athletic trainer and a student at MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. During her examination, he used his mouth and hands on her breasts while be recorded by an unnamed man in the room. At the following appointment, Davis states that she was given a crushed pill without explanation; this made her immobile and. a short time later, realized that Nassar was raping her.

Davis then reported the rape to two close friends and her coach, Martha Ludwig, who confronted Nassar in May of 1991. George Perles, the Athletic Director for MSU at the time, forced Ludwig to return the tape, drop her complaint, and sign a non-disclosure agreement. Davis then reported the abuse to a “dorm mom” after realizing she was pregnant with Nassar’s child as a result of the rape. Following a miscarriage, Davis, along with two friends, reported the rape to Michigan State University. According to the lawsuit:

“The police told them that since she was an athlete, she had to report it to the athletic department. The detective explicitly told them that he was powerless to investigate anything that takes place to the athletic department and to go to the athletic department.

Davis also alleges that the sergeant who gave her this information called Perles a ‘powerful man’ and suggested she drop the issue. Perles took over as the university’s athletic director in 1990. He stayed on as the football coach through 1994, but stepped down from his post as athletic director in May 1992, around the same time that Ludwig approached him, according to the lawsuit.”

Davis lost her athletic scholarship shortly after reporting the abuse. Ludwig was forced to resign. Perles is currently a trustee on MSU’s Board. In August, the NCAA cleared Michigan State of any violations after allegations of assault were made against the university’s football and basketball teams (see this post for more information on those claims).

MSU Victim Fund Temporarily Halted

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Michigan State University established a counseling fund for the survivors of Nassar’s assault in early 2018. Former MSU student-athletes, health clinic patients, and parents of survivors had access to the fund to pay for counseling, mental health services, as well as reimbursement for past appointments. This counseling fund is separate from the settlement made by MSU to the over 300 survivors.

Payments from the $10 million fund have been halted after a concern over “possible fraudulent claims” were made in July. Details on the alleged fraud, how the investigation will be carried out, and the length of time payments will be unavailable were not made public. Survivor Trinea Gonczar stated:

“’It’s almost like we’re back at square one, and you feel like you’re starting over and you’re re-victimized and you’re back in the trenches all over again,’ said Gonczar.

University officials said in July they’re stopping payments from the healing assistance fund over fraud concerns.

‘There’s no allegation that’s actually a victim, or a survivor,’ said MSU Interim President John Engler.”

Former & Current MSU Employees Under Investigation

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A protest outside of Michigan State University

A number of current and former Michigan State University employees are under investigation for their involvement with Nassar’s abuse:

  • Former MSU Psychologist Gary Stollak surrendered his psychology license after failing to report Nassar to authorities following a 2004 session with survivor Kyle Stephens. After telling her parents about Nassar’s molestation in their family home, Stollack brought Stephens, her parents, and Nassar into a session in which her parents were convinced that Kyle, six years old at the time, was lying. Nassar abused her for the following six years. Her father later committed suicide. One of the few women abused in a non-medical setting, Kyle was the first survivor to read her statement during Nassar’s hearing.
  • Sports Trainer Lianna Hadden is under investigation while still employed at the University. Two survivors (Tiffany Thomas Lopez and Jennifer Rood Beford) reportedly spoke of Nassar’s abuse to Hadden in the 2000s.
  • Destiny Teachnor-Hauk (still an athletic trainer for the gymnastics team) and Dr. Brooke Lemmen, (no longer employed) are currently under investigation as they contributed to the 2014 Title IX complaint against Nassar. Their medical testimonies helped clear the former doctor of any abuse. Lemmen also removed patient files from Nassar’s work computer.
  • Dr. William Strampel, the former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Nassar’s boss, was charged with felony misconduct, fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, and two counts of willful neglect of duty that occurred while Nassar was being investigated.
  • Kathie Klages, former Head Coach for the women’s gymnastics program, was arrested for lying to police during the Nassar investigation. Klages has also been accused of failing to report Nassar’s abuse on multiple occasions: two women told investigators that they informed Klages of the molestation in 1997. During the investigation, Klages told the mother of a survivor that the thousands of child pornography images found on Nassar’s computer was planted, as well as forced her athletes to write the former doctor a support letter after he was arrested.

More Survivors Come Forward

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Tasha Schwikert is the tenth Olympian to come forward as a survivor. From left to right, top to bottom: Tasha Schwikert (2000), Jordyn Wieber (2012). Aly Raisman (2012 and 2016), Jamie Dantzscher (2000), Simone Biles (2016), McKayla Maroney (2012), Madison Kocian (2016), Gabrielle Douglas (2012 and 2016) and Kyla Ross (2012). Not pictured: Morgan White (2000).

Last week Olympic and World medalist Tasha Schwikert came forward as a survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse. The 2000 Olympian tweeted:

“’After months of grappling with the decision, I have decided to come forward as a victim of Larry Nassar. I want to join my former teammates and fellow survivors to help enact REAL change at @USAGym and @TeamUSA. #MeToo.

“I refuse to remain a victim. It is time for @USAGym and @TeamUSA to come clean and be held accountable for the toxic environment that enabled Nassar’s abuse. Only then will we see REAL change.”

Tasha’s sister, Jordan,  a former USA Gymnastics athlete and UCLA Bruin, also stated that Nassar abused her as well.

Schwikert is now the second member of the bronze medal-winning Olympic team to come forward; she was the youngest athlete to compete for any sport at the 2000 Olympics.

Schwikert noted that former USAG president and CEO Steve Penny pressured her to publicly support USAG while the Nassar abuse story began to gain traction with the mainstream media:

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Tasha’s statement posted on USAG’s Twitter account at the same time her former teammates were interviewed by 60 Minutes.

There are now more than 333 survivors that have publicly come forward.

Interim CEO Mary Bono Resigns

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Former California Representative Mary Bono.

Interim USA Gymnastics CEO Mary Bono resigned last week after only five days in the position. The decision to appoint Bono as CEO was problematic as she formerly worked for Faegre Baker Daniels, the law firm that represented USA Gymnastics against the athletes that filed charges against the organization during the Nassar investigation.

The decision outraged many former and current gymnasts including Aly Raisman:

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While the law firm is global and represents a number of clients, the choice to appoint a former attorney that worked for an organization paid to cover up Nassar’s abuse proved to be too big of an issue to overcome.

In addition to the concerns over her work with Faegre Baker Daniels, Bono also tweeted her opposition to Nike’s decision to create a campaign with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the civil protest of kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness for racial injustice and police brutality. In her tweet, Bono posted a picture of herself covering the Nike swoosh with a permanent marker.

Simone Biles, in her first year competing since the 2016 Olympics, is a Nike representative, survivor, and current National Champion. She tweeted:

“’mouth drop don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything.’

USA Gymnastics has been without an apparel sponsor since Under Armour announced that it was ending its partnership with the organization in December.”

Bono resigned less than a week after being named to the position.

Former USAG CEO Steve Penny Arrested

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Steve Penny’s mugshot following his arrest.

On October 18th, former president and CEO of USA Gymnastics Steve Penny was arrested after a grand jury indicted him for tampering with evidence related to the Nassar investigation. The third-degree felony states that Penny ordered documents from the Karolyi Ranch (the US Olympic Training Center) illegally be removed and brought to USA Gymnastics headquarters in Indianapolis:

“The removal of the documents was done for the purpose of impairing the ongoing investigation by destroying or hiding the documents.

[…]

The Texas Rangers and the detectives believe that those records are material to their investigation and that the removal of the records by Penny prevented them from reviewing documents that would have helped in their investigation of Nassar as well as assisted with the investigation of other offenses that may have occurred at the Karolyi ranch.”

Penny, who resigned from USA Gymnastics in March 2017, received a severance package from the now near-bankrupt organization of over $1 million dollars. When testifying before the Senate earlier this year, Penny pleaded the fifth and walked out of the hearing. Former Senior Vice President of the Women’s Program, Rhonda Faehn, also testified at the hearing; she stated that medical records had been removed from the Karolyi Ranch. Former World, Olympic, and National Champion Jordyn Wieber stated in her lawsuit against USAG that her medical files were missing.

_____

The US women compete in the qualifying competition of the 2018 World Championships tomorrow and are expected to win. If they do, they will have done so despite their governing organization, which has proven repeatedly that they are incapable of appointing qualified leaders to the highest positions.

Simone Biles has proved to be the most important person in USA Gymnastics and has seemed to find her voice in this role. During the National Championships, Simone publicly criticized then CEO Kerry Perry for her lack of leadership while also wearing a teal leotard to support victims of sexual assault. As the greatest gymnast of any generation, she singlehandedly closed down the Karolyi Ranch as the National Training Center. On how she disagreed with the appointment of Bono as the interim CEO Biles stated: “I said what I said. Maybe after Doha, I’ll be open to more questions about that.”

The fact that the team is currently at the World Championships, training well and seemingly positive, while the chaos of USAG ensues, is a testament to their mental and emotional strength. Regardless if they win gold or finish last, this is a team that has persevered.

Currently Reading: Praise Song for the Butterflies (by Bernice L. McFadden) Ashlyn

Currently Listening: Sharp Objects Season One Soundtrack

An Update on Nassar’s Abuse: Martha and Bela Karolyi

So much has happened over the past month. Former and current heads of USAG, USOC, and MSU have testified before Congress, even more details about who knew what and when have emerged, and we are starting to work towards a path to hold the enablers of Larry Nassar accountable.

I’m splitting up this update between the main players this month, first starting with Martha and Bela Karolyi. Let’s have a bit of a recap:

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Martha (left) and Bela (right) are two of the most famous coaches in the sport.

Bela and Martha Karolyi are heralded as one of the legends of the sport of women’s gymnastics. Bela famously coached the Romanian National Team in the 1970s, including Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast to score a perfect ten. After immigrating to the US, they coached many American greats including Mary Lou Retton, Betty Okino, Kim Zmeskal, Kerri Strug, and Dominique Moceanu. Both retired following the 1996 Olympics, where the American women won their first Olympic team gold medal.

In 2000, Bela was (controversially) hired as the National Team Coordinator prior to the Olympic Trials because the women’s program was not producing the results expected by USA Gymnastics. In 2001, Martha became the NTC and implemented the de-centralized system that has contributed to the success of the American program. Each month, training camps were held at the Karolyi Ranch; this was also the location for the selection camps prior to World and Olympic championships. The Ranch is also the location where many gymnasts were abused by Larry Nassar.

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To be clear, this was absolutely Martha’s program. She was in charge of the teams that went on to become some of the most successful and dominant in the history of the sport. Many former athletes allege that Martha controlled their food, weight, training programs, and did not allow chaperones. Following the 2016 Olympics, Martha and Bela quietly retired. They have remained silent as multiple lawsuits have been filed against the couple, many alleging mental, emotional and physical abuse at the Ranch.

Last month Martha and Bela finally broke the silence on their role in Nassar’s abuse (“It wasn’t us! We are victims too!”) in an interview with Dateline, as well as in written testimonies and lawsuits.

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I can only imagine this to be Martha’s reaction.

The NBC News Dateline Interview

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In late April NBC News interviewed a number of survivors (Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney), parents (the Nichols’, the Raismans’) and Bela and Martha Karolyi for a Dateline special on Nassar’s abuse.

In the interview, Martha (and Bela) continue their “Whaaaa? We were just little coaches who just worked with coaches and maybe selected teams!” narrative:

“In their Dateline interview, the Karolyis said they didn’t know of Nassar’s abuse. Martha Karolyi said she ‘never, ever (heard), not one single complaint’ about the doctor.

‘I heard during the testimonies that some of the parents were in the therapy room with their own child and Larry Nassar was performing this,’ Martha Karolyi said. ‘And the parent couldn’t see. How I could see?’

‘The whole gymnastics community couldn’t recognize this,’ she added. ‘Everybody said Larry Nassar is a good doctor, Larry Nassar is a good guy.'”

The issue here (again) is the lack of accountability. Sure, Martha and Bela may have not known that Nassar was abusing gymnasts in their home–even though he was the only adult allowed in the personal rooms of the athletes during camps–but it is the culture of abuse that enabled him to hurt so many gymnasts. The Karolyi Ranch is isolated, with minimal cell phone service and lacks even the most basic of medical facilities (the “massage room” was a table in a TV room); chaperones were not allowed at camps or competitions. Martha was a very intense NTC who was notorious for creating pressure-filled situations, controlling of food and the weight of the athletes, and also lacked empathy for injuries; this allowed Nassar to groom gymnasts into trusting him while also protecting Martha’s abusive environment:

“While the Americans became the world’s most dominant team under the Karolyis, winning 97 world championship and Olympic medals, some have said their exacting standards fostered an atmosphere in which gymnasts and their coaches were afraid to speak up. It was that culture that allowed Nassar to prey on young gymnasts, some have said.

‘Larry acted like our friend. He always had a sympathetic ear for complaints about our coaches,’ [Jordyn] Wieber said Wednesday during an appearance before a Senate subcommittee investigating sexual abuse in the Olympic movement. ‘He would bring us food, candy and coffee at the Olympics when we were hungry. I didn’t know that these were all grooming techniques that he used to manipulate and brainwash me into trusting him.'”

In the interview, Bela states that while he was abusive toward gymnasts in Romania, he “never” verbally or physically abused American athletes. Although many gymnasts over the past twenty years have stated otherwise.

The Karolyis also said that they had hoped to use the Ranch now as a place for orphaned children, but because of Nassar’s abuse and the stigma now on the location, they will not be able to become foster parents.

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This is just so, ugh, that I can’t even comment on how ridiculous of a statement it is, furthering their continued lack of empathy AND responsibility in the health of their former athletes; they would rather be seen as victims than own up to the fact that they did not protect the gymnasts that trained there. The entire interview can be seen here.

Karolyis File Lawsuit Against USA Gymnastics & USOC

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Martha Karolyi (left) consoles Sabrina Vega (right) after she was not chosen to make the 2012 Olympic Team.

This April the Karolyis filed a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic Committee claiming damages over the canceled sale of the ranch to USAG, as well as stating they were not a responsible party for Larry Nassar’s abuse that occurred at their home over the past fifteen years.

The Ranch has been used as a training center by USA Gymnastics since 2000, and the organization was set to purchase the compound for more than $3 million after Martha Karolyi retired as National Team Coordinator in 2016. USAG canceled this purchase most notably after 2016 gold medalist Simone Biles stated on Twitter that she would not like to return to the site of her abuse. Current USAG CEO Kerry Perry may take credit for shutting down the Ranch, but the fact of the matter is that if Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast of all time, refuses to attend training sessions, you have to discontinue using that location, regardless of whatever purchase is in the works.

USA gymnastics to drop the Karolyi ranch for training camps after Simone Biles said going back to it would traumatize her

Simone’s tweet that closed the Ranch.

 

In addition to the “stigma” that Nassar’s abuse has brought to the Karolyi Ranch, their lawsuit also contends that the location was simply used as a training center by USAG and the USOC, thereby clearing the couple of any responsibility:

“The lawsuit seeks a declaration that Nassar was not subject to the Karolyis’ control, that he was subject to USA Gymnastics’ control and that the plaintiffs did not have knowledge of his sexual misconduct until 2016.

The lawsuit the Karolyis and their businesses filed against USA Gymnastics and the USOC seeks indemnification ‘as they were serving another corporation (USAG) at the request of USOC, and they were made party to litigation because of that relationship.'”

This lawsuit directly contradicts their 2017 deposition, which claimed the couple did not know about the abuse until 2016; this lawsuit states they were informed by USAG CEO Steve Penny in 2015.

It is important to note that there are three current lawsuits filed against the Karolyis by former national team athletes. The lawsuits contend that the couple physically abused gymnasts, withheld food and water during training camps, and created a culture of abuse that allowed Nassar’s abuse to occur. Former National Team Member, 2011 Team World Champion, and current UGA gymnast Sabrina Vega is the latest athlete to come forward. Her lawsuit was filed last month.

Martha is “too ill” to Testify to Congress

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Last week former USAG CEO Steve Penny, former MSU President Lou Anna Simon, former USAG Vice-President of the Women’s Program Rhonda Faehn, former USOC President Scott Blackmun, and former USAG NTC Martha Karolyi were scheduled to appear at a hearing before the United States Senate. Citing illness, Martha stated she was unable to attend. Unlike Simon and Penny, the Senate did not subpoena Karolyi to appear (why not?!)

Because she was too “ill” to appear before the Senate, Martha was allowed to submit a letter to the committee where she completely sidesteps any responsibility regarding protecting athletes from abuse:

“As the National Team Coordinator, my primary durites were confined to the gymnasium. I did not have any policy-making authority for USA Gymnastics or USOC. Nor was I ever consulted on sexual abuse prevention policies or hiring decsions. USA Gymnastics hired Larry Nassar to provide medical services to the US Women’s National Gymnastics Team.”

In her letter, Martha also advocates for requiring chaperones to camps and competitions, which is laughable considering she did not allow parents of athletes at the Ranch or during competitions.

In retaliation for her lack of appearance before the Senate, many former gymnasts have shared their stories of abuse at the hands of Martha:

  • 1999 Wold Team Member Jeanette Antolin: “When I was sick as an athlete, I was still expected to practice, compete, and see Larry Nassar for treatment.”
  • 2013 Junior National Elite Norah Flatley: “Yeah but when my feet were broken I was still required to come train at her Ranch. Lol ‘too sick’.”
  • 2015 US National Team Member Rachel Gowey: “Lol when I had an asthma attack for like 2 days in the middle of nowhere, my inhaler wasn’t working and she still made me verify a full floor routine when I couldn’t breathe…”
  • 2010 World Team Member Mattie Larson: “I was willing to physically hurt myself to get out of the abuse that I received at the ranch. When I attended the next camp Martha Karolyi approached me and said, ‘You know what? Kim Zmeskal fell out of the top bunk of the cabins in here and she didn’t miss practice the next day. She did not say another word to me the rest of the camp.”

The United States Senate needs to require both Martha and Bela to testify, especially after their conflicting narratives were discovered and former USAG CEO Steve Penny chose to plead the fifth during the committee hearing.

Nassar might be in jail, but the people that enabled him to abuse so many athletes remain free. They need to be held accountable.

Ashlyn

Currently Reading: Things We Haven’t Said by Erin E. Moulton

Larry Nassar Sexual Abuse Part 4: “No, I will not and should not carry the guilt that belongs to Larry Nassar, USAG, and others.”

For a background on the largest sexual abuse case in the history of the United States, please read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Yes, this is the largest case of sexual abuse in the history of the United States. The now 140 athletes that have filed lawsuits against Nassar is nearly as many survivors as “the Jerry Sandusky, Bill Cosby, and Harvey Weinstein scandals combined.” Today, January 16th, Larry Nassar faces not only his sentencing, but also the victim statements from the survivors of his abuse; The Michigan Attorney General had to set aside several days for the expected 88 individuals to share their stories. Because of Nassar’s plea agreement, if found guilty, he can receive anywhere from 25 to 40 years to life in prison. This sentence is added to the already 60 years he was given for possession, and filming of, child pornography.

The cases against Nassar, USAG, and MSU have quickly developed further over the past week. Let’s get up to speed.

“I want everyone to know that he did not do this to Athlete A, he did it to Maggie Nichols.”

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Maggie Nichols in 2015.

As noted in previous posts, the first complaint made about Nassar to USAG was filed in 2015 by an unnamed coach who overheard athletes discussing his “treatments” at the National Training Center (Karolyi Ranch) in Texas. The coach spoke with Senior Vice President of the Women’s Program, Rhonda Faehn, who then reported to the head of USAG at the time, Steve Penny. This week, World Champion and now NCAA National Champion Maggie Nichols came forward as the person referred to as “Athlete A” in the case; the gymnast that sparked the investigation into Larry Nassar. In her statement she notes:

Recently, three of my friends and former National Team members who medaled at
the 2012 Olympics have bravely stepped forward to proclaim they were sexually
assaulted by USA Gymnastics Team Physician Dr. Larry Nassar.
Today I join them.
I am making the decision to tell my traumatic story and hope to join the forces with
my friends and teammates to bring about true change.
Up until now, I was identified as Athlete A by USA gymnastics, the US Olympic
Committee and Michigan State University. I want everyone to know that he did not
do this to Athlete A, he did it to Maggie Nichols.
In the summer of 2015, my coach and I reported this abuse to USA Gymnastics
leadership…

Dr. Larry Nassar was regarded throughout the sport as the very best by coaches and
staff throughout the gymnastics community. He was a doctor at Michigan State
University and the Olympic and Team USA doctor assigned to us by USA Gymnastics
at the Olympic Training Center at the Karolyi Ranch. He was supposed to care for us
and treat our injuries. The first time I met Dr. Nassar I was about 13 or 14 years old
and receiving treatment for an elbow injury. At the time it seemed like he knew
exactly what therapy was necessary for me to recover. Initially, he did nothing
unusual.
But when I was 15 I started to have back problems while at a National Team Camp
at the Karolyi Ranch. This is when the changes in his medical treatments occurred.
My back was really hurting me, I couldn’t even really bend down, and I remember he took me into the training room, closed the door and closed the blinds. At the time I thought this was kind of weird but figured it must be okay. I thought he probably
didn’t want to distract the other girls and I trusted him.

I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I
really didn’t think he should. He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he
was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing
because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve
my pain.
He did this “treatment” on me, on numerous occasions.

Not only was Larry Nassar my doctor, I thought he was my friend. He contacted me
on Facebook complimenting me and telling me how beautiful I looked on numerous
occasions. But I was only 15 and I just thought he was trying to be nice to me. Now I
believe this was part of the grooming process I recently learned about.
One day at practice, I was talking to my teammate, and brought up Dr. Nassar and
his treatments. When I was talking to her, my coach overheard. I had never told my
coach about these treatments. After hearing our conversation she asked me more
questions about it and said it doesn’t seem right. I showed her the Facebook
messages and told her about what Nassar was doing. My coach thought it was
wrong, so she did the right thing and reported this abuse to the USA Gymnastics
staff.
USA Gymnastics and the USOC did not provide a safe environment for me and my
teammates to train. We were subjected to Dr. Nassar at every National Team Camp
which occurred monthly at the Karolyi Ranch. His job was to care for our health and
treat our injuries. Instead, he violated our innocence.
I later found out that Michigan State University had ignored complaints against
Larry Nassar from other girls going back 20 years and had investigated him for
sexual assault in 2014. They never told USA Gymnastics. If they had, I might never
have met Larry Nassar and I would never have been abused by him.

A few things that are important to remember and have been consistent with each survivor coming forward:

  • The abuse started when she was underage and at USAG sponsored events (competitions, traveling, required training camps)
  • Nassar groomed her by giving her compliments and providing comfort during stressful times (training camps).
  • She was told that Nassar was “the best” and that the girls were lucky to be seen by him.

While USA Gymnastics was notified of the abuse in the summer of 2015, the organization took five weeks to report Nassar to law enforcement and also failed to notify Michigan State University, where Nassar was working after being quietly “let go” from his position with USAG. Similarly, MSU did not speak to USAG when, in 2014, an athlete came forward about Nassar’s treatments; her story did not constitute as a policy violation.

The 2015 World Championship Team (From left to right-back to front: Gabby Douglas, Brenna Dowell, Madison Kocian, Maggie Nichols, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Mykayla Skinner)

After filing the complaint, CEO Penny called Nichols’s parents Gina and John to “discourage [them] from reporting Nassar’s conduct to law enforcement and pressured them to keep the matter quiet.” Gina told Sports Illustrated:

“I got a phone call probably the next day [from] Steve Penny,” Gina told SI. “He called me, I don’t know how many times, to talk to me about it and make sure that I understood they were taking care of it. When I have the president of USA Gymnastics telling me what to do, he’s in a position of power over me. We’ve given our whole family up to get our daughter to this point and [when] I have Steve Penny telling me this is what we’re going to do, we’re going to be quiet, I’m going to listen to him. I’m not going to jeopardize my daughter’s chance of going to the Olympics.”

Maggie’s mother was interviewed by CBS News and details the extent of the control USAG had over the athletes: “He was allowed as an adult man in his mid-forties or fifties to do whatever he wanted to as a physician with no supervision, we never gave parental consent….Nobody was ever in the room. He was allowed to do whatever he wanted to with his bare hands. We couldn’t even stay in the same hotels with her when she competed for our country all over the world, but then they allowed a molester to do whatever he wanted to our daughter as a minor. But we were supposed to trust USA Gymnastics. It’s not OK… Where are the other adults that were at the Olympic training center, allowing this to go on.”

After Maggie’s statement, USAG responded with the following:

USA Gymnastics admires Maggie Nichols’ bravery and encourages our athletes and others, like Maggie, to share their personal experiences with abuse. We are sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career. USA Gymnastics is focused every day on creating a culture of empowerment that encourages our athletes to speak up about abuse and other difficult topics….

Contrary to reported accusations, USA Gymnastics never attempted to hide Nassar’s misconduct. The suggestion by plaintiff’s counsel John Manly, who indicates that he is representing Maggie, that USA Gymnastics tried to silence athletes or keep the investigation secret to avoid headlines before the Rio Olympics and to protect Los Angeles’ Olympic bid is entirely baseless. USA Gymnastics kept the matter confidential because of the FBI’s directive not to interfere with the investigation.

USA Gymnastics reported Nassar to the FBI in July 2015 and to a different FBI office again in April 2016. When Maggie’s comments were relayed by her coach to the organization, USA Gymnastics immediately contacted her parents and hired an experienced, independent investigator to speak with her and others at a mutually agreed date and time. The information that Maggie and later a second athlete provided was important, but did not provide reasonable suspicion that sexual abuse had occurred…

USAG stated that they hired “an experienced, independent investigator to speak to her and others.” This investigator, Fran Sepler, stated that she was in fact “not hired as an investigator, I was only hired to conduct several interviews by USA Gymnastics who indicated they were conducting an investigation into allegations and needed someone who was a skilled interviewer.” Maggie’s dad, John, states, “When the Fran Sepler interview was arranged, I was under the impression that this was the FBI investigator. We were never told who she was, what her position was, and so we thought it was part of the FBI investigation.” Sepler is also the person who interviewed Aly Raisman on behalf of USAG.

Following the pressure to keep quiet, Maggie and her family were not contacted until a year after she first filed her complaint, days prior to the 2016 Olympic Trials. During this time, Nassar was still practicing both at Michigan State University and the Twistars Gym Club in Michigan.

The day following the USAG press release regarding Maggie, Aly Raisman responded Twitter: “STOP VICTIM SHAMING. Your statements are hurtful. If you did not believe that I & others were abused than why pressure & manipulate us? WE WERE MOLESTED BY A MONSTER U ENABLED 2 THRIVE FOR DECADES. You are 100% responsible. It was mandatory to get “treatment” by Nassar.”

Twistars and Michigan State University are “Immune to Liability”

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This week Michigan State University and Twistars filed motions to dismiss because they believe they were not liable to protect athletes from abuse. In 2014, a complaint was brought against Nassar by a MSU student; while the complaint against Nassar was dismissed, the university did implement several protocols that Nassar was found to have abused in 2016, leading to his termination at the university.

Dr. Jeffery Kovan (former head of MSU sports-medicine clinic), Dr. William Strampel (former dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine) and Kathie Klages (former MSU gymnastics coach) are the three former MSU employees listed as co-defendents in the lawsuits. MSU believes Kovan and Stampel, formerly in charge of Nassar, should be excluded from the lawsuit as they filed the graduate student’s complaint with police (law enforcement later cleared Nassar of the charges). The complaint, filed with police and Title IX stated: (explicit language below)

The woman alleged Nassar massaged the woman’s breast, even after she said it was not helping with her hip pain, she alleges in her lawsuit. He then massaged her vaginal area under her underwear, even after the woman told him to stop, the lawsuit says. The woman had to physically remove Nassar’s hands from her body, the lawsuit said, and she noticed Nassar had an erection.

Nassar was suspended for three months after the 2014 complaint were filed. He was allowed to return to work after he was cleared by the Title IX investigator.

However, the plaintiffs’ lawyers point out that Nassar was allowed to see patients while still under investigation by MSU police and that Michigan State never notified USA Gymnastics of the 2014 allegation involving Nassar.

While Klages received complaints about Nassar from multiple athletes over the years, because she was not Nassar’s supervisor, MSU states that she too should be released from liability (Klages, it should be noted, required her athletes to write cards to Nassar when he was arrested; she was released from her position in 2017). In their motion to dismiss the university as a co-defendent, MSU attorneys stated: “With the benefit of hindsight, Plaintiffs contend that MSU should have known that Nassar was a predator or done more to prevent his criminal conduct. But that is not the standard  by which Title IX liability is measured.”

 

Olympics Day 4 - Gymnastics - Artistic

John Geddert at the 2012 Olympics.

Head Coach John Geddert of the Michigan club Twistars also filed a motion to dismiss his liability regarding athletes abused by Nassar in his gym. Geddert was the Head Coach of the 2011 World Championship Team and 2012 Olympic Team; both teams have not only three known survivors of Nassar’s abuse, but 2011 was also the competition in which Maroney details the assault where she was drugged and woke up with Nassar in a hotel room. His attorneys stated that “neither Geddert nor Twistars is required to report suspected child abuse, based on the state’s Child Protection Law, which lists mandated reporters.”

Geddert was listed as a co-defendant by a few of the first survivors to come forward to IndyStar in 2016. One survivor testified that Geddert walked in and made a joke when she was being “treated” by Nassar: (graphic statement below)

VICTIM G: “I remember, John, my coach walking in and that’s kind of why I remember because I did feel uncomfortable that he was in there.”

AG: “And then what happened?”

VICTIM G: “Mostly all I remember is him doing the treatment on me with his fingers in my vagina and massaging my back and with a towel over my butt and John walking in and making a joke that I guess my back really did hurt and then I was uncomfortable because John was in there during that.”

Geddert also came under scrutiny when he hired former MSU coach Kathy Klages as a  “fill-in” in his gym. After initially denying the report, Geddert admitted she did in fact worked a few days at Twistars.

These suits are similar to the one filed by USAG that also states the organization was not required to report instances of abuse.

Marcia Frederick “Forced” To Come Forward After Complaints are Ignored

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Three days ago, the first ever World Champion for the United States came forward with not only her story of abuse at the hands of her coach, but how USAG ignored her complaints and allowed him to continue to train gymnasts. Marcia Frederick won the gold medal on uneven bars at the 1978 World Championships, marking the first time an American woman earned a world title in Artistic Gymnastics. Frederick was coached by Richard Carlson, a man she says abused her from the age of 16 (right after she won her gold medal) until her retirement from the sport at 18.

Frederick first told other coaches, the organization, and other adults about the abuse in 1980 but was ignored. She alleges that “Carlson had her engage in sex acts” for two years while she trained and competed for the United States. “Two years,” she said, “For me seemed like 10 years.” Her frustatrations with the failure of USA Gymnastics to continue allowing Carlson to coach even after her interview with the organization in 2011 forced her to go public this week.

In 2011, USAG interviewed Frederick regarding coach Don Peters, a National Team Coach accused by three teenagers of forcing them to have sex with him in the 1980s. In November of 2011, Peters was banned from the sport. He also coached Nassar survivor Jeannette Antolin before the ban. While Frederick denied that Peters had abused her, she told the organization that Carlson, who continued to coach gymnasts in 2015 and instructed at USAG-sanctioned clinics, had. USAG responded that the investigation only concerned Peters, not Carlson, and no further action against Frederick’s coach was taken. Two days before Nassar left USAG in 2015, Frederick lodged a formal complaint against Carlson with USAG after her 2011 interview was largely ignored.

Carlson’s attorney stated: “I guess he would deny any of her allegations dealing with impropriety,” Colleluori said, “Rick just wants to live a nice, quiet life.” Colleluori added that Carlson has considered suing Frederick for defamation but “he won’t do it. He’s too good of guy.”

Simone Biles is Third Member of Final Five to Publicly Come Forward

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Yesterday, the most decorated American gymnast in the history of the sport joined her teammates in coming forward with allegations against Nassar. Her statement, released on Twitter, describes her abuse and struggles with publicly discussing surviving sexual abuse. Biles, who won four gold medals at the Rio 2016 Olympics and is arguably the greatest gymnast of all time, is also known for her outgoing personality and love for the sport:

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Here is the response from USAG:

“USA Gymnastics is absolutely heartbroken, sorry and angry that Simone Biles or any of our athletes have been harmed by the horrific acts of Larry Nassar. We are our athletes’ advocates. USA Gymnastics will continue to listen to our athletes and our members in our efforts of creating a culture of empowerment with a relentless focus on athlete safety every single day.”

To which I have one reaction:

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Sure, Jan. Okay.

To Recap: 

The Case Against USA Gymnastics:

While USAG may believe they held no liability for athlete safety and that they handled the sexual abuse allegations with accordance to the law, the point here is that they DO and they DIDN’T. This organization made its money off of the backs of the girls and women who won gold medals and the clubs and organizations that pay to be a part of the USAG organization. USAG created a culture of abuse, then turned its back on the athletes that sacrificed so much for their sport, protecting the molester that abused them instead. Here’s a recap:

  • Gymnasts were not allowed to have their parents or guardians with them at the mandatory monthly training camps held at the National Training Center OR at domestic and international competitions. Cell phones were also limited at the National Training Center.
  • Nassar was allowed to tend to gymnasts in their hotel rooms and the rooms they occupied at the National Training Center.
  • When allegations against Nassar were filed, USAG insisted to the parents of Maggie Nichols not to report to police, that their silence was needed for a more thorough investigation; they finally reported the abuse to the FBI five weeks later.
  • The “investigator” (USAG’s words) sent to interview Nichols and Raisman was not an investigator at all, but rather a person that specializes in sexual harassment and work disputes. When asked to speak to her a second time, Raisman was denied and also told to remain quiet, that the organization was handling the case.
  • USAG allowed Nassar to quietly leave the organization in 2015 and did not notify Michigan State University that he was under investigation for sexual abuse; Nassar continued to treat athletes at the university.
  • In 2016, USAG filed a settlement with 2012 Olympian McKayla Maroney for $1.25 million to remain silent on her abuse at the hands of Nassar.
  • In December, USAG files a motion to dismiss as they have “no legal duty to protect plaintiffs from Nassar’s criminal intent”.

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Now What?

Nassar should be sentenced this week or next (depending on how long the 88 victim statements take to read) and will most likely serve the rest of his life in prison for both the abuse and child pornography charges. That small comfort–knowing that he can not hurt another person–I’m sure is at least a little justice for the more than 140 women that have come forward and the countless others that most likely have not shared their story.

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Simone and Aly in 2016.

While this case does not have the publicity that Weinstein or Penn State has received, the fact that so many high profile athletes have come forward–Maroney, Raisman, Douglas, and Biles–has propelled the allegations into a greater light. With the #metoo and #timesup campaigns gaining more traction, I believe women are feeling more comfortable with coming forward. There’s strength in numbers.

On the other hand, these campaigns and the public statements from such high profile athletes has made others question the legitimacy of their claims, which I fear will grow as more people tell their stories of abuse. I want to take the remaining space to combat some of that.

My New Years Resolution was to stop reading online comments but this morning I couldn’t help but take a peak. Simone Biles was truly THE gymnast of the 2016 games and most people know her (or of her) because of her endorsements and TV appearances. Finally, I thought, this abuse would reach even greater headlines (which is a shame because the popularity of the gymnast shouldn’t result in more people knowing about Nassar, but that is the world we live in). Wow, was I wrong. I could screenshot some of these comments, respond to their words, but instead I am just going to answer the most popular and disgusting comments I saw today:

I don’t want to hear about all the pervs out there. Give it a rest. Whether you like it or not, these “pervs” are out there and it is through these voices that we learn more about how perpetrators abuse their victims. Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. We DO need to talk about this. We DO need to teach every single person consent and signs of abuse. “Stranger Danger” is fine to teach, but you are more likely to be assaulted by someone you know. #metoo and #timesup might make people feel uncomfortable because there are a ton of stories now public. It can be overwhelming, I get that. But for many survivors of assault, these stories ring true. If it makes you uncomfortable, good. You’re learning that a lot of instances are buried, un-reported, or simply not discussed. We shouldn’t have to “give it a rest” when there is real work that needs to be done.

What happened, her endorsements dry up, need some cash now? Not that it matters, but Simone’s net worth is close to $3 million. As athletes, Simone, Aly, and McKayla went pro prior to their respective Olympics and did make money off of their medals and endorsements. Maggie, Jamie Dantzscher, and Antolin, for example, remained amateur athletes; they didn’t accept a dime and instead went on to compete in college on an athletic scholarship. Steve Penny, the CEO of USAG, was fired from the organization last year and given a $1 million severance package, nearly the same amount the organization gave to Maroney in an attempt to (illegally) keep her quiet. Because these women have come forward as survivors of assault does not mean they will even see a penny from the lawsuits. The organization however, made money from clubs, elite competitions, and endorsements, while simultaneously protecting a pedophile. Biles, for example, may not even be one of the survivors that are a part of the lawsuit; if she is, that shouldn’t matter. The abuse still happened to her, as a child and against her will, at the hands of a pedophile.

I wonder about these claims. Having a very difficult time believing these women! A majority of victims of abuse are the ages of 12-17. 93% of these

Maggie, Simone, and Aly in 2015.

cases are perpetrated by someone the survivor knows. Two out of three instances of assault go unreported for many reasons including fear of retaliation and not understanding if the act was actually assault. EDUCATE YOURSELF. It is not the obligation of survivors to come forward. These athletes were conditioned that Nassar was the best and they were lucky to be seen by him. I am sure the number of gymnasts coming forward has given the more recently public survivors the confidence that they have each other, unlike the MSU student or Marcia Frederick, whose independent stories of abuse were largely ignored. Former gymnast Kathy Johnson-Clark said: “If we don’t at some point connect the dots to say, ‘You know what, this goes so far back,’ it’s going to keep going on in the future.”

On the other side, there has been a ton of support from fans and athletes. Thankfully, many of the survivors will have their day in court today, but a lot won’t. Regardless of the sentencing, we need to look at the structures, factors, and mentalities that allowed Nassar to abuse so many people for so long. Changing the culture and institutions–this is by no means an isolated instance of abuse–is the real victory for us moving forward.

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Via Oklahoma’s Twitter. Maggie is a returning sophomore and reigning National Champion with the Sooners.

 

Special thank you and appreciation to Gymcastic for their unrelenting coverage of this story.

Ashlyn

Currently Listening To: Uncivil Season 1