“The reality is the policy you have in place is only as good as the culture surrounding it.”: January Update on MSU, the USOC, and USAG.

“‘The reality is the policy you have in place is only as good as the culture surrounding it,’ she said. ‘And it’s only going to be as effective as the hearts of the people who have to implement it. And so how you message on abuse, how much you demonstrate that it matters is by how you handle it. That is what really changes the culture.'”

Shamus, Kristen Jordan. 2020. “Rachael Denhollander: MSU is ‘Actively Reinforcing the Culture’ that let Nassar Thrive.” Detroit Free Press. Available here.

Need to catch up? You can read my last post here.

Another year, another update on the fallout from Nassar’s abuse. #surprisednotsurprised that the institutions that allowed the most prolific sexual abuse predator in the history of American sport continue to struggle to change culture and policy.

USA Gymnastics has found a new National Training Center, which shockingly includes medical tables out in the open, as opposed to the dusty table in the backroom of the Karolyi Ranch. I guess even the simple steps are something to give them credit for, although at this point it seems like we should be wayyyy beyond this.

Survivor Amanda Thomashaw attends a Michigan State University Board of Trustees meeting in December 2019.

A new book, Start By Believing, has brought a number of scathing documents to surface and I hope this will help put former CEO Steve Penny behind bars for good. Again, not surprising to find out how much he knew and covered up or that the person who smuggled medical records from the Karolyi Ranch was working at the organization up until December of last year.

Michigan State University, in their apparent steadfast mission to keep on being terrible, has continued to refuse to release the over 6,000 documents requested by the Michigan Attorney General’s office. Klages and Simon are still denying they knew anything about the abuse on campus, statements directly in contradiction to evidence collected by police.

The most positive development in this “hey let’s hold enablers and abusers accountable” long game is the recent raid of John Geddert’s home and gym (the photo at the beginning of this post). Former USAG Coach of the Year, Geddert has been under investigation for years for not only physically and emotionally abusing athletes, but also protecting his long-time friend Larry Nassar, who molested potentially hundreds of girls in Geddert’s gym.

Let’s get into it:

Michigan State University:

  • While John Engler resigned as interim president of MSU over a year ago, he has yet to agree to be interviewed by Attorney General Dana Nessel for her investigation into how the university allowed Nassar’s abuse; Engler has stated that he thinks the AG office is “biased against him”. Due to the university’s indemnification policy, they are still paying Engler’s legal fees, including $207,000. Engler made a number of controversial comments during his tenure including asking survivor Kaylee Lorincz, “if I wrote you a check for $250,000, would you take it?”
  • In December, Attorney General Dana Nessel stated that the investigation into how MSU handled Nassar’s abuse throughout his years at the university is at an “impasse” as the Board of Trustees has continued to withhold several thousands of documents from police. The university has cited attorney-client privilege as to why they are not required to hand over documents. Five of the eight university trustees have stated that they will review the 6,000 documents requested and “consider” releasing them to the AG’s office. Nessel responded:

“It’s unclear how the trustees can say with certainty that the information contained in those documents is not relevant to our investigation. In fact, the depth and breadth the university has gone to in withholding those documents only increases our fervor to obtain them.”

LeBlanc, Beth. 2019. “Nessel Clarifies: Nassar Investigation at ‘Impasse’ with MSU.” The Detroit News. Available here.
  • Four board members voted against the independent review which would have included the documents requested by the AG’s office.
  • Former MSU president Lou Anna Simon’s attorneys are planning to ask a judge to dismiss the four charges against her in relation to Nassar’s abuse at Michigan State. Simon is charged with two felonies and two misdemeanors of lying to police. She that while she knew of the 2014 Title IX investigation into Nassar brought forward by Amanda Thomashaw, but did not know any specifics behind the complaint. This directly contradicts evidence found by detectives that show Simon discussed Nassar and the investigation into whether he sexually abused Thomashaw in 2014. He was later cleared of the charges.
  • Former Michigan State University head coach Kathie Klages has a trial date for February 10th; she faces two charges of lying to police. Klages denied knowing of sexual abuse allegations made against Nassar, including two accounts brought forward by gymnasts in 1997. During her time as head coach, Klages forced her athletes to sign a card supporting Nassar and told the mother of a survivor that the 30,000+ images of child pornography found on his home computer were planted.
  • This week Rachael Denhollander criticized the lack of change in culture and policy at MSU as the university has yet to complete an independent investigation into not only how Nassar was able to abuse hundreds of girls on campus, but also how multiple complaints were dismissed by the administration:

“MSU is consistently messaging that they care about money and liability more. And in that case, they’re going to be completely ineffective at actually changing the culture. They’re going to be ineffective at communicating to survivors that there is a safe place to speak up. They are going to be ineffective at communicating to their own employees, that abuse reports have to be handled properly. Because essentially their messaging is that if you do mess up, we’re going to cover for you because it would be too expensive if we don’t. They’re actively reinforcing the culture…

I have even less hope for USAG than I have for MSU, if that’s even possible. It is the same set of problems. USAG has not taken the most basic steps. They have yet to identify even one mistake that was made. They have yet to identify one abusive coach, one abusive dynamic that should not have been allowed to flourish. They still have people working for them who actively covered up for Larry.”

Shamus, Kristen Jordan. 2020. “Rachael Denhollander: MSU is ‘Actively Reinforcing the Culture’ that let Nassar Thrive.” Detroit Free Press. Available here.
  • A woman has filed a lawsuit against the former MSU medical resident Michael Phinn further citing the lack of oversight by Michigan State leadership. Phinn was sentenced to five to fifteen years in prison for sexual assault (among other charges) after two women testified that he used his lab coat to expose himself to them and forced the women to watch videos of himself masturbating. The lawsuit also names Michigan State and former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, William Strampel. Strampel was Phinn’s (and Nassar’s) supervisor and was criminally charged for neglect of duty and sentenced to one year in prison last August.

USA Gymnastics & The United States Olympic Committee:

2012 Olympic Head Coach John Geddert
  • Amy White, a USA Gymnastics staffer who, under direction of CEO Steve Penny, removed medical records from the then-National Training Center, Karolyi Ranch, is no longer working for the organization. The notice in December 2019 did not state whether White had been fired or left the organization voluntarily. In a statement to the Senate in 2018, Kerry Perry–who replaced Penny as CEO–testified that the documents were given to Penny after White removed them them from Texas and brought them to USAG headquarters in Indianapolis. The national team met at the Karolyi Ranch every month and many gymnasts state they were abused by Nassar there.
  • The book Start by Believing (John Barr and Dan Murphy) was published this month and included a number of previously unreported documents relating to the Nassar case. Most damning are the documents that show then-CEO Steve Penny was aware of Nassar’s abuse earlier (and in more detail) than previously thought. He stated that gymnast Mckayla Maroney “felt no therapeutic effect but felt [Nassar] was getting sexual gratification” by abusing her under the guise of medical treatment, specifically penetrating her in Japan (2011), London (2012), and Belgium (2013). The document further states that USAG attorneys Dan Connolly and Scott Himsel offered Penny a choice:

“‘We can tell the full story of what we’ve learned thus far,’ the attorneys wrote in an email obtained by the authors. ‘We think it is highly likely that would become a media story and prompt Larry to sue for defamation… Neither Dr. Nassar nor USAG wants the attendant negative publicity at this time.'”

ESPN. 2020. “Book Reveals New Details of How USAG concealed Nassar Complaints.” ESPN Online. Available here.
  • Remember that Penny did not first alert police–a requirement of Indiana law–but instead hired Fran Sepler, a workplace harassment investigator, to interview gymnasts about the complaints against Nassar. She interviewed 2012 Olympians Maroney and Aly Raisman, along with Maggie Nichols, a 2015 World Champion and current gymnast for Oklahoma, about their abuse. Maggie is one of the first elite gymnasts to come forward when her coach overheard her discussing how uncomfortable Nassar made her feel at a national training camp.
  • USA Gymnastics has again postponed hearings related to complaints made against coach Maggie Haney. Haney, the owner of MG Elite Gymnastics, coached 2016 Olympic Champion Laurie Hernandez, along with a number of other elite gymnasts including Jazmyn Foberg (who now competes for the University of Florida) and current national team member Riley McCusker. The three year case began when eleven allegations of emotional and verbal abuse were made against Haney. Hernandez no longer trains at MG Elite, but McCusker, a 2018 World Champion and one of the front-runners for the 2020 team, still trains with Haney. Both Haney and McCusker were at the National Training Center this month.
  • Child sexual assault charges against former USA Gymnastics Athletic Trainer Debbie Van Horn were dismissed this January. Van Horn worked closely with Nassar for years at the-then National Training Center: Karolyi Ranch. Nassar called Van Horn his “neck” that kept his head on and further said she was “the single most influential person in the history of sports medicine for the sport of gymnastics”. Mattie Larson, a 2010 World Championship silver medalist, stated in her victim impact statement that Van Horn was in the room when Nassar abused her at the Karolyi Ranch. In addition to Van Horn, four others have been criminally charged in relation to the Nassar abuse including former CEO Steve Penny, who is facing charges of evidence-tampering, also in Texas.
  • USAG has named The Gymnastics Company as the new training center for the women’s program. The 42,000 square foot space in Indianapolis replaces the Karolyi Ranch as the official training site for US elite athletes, who meet at the location each month. One change from the secluded Karolyi Ranch is that the therapy tables are set up in plain view of the gym, rather than in a back room, which Nassar used to conceal his abuse of athletes.
  • While USAG’s decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy may have stopped the investigations and payouts to survivors, a recent article by The Washington Post found that USA Gymnastics has paid attorneys $1000+ per hour which:

“rank as extremely high for a bankruptcy of this size involving sexual abuse victims. Three lawyers have billed more than $600,000 individually in the first year of the case, according to a review of legal bills filed in court, part of more than $7 million in legal fees approved, by a judge, on a preliminary basis.

To some attorneys and victims, the rising legal fees are prompting concerns about how much will be left for victims when the case is over.”

Hobson, Will. 2019. “While Larry Nassar Victims Wait, Lawyers Cash in on USA Gymnastics Bankruptcy.” The Washington Post. Available here.
  • On Tuesday, attorneys representing survivors motioned to dismiss USAG’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Representatives stated that the survivors and USA Gymnastics are not any closer to settling mediation disputes and legal claims. USAG filed for bankruptcy in December of 2018, an act that halted all legal investigations (including the organization’s depositions) and the USOC’s decision to revoke their status as the national governing body for the sport. If approved, this request for dismissal would force USA Gymnastics to “confront the lawsuits filed in courts across the country and could also be exposed to new ones.” According to the filing, there has been no progress in months between USAG and the athletes suing the organization.
  • On January 21st, law enforcement raided the training center and home of John and Kathryn Geddert. John, the 2012 Olympic Head Coach and owner of Twistars gym, was accused of mental and physical abuse of athletes before being suspended by USA Gymnastics in 2018 and has been under investigation for two years. His gym was one of the locations Nassar used to abuse gymnasts, often playing the “good guy” counterpart to Geddert. Makayla Thrush, a former athlete at Twistars, spoke about Geddert’s abuse and enabling in her victim impact statement in 2018:

“Do you remember the time you got so mad at me? I don’t even know why that’s just who you are. You threw me on top of the low bar, ruptured the lymph nodes in my neck, gave me a black eye, and tore the muscles in my stomach. You told me to kill myself not just once but many other times, and unfortunately, I let you get the best of me because after you ended my career I tried. John you never even called me by my first name.”

Murphy, Amy. 2020. “Update: Police Raid on Twistars and Home of Former US Gymnastics Coach.” Fox 47 News. Available here.
  • In addition to Thrush, a number of other athletes have stated that Geddert knew of the abuse. 2012 Olympic Champion Mckayla Maroney also stated that she told Geddert while sharing a car in 2011 that Nassar was molesting her. In The Girls, multiple gymnasts told similar stories of Geddert walking in on Nassar abusing them while cracking jokes about their breasts and other body parts.
  • Rita Wieber, the mother of 2012 Olympic Champion and former Twistars gymnast Jordyn Wieber, released a statement 24 hours after police raided Twistars, stating: “I was encouraged to think that there is still a chance justice is going to be served.”
  • The attorney representing a number of survivors published this statement on the raid:

“On behalf of the hundreds of Larry Nassar victims represented by our team, I applaud the actions of the Michigan Attorney General and the Grand Ledge Police Department. The search of John Geddert’s home and Twistars offices is long overdue. Geddert was the handpicked by USA Gymnastics, the USOPC and the Karolyis to coach our 2012 Olympic Team. Every member of the Fierce Five was sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar under his watch. It is now time for search warrants to be served on USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee so that Nassar’s victims and the public will finally discover who within these organizations actively concealed Nassar’s crimes.”

Dolinar, Elise. 2020. “Larry Nassar Victims’ Attorney Issues Statement on Raid of John Geddert’s Assets.” NBC 25 News. Available here.

On a positive note, last year I read both The Girls (Abigail Pesta) and What is a Girl Worth? (Rachael Denhollander) and I highly recommend both if you’re interested in learning more about the topic.

Currently:

Reading: The Testaments (Margaret Atwood)
Watching: The Good Place Season 4 (Netflix)
Listening: Scene on Radio (Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University)

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.

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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