“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.

Larry Nassar Abuse Part 6: “I’ve Signed Your Death Warrant” & Holding Enablers Accountable

(Check previous blogs for parts 1-5)

A lot has happened this week. As Larry Nassar receives his final sentencing in the largest sports sexual abuse case in the United States, let’s recap all the things that went down the past few weeks as we look forward to creating institutional and cultural change.

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Survivors give victim impact statements in court.

Larry Nassar

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Nassar (middle) about to be sentenced by Judge Aquilina.

Ingham County Sentencing

Last week, after hearing 156 victim impact statements (almost double the number of survivors that originally came forward) Judge Aquilina sentenced Nassar to 40-175 years in prison for abuse in Ingham County. In her final statement, Judge Aquilina referenced to the letter written by Nassar, which accused her of being media-hungry, blamed the media for “sensationalizing” the court, and that he “was a good doctor because my treatments worked… I was so manipulated by the [attorney general] and now Aquilina, and all I wanted was to minimize stress to everyone. The FBI investigated [my Olympic medical treatment] in 2015 because nothing was wrong. Now they’re seeking the media attention and financial reward.”

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SLAY.

Judge Aquilina threw the letter on the floor and stated:

“This letter, which comes two months after your plea, tells me that you have not yet owned what you did. That you still think that somehow, that you’re right, that you’re a doctor and you’re entitled. That you don’t have to listen and that you did treatment. I wouldn’t send my dogs to you, sir. There’s no treatment here. You finally told the truth.

Your decision to assault was precise, calculated, manipulative, devious, despicable. I don’t have to add words because your survivors have said all of that and I don’t want to repeat it. You can’t give them back their innocence, their youth. You can’t give a father back his life, or one of your victims her life when she took it. You can’t return the daughter to the mother. The father to the daughter.

Sir, I’m giving you 175 years, which is 2100 months. I’ve just signed your death warrant.”

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Accurate representation of me and a friend screaming in a Bratislava speakeasy as we watched the sentencing on my phone.

While there was some criticism for how severe Judge Aquilina spoke to Nassar, the point of this hearing was to provide each survivor with the chance to read their story; this was part of his plea bargain agreement. Many women openly thanked Judge Aquilina in court, online, and even Simone Biles called her a hero on national television. She is a hero for standing up and commending these tremendous women for coming forward after years of being ignored and harassed.

Shannon Smith: “There is a huge part of me that does not believe that every one of those girls was victimized by him.”

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Shannon Smith (left) released statements discrediting the number of women that have forward against her client.

Shannon Smith stated last week that she felt that many of the women speaking against her client were not, in fact, victims of abuse at the hands of Nassar but that, “There were girls who had perfectly normal lives that never questioned the medical treatment done by Larry Nassar — and there is a legitimate medical treatment that involves touching sensitive areas and even penetrations.”

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For the record, his “treatments” were performed without gloves, proven to be sexual abuse and not an actual medical procedure, without parental consent, and without a guardian present. She continued:

“Some of those girls, to be quite frank, they didn’t even know what to think because they never felt victimized. He was never inappropriate to them. And because of everything they’ve seen, they just feel like they must have been victimized. And I think that’s really unfortunate.

I have a very hard time believing that my client could have even possibly assaulted that many people day in and day out in front of their parents, and that every single one of those things was a crime, but he was such a manipulator he got away with it. I just can’t imagine that’s true.”

Smith herself was criticized in a number of victim impact statements for her behavior in the courtroom, where she was seen laughing and texting while survivors spoke.

ESPN noted the statement by former gymnast Madison Bonofiglio:

“she knows of ‘at least 10’ other friends who have chosen not to file reports despite being abused by Nassar. She said some decided it wasn’t a good time for them to do so, and others ‘didn’t think it had happened to them enough.’

‘It really makes me sad that some of my best friends think that because they were only assaulted by Larry five or 10 times that wasn’t enough to matter,’ Bonofiglio said. ‘I think this really matters.'”

Father Attacks Nassar: “I’m not here to upstage my daughters. I’m here to help them heal.”

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During the Eaton County statements Randall Margraves, a father of three survivors, asked Judge Cunningham for five minutes alone with Nassar. When she denied his request, he attempted to attack the man who abused his daughters. The Judge stated that she “cannot tolerate or condone vigilantism or any other type of action that basically comes down to an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” but did not press any charges against Margraves.

Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis added: “This is letting him have this power over us,” she said. “We cannot behave like this. I understand this is a remarkable situation. But you cannot do this. This is not helping your children. This is not helping your community. This is not helping us.”

Eaton County Sentencing

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Judge Cunningham sentences Larry Nassar to 40-125 years.

This week, Eaton County Judge Cunningham sentenced Nassar to another 40-125 years in prison, bringing his total to 360 years for both the child pornography and sexual abuse charges. Judge Cunningham stated:

“The depth of the tragedy is incomprehensible. It spans the country and the world. It has impacted women, children and families of varying ages, races and walks of life. Individuals that have suffered physical and emotional harm as a result of your actions live all over the country and the world. I have heard statements of individuals that live in Michigan, Delaware, Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Chile, London and France. It is also evident that there are an infinite number of victims that still have not been heard from or counted.

Your criminal conduct did not just hurt the victims, but it also hurt everyone who cared about them. Your conduct has impacted every aspect of the lives of each of the women and the young girls. I have heard and considered each of their stories. Their stories are not redundant, even though many of the descriptions of the grooming by the defendant were eerily similar. One victim made the observation that often one victim is seen as a tragedy, but 100 victims are seen as a statistic. That concern is understandable. It is not true in this courtroom. The ramifications of each person that you meet, and each person’s thoughts and feelings, are important. Each voice and each story does make a difference.”

During the sentencing, Nassar began filling out his appeal against the federal child pornography charges; he asked to be appointed an attorney as he can no longer afford representation.

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John Geddert and Twistars

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Geddert with World Champion Jordyn Wieber at the 2012 Olympics. Jordyn, now the Volunteer Assistant Coach for UCLA, testified against Nassar. She is a former athlete of Geddert.

The Eaton County hearing was not only important because it provided a space for survivors to speak, but also to potentially hold accountable the enablers who allowed Nassar’s abuse to continue for 20 years, specifically in the Twistars gym.  Many of the survivors in both counties discussed the mental and physical abuse they suffered at the hands of coach John Geddert, who owns Twistars in Eaton County.

Geddert and Nassar played “good-cop, bad-cop” according to a number of former athletes. As Geddert abused his gymnasts physically (forcing Bailey Lorencen to continue training with a broken bone in her back, an injury she was lucky to not be paralyzed as a result of the continuous training, and throwing Makayla Thrush into the bars, tearing stomach muscles that ended her career) as well as mentally (Makayla Thrush stated that John “told me to kill myself not just once, but many other times. After you ended my career, I tried.”) allowed Nassar’s grooming for abuse. His sympathetic comments and understanding allowed him to build trust with Geddert’s athletes. He also was given access to gymnasts visiting Twistars for competitions. Nassar was the only doctor allowed to provide athletes with medical notes to miss practice; Geddert refused to give time off to athletes that did not see his preferred doctor.

In 2011, Geddert was accused of harassing the parent of an athlete outside of his gym, including physically assaulting her. In 2013, he was accused of assaulting an underage athlete by following her into the locker room, stepping on her toes, and pushing her into a wall. The 2011 case was dropped by the Assistant Prosecutor because pushing the woman did not constitute as assault. Larry Nassar stepped in on Geddert’s behalf after the 2013 incident occurred; he pleaded with the 11-year old’s grandmother (via text) to not press charges against the coach. USAG investigated both events in 2014, but did not take action against Geddert.

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USAG WERE YOU GOOD FOR ANYTHING?

In mid-January, as numerous victim statements showed the extent of abuse at Twistars, USA Gymnastics suspended the 2011 World Championship and 2012 Olympic Team Head Coach. Days later he sent an email to the families of his athletes explaining that he was retiring. He then transferred ownership of his gym to his wife. The Eaton County Sheriff’s department is now conducting a criminal investigation against Geddert.

Michigan State University

MSU President Resigns

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MSU President Simon gives a sincere apology for her lack of transparency and refusal to see herself as part of the problem at a university that has been under investigation for covering up sexual abuse for years. Oh, wait.

On January 24th, Michigan State University’s President Lou Anna Simon resigned from her position amid growing allegations of her mishandling of the Nassar abuse. Simon was accused of allowing Nassar to continue seeing patients while being investigated by police, creating a culture of abuse within the university with zero transparency of assault cases brought by students of MSU, and not being present in the courtroom while athletes presented their statements.

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Former MSU gymnast Lindsey Lemke was one of the most outspoken of Simon’s handling of the case.

Rather than take responsibility as MSU President, she said in her statement: “As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger.”

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MSU Athletic Director Resigns

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MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis resigned days after Simon. The 2012 Athletic Director of the Year was under scrutiny for mishandling abuse claims brought against Nassar, most notably for the 2014 report by recent graduate Amanda Thomashaw. The Title IX investigation, which cleared Nassar of all charges due to the testimonies of his MSU colleagues, could have stopped the abuse of potentially hundreds of women if handled correctly by Hollis. At the end of the investigation, MSU sent two different reports to Thomashaw and Nassar.

Here is the conclusion Thomashow received: 

“We cannot find that the conduct was of a sexual nature. Thus, it did not violate the Sexual Harassment Policy. However, we find the claim helpful in that it allows us to examine certain practices at the MSU Sports Medicine Clinic.”

And Nassar’s copy:

“We cannot find that the conduct was of a sexual nature. Thus, it did not violate the Sexual Harassment Policy. However, we find the claim helpful in that it brought to light some significant problems that the practice will want to address.

We find that whether medically sound or not, the failure to adequately explain procedures such as these invasive, sensitive procedures, is opening the practice up to liability and is exposing patients to unnecessary trauma based on the possibility of perceived inappropriate sexual misconduct. In addition, we find that the failure to obtain consent from patients prior to the procedure is likewise exposing the practice to liability. If procedures can be performed skin-on-skin or over clothes in the breast or pelvic floor area, it would seem patients should have the choice between the two. Having a resident, nurse or someone in the room during a sensitive procedure protects doctors and provides patients with peace of mind. If ‘touching is what DO’s do’ and that is not commonly known, perhaps the practice will want to consider a disclaimer or information sheet with that information provided to the patient up front.”

While Nassar was not charged (he was also allowed to see patients while under investigation) MSU did “implement” a number of practices to protect the university, including requiring the doctor to wear gloves, having another person in the room during examinations, and obtaining consent. MSU Dean William Strampel admitted that he did not follow up on those new requirements.

In addition to the mishandling of the abuse allegations against Nassar, ESPN reported that Hollis kept incidents of sexual assault by football and basketball players quiet:

Over the past three years, MSU has three times fought in court — unsuccessfully — to withhold names of athletes in campus police records. The school also has deleted so much information from some incident reports that they were nearly unreadable. In circumstances in which administrators have commissioned internal examinations to review how they have handled certain sexual violence complaints, officials have been selective in releasing information publicly. In one case, a university-hired outside investigator claimed to have not even generated a written report at the conclusion of his work. And attorneys who have represented accusers and the accused agree on this: University officials have not always been transparent, and often put the school’s reputation above the need to give fair treatment to those reporting sexual violence and to the alleged perpetrators.

It is also important to note that in November 2017, Title IX regulations were rolled back, which can make reporting abuse even more complicated for survivors of assault.

USA Gymnastics

USOC Forces USAG Board To Step Down

Aly Raisman (left) and Jordyn Wieber (right) wait to share their impact statements.

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) asked all members of the USAG Board of Directors to resign or the organization would lose status as the governing body for artistic gymnastics. The USOC stated: “We do not base these requirements on any knowledge that any individual USAG staff or board members had a role in fostering or obscuring Nassar’s actions. Our position comes from a clear sense that USAG culture needs fundamental rebuilding.”

On January 26th USAG responded that they “completely embraces the requirements” of the USOC and all board members resigned from their positions.

While this is an important step for USAG, it is important to note that the USOC has long supported USA Gymnastics and their handling of the Nassar abuse. 2012 and 2016 Olympic Champion Aly Raisman roasted USOC’s position by stating:

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Get em girl.

National Team Coordinator Resigns

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In a shocking development this week, Valeri Liukin stepped down as the National Team Coordinator for the women’s gymnastics program. Liukin, a Soviet Olympic Champion, is the owner of the famed World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA) in Plano, Texas. The gym has produced a number of World and Olympic champions, and NCAA scholarship athletes; WOGA athletes include Carly Patterson, who won the 2004 Olympic All-Around and 2008 Olympic All-Around Champion, Nastia Liukin, also Valeri’s daughter.

After running the developmental program under Marta Karolyi, Liukin was chosen by Marta to replace her following the 2016 Games. While Liukin has produced success in 2017 (difficult after the Olympic year) a number of past stories of abuse have tainted his success as NTC. Former gymnast Katelyn Ohashi stated on her blog that Liukin’s training practices left her with an eating disorder and emotional abuse:

“It started when I was 13, barely weighing 70 pounds. I’ve been told I looked like I swallowed an elephant or a pig, whichever was more fitting that day. I was compared to a bird that was too fat to lift itself off the ground. If I ‘looked’ bigger on a given day, I had to run and condition with heavy sweats until it seemed like I was ‘ready’ to start practice. I’ve even been asked to sign a contract that would basically prohibit me from training if I did not lose weight.”

Vanessa Atler, a 2000 Olympic hopeful, switched gyms leading up to the Olympic Trials;  this abrupt change from her home gym during the Olympic year was unusual and the Karolyis reportedly asked Liukin to take her on as an athlete at WOGA. In an interview Atler said that Valeri did not like his gymnasts to drink water because it made them look “bloated” and that she was weighed several times per day:

“I’m such an emotional eater and if I’m stressed about something, I’ll just eat, eat, eat. It was the first time where if I wasn’t losing weight, I’d go and eat more food because I was stressed about it. It was just a horrible thing.

I started throwing up for a little bit just because he weighed us three times a day, which is insane…We had this paper in his office where they have a scale, you’d weigh in the morning and you’d write down your weight and then after workout, you’d write down your weight and at nighttime, for the last workout, you’d write down your weight, which is so stupid because it just doesn’t mean anything.”

Liukin responded to Atler’s claims that overall, they had a positive working environment, and he has changed as a coach since 2000.

 

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Atler (left) in 1998

 

A number of other gymnasts have come forward with similar stories of training with WOGA and under Liukin. Former gymnast Mattie Larson, who was part of the 2010 World Championship team, stated in her victim impact statement: “It truly bothers me that one of the adults that treated me this way, making me feel completely invisible, is the new national team coordinator, Valeri Liukin. It troubles me that he is now in that position, and I hope for the sake of current and future national team members, that he has changed.”

While it is unknown whether Liukin–again, handpicked by Marta to replace her as NTC–was under pressure from the USOC or USAG to resign. Many of the current athletes have praised him as the National Team Coordinator. In his statement, Liukin said:

“I was truly looking forward to trying to turn this program around and bring success to our country and the gymnastics community. But the present climate causes me, and more importantly my family, far too much stress, difficulty and uncertainty,” he said in a statement.

It is time to move on in a different direction, at least for now. I wish the coaches and athletes continued success, and I stand ready to encourage and support all of them from a different vantage point.”

The Ranch Is Shut Down

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In mid-January, USAG cut ties with the Karolyi Ranch, the previous National Training Center. After Simone Biles stated she did not want to return to the NTC where Nassar abused her and other athletes, USAG responded that they would in fact, change locations.

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On January 30th, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Rangers to investigate the Karolyi ranch following the testimonies and statements by survivors of Nassar’s abuse. Again, I want to quote Mattie Larson on the extent of the physical and emotional abuse of the Ranch, as well as the sexual abuse she suffered there:

“There is an eerie feeling as soon as you step onto the Karolyi Ranch. It is completely removed from all civilization. In the case of an emergency, the closest hospital is so far away you’d need to be helicoptered there. To get to the ranch, you must drive up a dirt road for what seems like an eternity. And the closest civilization is a high-security prison 30 miles away. On top of that, there’s no cell service. It’s completely isolated, and that is no mistake. That is how the Karolyis wanted it.”

Larson described the grueling seven-hour practices six days a week that she and her teammates endured at the Karolyi Ranch, saying she “dreaded” going back every summer. After spiraling into a deep depression and “destructive” eating disorder at 15, Larson said she deliberately hit her head on a bathtub to get out of going back to the ranch.
“One time, I was so desperate not to go, I thought faking an injury bad enough was the only way out,” Larson said as she began crying. “I was taking a bath when I decided to push the bath mat aside, splash water on the tiles, get on the floor and bang the back of my head against the tub hard enough to get a bump so it seemed like I slipped…  Marta, did you keep Larry around because he was a good doctor? Or did you really keep him around because he let us compete when we were injured and was willing to keep your secrets?”

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Mattie reading her victim impact statement.

The Ranch should have been closed years ago for a number of reasons. USAG is holding a verification competition later this month at LSU to choose athletes for a number of upcoming competitions.

The Federal Government Gets Involved

At the end of January, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill 406-3 that would implement new reporting requirements of sexual abuse.The bill requires all sports organizations to report abuse to law enforcement.

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I feel like this is Reporting Abuse 101, but if it makes reporting assault mandatory and holds those that don’t report accountable. So please sign this into law.

As we continue to see the allegations stack up against MSU, Geddert, and USAG, the big push in the next coming months will be translating these abuse statements into actual, tangible conditions, both in terms of culture, infrastructure, and at the local, regional, and institutional levels. Rachael Denhollander, one of the first accusers to come forward against Nassar said she “wouldn’t be here had the adults and authorities done what they should have done 20 years ago.” Following the Nassar case, she ended that the survivors would now help change ” the institutional dynamics that led to the greatest sexual assault scandal in history.”

Ashlyn

Required Viewing/Listening: Mattie Larson Impact Statement and gorgeous 2010 routine

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