“How About You Amaze Me and Do the Right Thing… Have an Independent Investigation”: March Update on MSU, the USOPC, & USAG

“How about you amaze me and do the right thing… have an independent investigation.”

(Simone Biles in response to a tweet by USA Gymnastics wishing her a happy birthday– essentially in less than fifteen words also restoring my faith in the world again).

Chavez, Nicole. 2020. “Simone Biles Claps Back at USA Gymnastics After They Wish her a Happy Birthday.” CNN Online. Available here.

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

A lot has happened in the last month and a half. It’s only MARCH? SIXTEENTH?! But here we are.

Me, currently.

The biggest news to come out since January is the absolutely atrocious-I-can’t-believe-they-thought-this-would-work settlement offer USA Gymnastics attempted to pass off as somewhat appropriate for the hundreds of survivors currently suing their organization. In the settlement, some plantiffs would receive less than $100,000, oh and super casual, but agreeing to the terms meant that USA Gymnastics, the USOPC, Steve Penny, and every other X-Men-esque villain apparently hired to conduct business for USAG would be off the hook. No documents released. No mandatory structural changes. Oh, and the USOPC would pay nothing.

It would be laughable if it wasn’t so true.

2012 and 2016 Olympic Champion Aly Raisman made an appearance on The Today Show, expressing understandable outrage about how the organization could bungle a settlement proposal so badly, especially as their athletes are preparing for this year’s summer games. Simone Biles, on her way to USAG’s mandatory training camp, tweeted:

Friendly reminder: Simone continues to compete FOR and earn money FOR an organization that has yet to independently investigate how they allowed a serial molester to sexually abuse her, her teammates, and hundreds of others. Absolutely unbelievable.

Rachael Denhollander also posted online:

“Your words of change and care are utterly meaningless because your ACTIONS stand in direct contrast to those platitudes. To even ask for a release of the USOPC, Penny and Karolyis after the 100s of children they destroyed is galling beyond what I can express.

Shame on you. I don’t want to hear one more word about care and change from any of you. You are refusing responsibility for the damage to hundreds of children and asking us to ignore it too.

You can choose a blind eye. But know this: we never will. And your complete lack of care will do nothing more that motivate us to fight that much harder for justice and truth. The answer is no.”

What else? Kathie Klages was found guilty and Nassar’s appeal was denied, but unfortunately, there are a ton of how-have-you-not-learned-anything moments since my last post.

Let’s get into it:

Michigan State University:

Tiffany Thomas Lopez reads her victim impact statement on January 17th, 2018 to Larry Nassar.
  • Former Michigan State University Dean of the College of Oseeopathic Medicine will be released from prison in April. William Strampel was found guilty of willful neglect of duty and misconduct in office in relation to the mishandling of Larry Nassar last year. Strampel, Nassar’s boss, allowed the former doctor to continue seeing patients without ensuring policies set by a Title IX complaint were enforced, along with a number of other issues including sexually harassing co-workers and students. Originally given a one-year sentence for his crimes, Strampel will be released early for good behavior after serving eight months.
  • Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Joyce Draganchuk allowed a request made by attorneys of former MSU Head Coach Kathie Klagies to ban Lindsey Lemke, one of her gymnasts, from testifying in court. Klages, who faces two charges of lying to police, did not want Lemke to testify as a witness as the MSU and Twistars athlete has repeatedly stated that Klages knew of Nassar’s abuse, but failed to report him to police. Larissa Boyce, one of the athletes that reported Nassar’s abuse to Klages in 1997, along with a teammate who chose to remain anonymous, were allowed to testify.
  • On February 14th, Kathie Klages was found guilty of two counts of lying to police. The former MSU Head Coach for the Women’s Gymnastics Program, Klages repeatedly stated she did not know of Nassar’s abuse–even after two gymnasts told her that the former doctor was sexually assaulting them in 1997 (Boyce and an unnamed athlete) and one athlete (Lemke) disclosed the same story twenty years later–also forced her team to sign a card of support for the now disgraced former physician. She faces up to four years in prison and sentencing will take place on April 15th.
  • Former Michigan State softball player and survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse, Tiffany Thomas Lopez, urged two athletic trainers still employed by the university to “listen and say something”. Lopez, who testified this week at hearings “related to the potential sanctions” against Destiny Teachnor-Hauk and Lianna Hadden, says she and another athlete, Jennifer Bedford, notified the trainers over twenty years ago that the former doctor was sexually abusing them under the guise of medical treatment. Prosecutors are currently reviewing complaints made against the athletic trainers that could result in revoking their licenses.

“Lopez testified Hadden told her to talk to Teachnor-Hauk. 

Though Lopez had other conversations with Hadden about being uncomfortable, she said she didn’t speak with Teachnor-Hauk until closer to the end of her softball career. 

‘It took me a long time to say something to her,’ Lopez testified. ‘I was intimidated and scared and I still didn’t know whether to believe it or not.’

Teachnor-Hauk gave her options, Lopez said, but told her that if she filed a complaint, ‘everyone would know,’ and ‘in doing that I may stir up controversy for the university, for my recently widowed father and especially for the doctor.’

Teachnor-Hauk again defended Nassar’s actions as medical treatment, Lopez said, adding she ‘left Michigan State believing what the ladies had told me.’

Lopez said, while people have told her Hadden and Teachnor-Hauk failed her, that’s hard for her to believe. She doesn’t blame them ‘for any of this at all.’

Banta, Megan. 2020. “Former Michigan State Athlete, Nassar Survivor, Urges Trainers to Listen, ‘Say Something.'” Lansing State Journal. Available here.
  • While the two trainers do not face any criminal charges, the result of the investigation could include fines, suspension, or even loss of their licenses. A decision could take months to conclude.
  • Four MSU survivors stood in solidarity with three men who came forward against University of Michigan doctor Robert Anderson. Anderson (who died in 2008), as well as the university, are currently under investigation for abuse that occurred for decades in Ann Arbor. Amanda Thomashaw noted: “U-M created a safe place and the predators flourished… You’ve seen the damage (non-transparency) has done to me and my sister survivors.”

USA Gymnastics and The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee:

  • Maggie Haney, coach of 2016 Olympian Laurie Hernandez and current National Team Member Riley McCusker was suspended by USA Gymnastics in relation to complaints of physical and emotional abuse in her New Jersey gym; Hernandez and “at least half a dozen families” filed complaints against Haney. She is now suspended from all contact with minors.
  • On January 30th, USA Gymnastics released their plan to emerge from bankruptcy by providing $215 million to survivors of abuse. The plan gave survivors two choices: as a group, accept the $215 million and settle every claim OR continue lawsuits against the organization. Most laughed at the settlement amount, which for example, is less than half paid out by Michigan State University. The $215 million would be distributed as a tier system, with Olympic athletes receiving more; the bottom tier plaintiffs would be given less than $100,000. The OC Register states that the average payout would be $250-300,000 per survivor, less than the current salary for the CEO of USA Gymnastics. The plan was met with outrage from survivors. John C. Manly, who represents over 200 of the plaintiffs, noted:

“This proposed plan does not include the critical structural changes necessary to ensure the safety of girls moving forward, nor does it appropriately address the myriad physical and emotional challenges the victims face as a result of these crimes. Most disturbingly, this proposed plan attempts to absolve USOPC of any responsibility for these crimes which were committed under its watch. This plan from USAG is not just unworkable. It is unconscionable.”

Whatron, David. 2020. “USA Gymnastics Issues Plan to Emerge from Bankruptcy and Settle Nassar Lawsuit.” Los Angeles Times. Available here.
  • The proposed settlement does not “address providing documents detailing the extent the national governing body knew of sexual abuse of young athletes and the lengths USA Gymnastics and other organizations went to conceal the abuse”. In addition to the lack of documents released, and any requirement for the implementation of new structures, the proposal also limits the liability of the USOPC. Under this plan, the USOPC would not have to admit to any wrong-doing or pay any money to the 500+ survivors:

“The opposition to the settlement proposal is wide ranging, with survivors and their supporters highlighting that the deal releases the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny, former national team directors Bela and Martha Karolyi, former U.S. Olympic coach Don Peters and other USA Gymnastics and USOPC officials and coaches from all claims, does not take into account the nature and frequency of each survivors’ abuse and contains no provision for USA Gymnastics and the USOPC to release documents and other information detailing the extent to which officials were aware of the predatory behavior of Nassar, Peters and others.”

Reid, Scott M. 2020. “Survivors Overwhelmingly Reject USA Gymnastics Settlement Offer.” The Orange County Register. Available here.
  • Alexandra Bourque’s personal story demonstrates how short-minded and insulting the proposal is for survivors. Bourque was only eleven years old when Larry Nassar began abusing her. The former doctor encouraged her to remain in gymnastics as she struggled to overcome a number of injuries including a cracked tailbone and broken hip. He continually abused her for another four years, when at age 15, she says his abuse became “aggressively worse”. Bouroque was also simultaneously abused by her former coach, Don Peters, who was banned for life by USA Gymnastics in 2011 for sexually abusing athletes. Under the tier system proposed by USAG in their settlement offer, Bourque would receive a settlement of $82,000, an amount that would not even cover her current medical treatments; she was diagnosed with endometriosis and post-traumatic stress disorder, which, doctors state, are correlated to the years of abuse by Nassar. The settlement would also not require the organization to release documents related to Nassar or Don Peters.
  • This weekend USA Gymnastics tweeted a happy birthday message to Simone Biles, who turned 23 on Saturday. The organization wished her (well, they tagged the wrong Twitter handle) a happy birthday along with “We know you will only continue to amaze us and make history!” to which Simone responded:
We stan a queen.
  • Last week, Larry Nassar’s final appeal was denied by Michigan’s attorney general’s office. Nassar’s attorneys argued that Judge Rosemarie Aquilinia was not impartial in her decision to sentence him to the maximum 175 years in prison. The state’s AG office found that Judge Aquilina may have made ill-advised comments, but did not demonstrate judicial bias. Nassar’s appeals for the 60 year sentence for child pornography and 125 years for sexual assault have also been denied.

Currently:
Reading: Start by Believing: Larry Nassar’s Crimes, the Institutions that Enabled Him, and the Brave Women Who Stopped a Monster (John Barr and Dan Murphy)
Watching: Broad City Season 5 (Comedy Central)

“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)

“It was more of the same”: November Update on MSU, the USOC, and USAG

“The only way you’re going to change this culture of abuse is to start putting behind bars the people who enabled and covered up that abuse.” –Robert Allard, an attorney who has represented a number of sexual abuse victims in several Olympic sports.

Reid, Scott M. 2019. “Justice Department, IRS Investigating USOPC, USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming.” The Orange County Register. Available here.

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

Lou Anna Simon in court (2018).

Right now the biggest update in the fallout from the Nassar sentencing is the continued shirking of responsibility by Michigan State University; the institution has not only hurt the state investigation into the enablers and policies that allowed the abuse, but have also failed to actually accept responsibility and create change to stop sexual assault from occurring on campus.

“Attorney general Dana Nessel’s office has requested more than 7,000 documents from MSU in its investigation into how Nassar assaulted hundreds of patients on MSU campus for almost 20 years. The investigation looks at who knew what and when, but the office asserts that MSU has ‘stonewalled’ the investigation at every turn. Currently, MSU retains around 6,000 of the requested documents claiming attorney-client privilege.”

Nichols, Anna Liz. 2019. “One MSU Trustee is not Enough: Sexual Ause Advocates Call on Governor to Step in.” Michigan Advance. Available here.

Bryan Tarrant, a parent of a survivor, hoped that the display of luminaries in front of the East Lansing Library–one for each of the hundreds of girls and women subjected to the former doctor’s abuse–would help demonstrate the need for support and policy change by current MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr.

‘But, as he anticipated, Tarrant left disappointed with the talk.

“It was more of the same,” he said. “We still want MSU to come forward and do the things we’ve been asking them to do all along.”‘

Johnson, Mark. 2019. “Nassar survivors met with MSU President Stanley. They left disappointed.” Lansing State Journal. Available here.
Luminaries lighting the front of East Lansing Library. More than 500 were lit to remind Michigan State University of the effects of sexual abuse.

Let’s get into it:

Michigan State University:

  • Michigan State University set the record for most rapes ever reported by an institution of higher learning on their (required) Clery Act report. Reporter David Jesse notes that “there were 933 reports of rape and 137 reports of fondling attributed to Nassar in 2018 on non-campus property”.
  • Last month the US Department of Education charged MSU with a $4.5M fine for the university’s failure to comply with sexual assault and discrimination standards as set by the federal government in the Clery Act. This is the largest fine ever administrated under this policy. The DOE found that Michigan State failed to properly classify incidents of assault, compile and publish accurate statistics, issue warnings, and notify authorities. June Youatt, the Provost for the university, immediately resigned.
  • In September, four trustees–Dianne Byrum, Brianna Scott, Joel Ferguson, and Melanie Foster–“stalled and blocked an independent investigation into MSU’s handling of the [Larry Nassar] scandal”. Last year Michigan Attorney General Special Independent Counsel William Forsyth called for this investigation after the university continued to block meaningful inquiries into the institution. The Board continues to refuse to release at least SIX THOUSAND DOCUMENTS related to Nassar.
  • Last week, an Ingham County judge denied requests to suppress evidence against former MSU Gymnastics Coach Kathie Klages. Klages has been charged with one felony and one misdemeanor count of lying to police. She has not yet been charged with being a generally shitty person–remember that she forced her athletes (many also survivors) to make a card supporting Nassar. She also threatened gymnasts to not file charges against the doctor.
  • Michigan’s Attorney General’s office has repeatedly requested an interview with former Interim President John Engler about his involvement in the Larry Nassar case. Engler faced harsh criticism for his disrespectful treatment of survivors, lack of transparency, and failure to create meaningful policy following the resignation of President Lou Anna Simon. Engler resigned after the Board of Trustees threatened to fire him.
  • Former President Lou Anna Simon has been ordered by Eaton County District Court Judge Julie Reinke to stand trial for two felonies and two misdemeanors for lying to police about when she first knew of the allegations made against Nassar. Simon, whose court costs and attorney fees are paid for by the university, denies the charges. Her attorney stated: “They already destroyed her life. What more do they want?” To which I have to say, get.the.fuck.out.of.here.with.this.nonsense. Engler also received a $2.45M retirement salary.
  • Ronan Farrow’s book, Catch and Kill discloses that Kroll, the firm used by Michigan State to handle Title IX sexual assault allegations, was also employed by Harvey Weinstein. MSU worked with Kroll in 2018 and was later fired by the university.
  • In October, Board of Trustees member Nancy Sclichting resigned due to the university’s lack of transparency. She was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in December and was welcomed by campus advocates–both Democrat and Republican–as she was seen as a representative without a large connection to Michigan State. Sclichting stated:

“… I joined the board to help change the attitudes and beliefs of the legacy board members towards the extraordinary young women who have survived sexual assault by Larry Nassar, and to support the survivors in every way I could… During the last year, though, it has become very clear to me that my commitment to have an independent review of the Nassar situation, and to waive privilege so the truth can come out, is not shared by the MSU board chair [Dianne Byrum], legacy board members and some newer trustees.”

Jesse, David. 2019. “MSU Trustee Schlichting Resigns, Cites Frustration with Secrecy on Board.” Detroit Free Press. Available here.

USA Gymnastics & The United States Olympic Committee:

  • Transfers of funds made by USA Gymnastics are currently under investigation. The organization moved millions of dollars into “linked” accounts prior to legal action taken against USAG by survivors of sexual abuse. According to Rachael Denhollander, in previous years USAG channeled roughly $100,000 annually into the foundation, not millions. It is important to note that USAG filed for bankruptcy before moving funds and survivors are not able to access any money from this foundation.
  • Leslie King, the Vice President of Communications for USAG, was seen pushing the 👑 Simone Biles toward interviewers following a competition at the World Championships this October. King, who helped cover up Nassar’s abuse to the public, was also one of their employees to receive a 2019 bonus while the organization is in the midst of bankruptcy.
  • A positive update: The Game Over Commission, established by Marci Hamilton, CEO of Child USA, is creating the first comprehensive database of documents related to the Larry Nassar case: “We wanted to make sure everything was not just going to disappear. We want to preserve all the information and and make sure it is accessible by the public.”
  • The US Department of Justice is investigating several sports under the umbrella of the US Olympic Committee for their handling of sexual abuse allegations. USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming, and USA Taekwondo, along with the USOC, are currently under review. Athletes have testified before a grand jury in DC and both California and Indiana (home of USAG) have opened their own inquiries into these governing bodies of sport.
  • In addition to the investigation of the USOC and USA Gymnastics by the US Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service is also in the middle of a federal investigation into the finances of USAG, along with USA Swimming and USA Taekwondo.
  • This fall, USA Gymnastics hired 2012 Olympic Alternate Anna Li to serve on the Athlete’s Council for the organization; Li and her mother, Jiani Wu, faced allegations of emotional and physical abuse of young athletes, leading to Li’s resignation. In October it was revealed that USA Gymnastics CEO Li Li Leung knew of the abusive reports before naming Li to the Council, allegations she previously denied. Emails sent in 2017 show that USA Gymnastics knew of the reports but in August of 2019, Leung denied that the organization was aware made against Li and Wu.
  • USA Gymnastics has filed a request for a 60-day extension to its bankruptcy exclusive period. The request states that the organization “does not expect it will have a plan soon that sexual abuse victims and other parties in its bankruptcy can support.”

USA Gymnastics again benefited from its athletes at the World Championships held last month. Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in history (male or female) and the team won more medals than any other country.

Again, they achieved this in spite of these organizations, not because of them.

Currently:

Reading: How to be an Antiracist (Ibram X. Kendi)
Watching: Catherine the Great (HBO)
Listening: 1619 (The New York Times)

Simone Biles (Continues to be) The Hero We Don’t Deserve: August Update on MSU, The USOC, & USAG

“Larry Nassar … was far from a lone wolf… He was enabled by others and if they lied about it and if they obstructed the investigation, if they destroyed documents then they should be held accountable.”

Fitzpatrick, Sarah, Tom Costello, and Adiel Kaplan. 2019. “Congress: U.S. Olympic Committee, FBI Failed to Protect Athletes from Larry Nassar’s Abuse.” NBC News. Available here.

This is a continuing series of posts on how Michigan State University, the United States Olympic Committee, and USA Gymnastics are changing (or not) following the largest sexual abuse case in the history of sport in the US. Need a recap on how we got here? Check out my last post here.

As always, there’s a ton of developments to unpack, including just two weeks ago when a congressional report found that the USOC, USA Gymnastics, MSU, AND the FBI all “had opportunities to stop Nassar but failed to do so”.

I’ll be posting a review of the report, which includes damning evidence of both individual and organizational cover-ups, as well as prioritizing institutional protection over athlete safety, in a separate post.

Simone Biles at the 2019 US National Championships

These organizations are (still) failing at creating meaningful change. Just last week at the US Championships, where Simone “greatest of all time” Biles won her historic sixth all-around title (along with unveiling two of the most difficult skills in gymnastics history, tearfully addressed the short-comings of the USOC and USA Gymnastics. Both organizations failed to protect her from sexual abuse; she currently still competes under these institutions, who also make money off of her domination of the sport:

“But it’s hard coming here for an organization having had them fail us so many times. And we had one goal and we’ve done everything that they’ve asked us for, even when we didn’t want to and they couldn’t do one damn job. You had one job. You literally had one job and you couldn’t protect us…. How can we trust them?”

The Associated Press. 2019. “‘You had One Job’: Tearful Simone Biles Attacks USAG over Nassar Scandal.” The Guardian UK. Available here.

Biles shut down the Ranch, USAG trash CEOs, and continues to speak out against the organizations that allowed Nassar to abuse hundreds of children and women. The truth is that she doesn’t have to keep holding USAG and the USOC accountable–I can’t imagine the emotional and mental toll it takes to continuously do so while competing–but she does. Biles is providing a voice to the many who aren’t heard and because she is absolutely the best there is, forces people (and organizations) to listen. As Nastia Liukin said on day two of the US Championships broadcast: “Simone’s got enough gold medals at home. Someone give this girl a crown.”

Let’s get into it:

Michigan State University

Dr. Samuel Stanley Jr
  • In May, MSU named former Stony Brook University president Samuel L. Stanley as the new president for Michigan State. He was unanimously voted into the position by the MSU Board of Trustees following the resignation of Lou Anna Simon in January 2018 and the term of controversial interim president John Engler ended. Stanley served on the NCAA Division I Board of Directors from 2014-2018 and the NCAA Division I Board of Governors from 2016-2018. Remember that last year the NCAA cleared MSU of any wrongdoing concerning Larry Nassar, as well as the abuse allegations made against the university’s football and basketball teams. His salary could include up to $5.3M by 2024; he started at the university on August 1st.
  • June Youatt, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at MSU, testified at former Michigan State University Dean (and Nassar’s boss) William Strampel’s court hearing. She stated that she:

“was aware of complaints about Strampel making inappropriate or sexual comments, but recommended he stay on as dean after confronting him about the alleged behavior… [She] testified Friday that a number of anonymous comments collected as part of the university’s five-year review process for deans ‘indicated that there had been some sexual comments made.'”

Gibbons, Lauren. 2019. “MSU Provost Recommended William Strampel Stay on as Dean Despite Complaints of Inappropriate Behavior.” Michigan Live. Available here.

June Youatt is still employed at MSU and continues to hold the position of Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs.

William Strampel (left)
  • In June, William Strampel was found guilty of misconduct in office, as well as two charges of willful neglect of duty in relation to his role as Larry Nassar’s supervisor at Michigan State University (he was found not guilty of second-degree criminal sexual conduct.) This month he was sentenced to 11 months in prison. Strampel is the first person to be sentenced for his role in enabling Nassar.
  • Former MSU president Lou Anna Simon was charged in November 2018 with lying to police; her trial finished in July 2019. Eaton County District Court Judge Julie Reincke will announce a ruling later this year.
  • Kathy Klages, former Head Coach for the MSU Women’s Gymnastics Team, was also charged with lying to police for failing to report allegations of abuse against Nassar. Her case is still pending.

“MSU is paying the full costs of Simon and Klages’ defenses. The university is paying for half of Strampel’s defense, since only two of his charges related to the Nassar scandal.”

Banta, Megan. 2019. “Former MSU Dean William Strampel Sentenced to One Year in Jail.” Lansing State Journal. Available here.
  • On June 20th the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill to add athletic trainers and physical therapists to the state’s list of mandatory reporters of child abuse. This is the direct result of survivors pushing for legislation to create stricter laws for protecting victims.
  • Michigan State University has yet to respond to a January report by the US Department of Education. The report found that the institution continuously violated federal law that requires universities to publicly report safety issues.
  • In June, the MSU Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approve an independent investigation of how the institution allowed Nassar to abuse women. MSU will hire an outside firm to conduct the research, specifically non-criminal actions, including the culture of the campus and administration, with the goal of:

“helping the Board of Trustees to identify who knew what about Nassar, how he was able to abuse and identify actions that might have involved neglect, violations of university protocol or other behaviors that need to be addressed.”

Kozlowski, Kim. 2019. “MSU to Launch Independent Investigation in Nassar Scandal.” The Detroit News. Available here.

Chicago-based firm McDermott Will & Emery will conduct the investigation. The decision was met with approval from Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly come forward against Nassar:

“It’s truly independent. MSU has not done an independent review of everything that’s happened. And they’ve worked directly with survivors in selecting a firm…that really emphasizes the importance of accountability and transparency and independence from the board… It’s exactly what we’ve been asking for, what I’ve been asking for, for the last three years. “

Wells, Kate. 2019. “MSU Promises New Nassar Investigation is the Real Deal This Time.” Michigan Public Radio. Available here.

USA Gymnastics & United States Olympic Committee:

(center three): Tasha Schwikert, Alyssa Baumann , and Jordan Schwikert
  • This May, three former USAG athletes testified to the Texas Senate committee to provide more time for for abuse victims to take legal action against their perpetrators, including institutions. 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Tasha Schwikert, her sister and national team member Jordan, and World medalist Alyssa Baumann expressed concern that the law needed to expand to include a longer statue of limitations, as well as the inclusion of legal action against organizations that enable abuse, a policy that was originally in the bill, but was quietly removed by Craig Goldman, who introduced the legislation. All three athletes were abused at the former National Training Center in Texas. Tasha, now a lawyer, stated: “I was just there doing gymnastics, trying to live out my dream of being an Olympian, and they allowed this child molester to abuse hundreds of gymnasts doing the same.” The bill passed in late May, now allowing victims of abuse to file lawsuits up to thirty years after they turn 18; legislation also included the provision allowing victims to bring charges against institutions as well.
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, USA Gymnastics is now facing over $1 billion in claims from former athletes.
  • Former Olympian Terin Humphrey, a representative on the USA Gymnastics Athletes’ Council, was removed from her position following controversial comments on recognizing abuse in the gym. The Athletes’ Council is the voice of the gymnasts within USA Gymnastics.
  • Humphrey was then replaced by former 2012 Olympic alternate Anna Li, who, along with her mother Jiani Wu, is facing allegations of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse of athletes in her gym. Complaints filed with USA Gymnastics contend that the coaches screamed obscenities and pulled the hair of athletes. This week Li resigned from the position; Li’s resignation is the fifth USAG official to do so in less than twelve months.
Former USOC CEO Scott Blackmun
  • Administrative costs for the US Olympic Committee doubled from 2017-2018, including a $5.2 million investigation into the organization’s handling of Nassar abuse cases and a $2.4 million severance provided to former CEO Scott Blackmun. Blackmun was notified of Nassar’s abuse in 2015 by former USAG CEO Steve Penny. An independent investigation found that Blackmun never disclosed this information to anyone at the USOC and failed to ensure the complaints were reported to law enforcement. The report also found that Blackmun put the interests of the institution over athletes, athletes that helped earn the USOC $323 million in 2018. The $2.4 million given to Blackmun is more than the USOC provided to fund SafeSport, the organization tasked with investigating abuse allegations.
  • In response to Simone Biles’ criticism of the organization last week, USAG CEO Li Li Leung stated that they “are working to foster a safe, positive, and encouraging environment where athlete voices are heard.” Yet, there has been little, if any, substantial policy changes or structures in place since Leung was hired.

“Denhollander said it’s ‘an incredible burden that none of these athletes deserve… it’s unconscionable,’ she said, calling Biles’ and her teammates’ circumstances ‘manifestly unfair.'”

Svokos, Alexandra. 2019. “With Nationals Underway a Year Before Olympics, USA Gymnastics Still Struggles to Earn Trust.” ABC News. Available here.

While many critics claim this is “just” a gymnastics problem–some even calling to end the sport–the issue is that perpetrators of sexual abuse are everywhere. It’s not a “Nassar” problem; it is a cultural and policy issue:

  • In May, Ohio State University found that a team doctor abused at least 177 men during his time at the institution. OSU staff knew of the abuse as early as 1979, but instead chose to protect the institution over athlete safety.
  • In June, former Olympic track athlete Conrad Mainwaring was arrested for felony sexual battery. An ESPN investigation found that the coach had molested at least thirty men during his time working at a high school in Los Angeles.
  • MSU physiology professor Robert Wiseman was suspended for six weeks after MSU found he had sexually harassed six women over twenty years. The first woman filed a report in January 18th and Wiseman was suspended over a year later. He finished his suspension on April 4th and has resumed his position at Michigan State.
  • US Champion Chris Riegel stated that he was sexually assaulted by his coach from 1973-1981; he reported the abuse to the USOC and USGF (the organization replaced by USA Gymnastics) but the reports were ignored.

Simone, and all of the other former and current athletes that have and continue to compete for the USOC and USAG deserve better. I can’t imagine competing and earning money for organizations that not only enabled abusers to assault athletes, but seemingly still are unwilling to enact tangible policies to address these issues. Less talk, more action.

Required Reading: Larry Nassar’s Digital Ghosts (Mary Pilon) available here.

Required Viewing:

Simone debuts the most difficult balance beam dismount ever performed: a double twisting double somersault

Currently:

Reading: Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
Watching: Dexter Season 2 (Showtime)
Listening: White Lies (National Public Radio)

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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