Leadership at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics has failed to change the culture that Enabled Larry Nassar.

 

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While Larry Nassar was sentenced to life in prison this February, the story of his abuse–most importantly how he got away with it for SO LONG–continues to unfold. To recap, Nassar’s molestation of over 300 women over the course of 20+ years in multiple institutions is one of the largest abuse cases in the history of the United States. Check back at previous blogs for more information on how we got here. Seven more plaintiffs have filed lawsuits this week and it is estimated that Nassar’s abuse will cost Michigan State more than the Sandusky case impacted Penn State.

The past two weeks have shown the true intentions of the leadership at both Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics. Just because Nassar is in prison does not mean that the case is closed; the people and institutions that enabled him have yet to be held accountable. Despite the fact that even after hundreds of women have come forward, both the presidents of MSU and USAG have failed to truly change the culture that enabled Nassar and silenced survivors over all these years.

What a month. Let’s overview.

Michigan State University

Interim President John Engler Lies, Offers Cash to Survivors

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Interim President John Engler

During last Friday’s MSU Board of Trustees meeting, survivor Kaylee Lorincz stated that interim President John Engler had offered her $250,000 to settle her complaint:

“Mr. Engler then looked directly at me and asked, ‘Right now, if I wrote you a check for $250,000 would you take it?'” Lorincz said. When I explained that it’s not about the money for me and that I just want to help, he said, ‘Well give me a number.’ He also said that he had met with Rachael Denhollander [the first survivor to come forward] and that she gave him a number.”

When she stated that the meeting was not about money, but to introduce herself, Engler told Lorincz that her civil suit was about money so they needed to discuss it.  Denhollander said that she had never met Engler and was “beyond disappointed” at his words.

Because she only had three minutes to speak at the meeting, Lorincz’s microphone was cut after reaching the allotted time, which prompted chants of “let her speak”; she continued reading her statement to the group, further explaining that Engler also said that he was angry that “because of one doctor” many other physicians are being “judged” at the university. When her mother pushed back, saying that former dean Strampel was arrested for assault, Engler reportedly rolled his eyes and said “that was a slap on the butt.” Strampel (see below) was arrested for soliciting naked photos from students, having pornography on his work computer, and for not following up on the standards put in place after Nassar’s Title IX investigation.

Following the meeting, MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant told Lorincz’s mother (who was also in the meeting) that Engler was simply having a “philosophical discussion” with Lorincz and that the $250,000 offer was not formal. In emails to the Board of Trustees, Vice President and Special Counsel to Engler, Carol Viventi, stated that Lorincz’s statements were false, emails she later apologized for. On Friday, more that 100 people protested for Engler to resign. The Faculty Senate has also called for the resignation of the Board of Trustees.

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A “philosophical” discussion with a survivor of sexual abuse? Lying about speaking to the woman who first spoke out?

Lorincz was abused by Nassar when she was 13 years old. You can hear her statement to the Board of Trustees here and her victim impact statement here.

William Strampel Arrested

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Former Dean Strampel (left) and Nassar (right).

What does it take to be fired by MSU?

Former Dean of the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine William Strampel became the first MSU employee to be charged with crimes related to Nassar after he was arrested for harassing, propositioning, sexually assaulting, and soliciting pornographic videos of female students. Nassar’s boss for over ten years, Strampel failed to follow up with procedures put in place after a Michigan State graduate filed a complaint that Nassar had assaulted her during an appointment on the campus. He also allowed Nassar to continue to see patients while he was under investigation in 2014.

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Documents show that Strampel had been sexually harassing members of the university for years. His 2010 evaluation includes a statement that he had been “spoken to” about behavior that made others feel uncomfortable; many women complained he physically harassed them and made sexual comments during conversations:

“The affidavit cataloged complaints from three other students.

One of them said that after she was summoned by Strampel for falling asleep in class in 2011, he told her she would never make it in the profession if she didn’t dress sexier. Two years later, when she met with him to discuss complaints about her residency, he allegedly had her turn around so he could look at her body and told her: ‘What do I have to do to teach you to be submissive and subordinate to men?’

At a scholarship dinner in 2014, as she posed for a picture with Strampel, the dean grabbed her buttock and squeezed it, she told police. A few months later at a luncheon, she asked him to stop looking at her body and he allegedly replied, ‘Eye candy is eye candy.'”

In addition to asking students for nude photos, Strampel’s work computer also contained pornography, nude photos of MSU students, as well as a video of Nassar performing his treatment abuse on a woman. Again, this internal report was completed in 2010, meaning MSU leadership knew Strampel’s history of assaulting women and did nothing. You can read the full affidavit here.

An editorial for The Detroit News sums it up best:

“The bottom line: MSU had every reason to believe that it had a sexual predator on its payroll in the form of William Strampel and failed to act. The school’s neglect in 2010 contributed to Nassar’s ability to continue molesting women even after complaints were raised.”

Strampel had still been employed at MSU until February of this year.

Jeffery R. Kovan Still Employed

Dr. Jeff Kovan

Jeffery R. Koven (left)

Former Director of MSU Sport Medicine, Jeffery Kovan, is one of the defendants in civil suits filed against Michigan State University. Originally “livid” when Nassar was fired in 2016, Kovan has supported Nassar’s treatments abuse:

According to Michigan Radio, the police report states Kovan said he was unsure if Nassar did anything wrong.

“Kovan stated that Nassar is a good person with a good core, who believes people are good,” according to the report. “Kovan stated the procedure and the things Nassar stated Nassar was doing were intended for the right reasons. … Kovan stated Nassar is too good of a person, with the right intentions, to end up in prison.”

Kovan is still employed at Michigan State.

Even More Cases of Covering Up Sexual Abuse

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Instances of sexual assault by members of MSU’s football and basketball teams have surfaced this month. Three members (Josh King, Demetric Vance and Donnie Corley) of the university’s football team pleaded guilty to their charge of seducing a woman into performing oral sex, recording the act, and distributing the images over Snapchat. The players agreed to a plea bargain and will most likely include prison time or the requirement to register as a sex offender. The plaintiff has remained anonymous due to the treatment of the survivors of Nassar’s assault by MSU’s Board of Trustees:

“’Part of the reason she doesn’t want to go public at this point is what has happened to the women in the Nassar case,’” said Truszkowski, referring to the more than 200 victims in the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.

“’They have been crucified. Not by the media but by members of the Board (of Trustees), etc., and she is not willing to deal with that now,’” the lawyer said. “’They have been awful to those women … the comments that some of board members have made and the way MSU has treated them.’”

The players were dismissed from the team following a Title IX investigation and all three players have joined the football team at the Coahoma Community College in Mississippi. Their sentencing is on June 6th.

A suit filed two weeks ago alleges that Michigan State discouraged a student from reporting that she had been raped members of the university’s basketball team:

“The week after the alleged assault, the woman went to MSU’s Counseling Center and disclosed the incident to a staff member, the suit says. When she told the employee that the rape involved members of the basketball team, another person was brought into the room and they told the victim she could file a police report but cautioned her about the consequences of doing so, according to the complaint.

The MSUCC staff made it clear to (the victim) that if she chose to notify the police, she faced an uphill battle that would create anxiety and unwanted media attention and publicity as had happened with many other female students who were sexually assaulted by well-known athletes.”

The report states that three players introduced themselves to the victim and after buying her drinks, invited her to a party, explaining that her roommate was already there. Once they arrived, she states that she was unable to text correctly, felt “discombobulated” and believes she may have been drugged. Her roommate was not there. The report indicates that she was taken into a room and raped by the three players.

Unsure what to do, the victim was convinced by a friend to report the abuse to MSU’s counseling center. The staff reportedly discouraged her from reporting the abuse because the players “have big names on campus” and did not notify her of the options available to her. Because she did not know of the “no-contact” policy, she would see the players in the cafeteria and dorm; she later withdrew from MSU and after stating why, the university refunded her the tuition that had been paid.

The players are no longer at the university and the report does not name them specifically because the focus of the lawsuit is how the university responded to the complaint.

MSU Spends $500,000 to Monitor Survivors

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Me. Every day.

This March, a public relations firm billed Michigan State University half a million dollars for tracking personal social media accounts for those involved in the Nassar case; this included the personal accounts for survivors, their families, and journalists covering the story. Previously and continuously done by the Office of Communication and Brand Strategy, the university hired the New York based Weber Shandwick firm to monitor social media conversations about MSU, including posts made by survivors.

Here is a screenshot of an email between Shandwick and MSU staff:

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Double yikes.

According to the Lansing State Journal, MSU has paid $9.69 million  to outside firms ” in connection with work on lawsuits or communications strategy related to Nassar’s criminal case and related fallout.” This does not include various other law firms working with the university, including a New York firm that has billed MSU $5.4 million, among others.

Former President Lou Anna Simon Still Receives Benefits from MSU

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Lou Anna Simon resigned stating: “As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable.  As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger.”

Former MSU President Lou Anna Simon still retains part of her salary, is receiving a new office, and has the opportunity to join the faculty at the university. Simon resigned in January following pressure from students, faculty, and the Board of Trustees for mishandling the allegations of abuse against Nassar.

Although she resigned after more than a decade as president, Simon will receive a new office in a historic building that was recently renovated for nearly $1 million. Due to her tenured professorship with MSU, Simon still earns 75% of her $750,000 salary for the next twelve months and can return to the university as a professor where she will earn her full presidential salary for the first year and 75% of the salary each year after.

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With over 250 confirmed survivors, Simon’s lack of leadership could cost the university at least $1 billion in settlements.

USA Gymnastics

USAG Lies About the Use of NDAs

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2012 Olympic Champion McKayla Maroney

In December 2017, reports surfaced that USA Gymnastics paid 2012 Olympian McKayla Maroney $1.25 million in exchange for her silence regarding the years of abuse she suffered from their official team doctor. This month, USAG CEO Kerry Perry stated to Congress that there have been no other NDAs between the governing body and athletes.

However, the OC Register found proof that two other athletes had signed agreements with USAG after they were sexually abused by their coach:

“But listed among the ‘AGREEMENTS’ in the out-of-court settlements between USA Gymnastics and the two gymnasts is ‘Non-Disclosure,’ in which each woman ‘agrees to keep the amount paid and the terms of the Agreement confidential, and not disclose it to anyone other than her immediate family and any accountants or taxing authorities with a need to know.’

USA Gymnastics paid each of the gymnasts $100,000 as part of the late-2000s settlements. The former U.S. junior national team member said her coach began grooming her when she was 11, forced her to perform oral sex when she was 12 and continued to sexually abuse her and her teammate for several years. At one point, the coach had sex with both girls, then 13 or 14, at the same time while his young children slept in the next room, she said.”

The coach was banned. USAG also chose to investigate the personal lives of the two gymnasts, including whether they had cheated on their boyfriends or were “promiscuous”. As part of the agreement, then CEO Steve Penny was required to create a 1-800 hotline for gymnasts to report abuse; this was never implemented. Former U.S. national team members Jennifer Sey and Jessica Armstrong, along with 18 other athletes, asked for the hotline to be established in 2012. Again, it was never started.

USAG responded that they did not technically lie to Congress because they were asked about the use of NDAs in investigations, not the use of NDAs in terms of settlements.

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Sure, that argument will work.

 

Jordyn Wieber Files Lawsuit Against USAG and MSU

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2012 Olympian Jordyn Wieber presents her victim impact statement.

This week Olympian Jordyn Wieber filed a lawsuit against MSU, the USOC, and USAG for hiding Larry Nassar’s abuse from the public:

“My teammates and I were subjected Larry Nassar every single month at the national team training center in Texas. He was the only male allowed to be present in the athlete dorm rooms to do whatever he wanted. He was allowed to treat us in hotel rooms alone and without any supervision. Nobody was protecting us from being taken advantage of. Nobody was even concerned whether or not we were being sexually abused. I was not protected. My teammates were not protected. My parents trusted USA Gymnastics and Larry Nassar to take care of me and we were betrayed by both. And now, the lack of accountability from USAG and Michigan State, have caused me and many other girls to remain shameful, confused, and disappointed.”

In addition to the protection of Nassar’s abuse, Wieber also states that USAG destroyed her medical records in order to conceal that the team doctor had treated abused her. When she asked for her medical records, USAG sent the 2011 World Champion a collection of emails and forms about her medical care:

Both USAG and MSU “applauded” Wieber’s bravery but did not comment on the medical records.

Yikes

Nassar began abusing Wieber at age 14 and her statement can be found here.

McKayla Maroney Speaks

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Maroney spoke publicly for the first time at the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

This week Mckayla Maroney spoke publicly about surviving Nassar’s abuse at the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and with the Wall Street Journal.

“My team won gold medals in spite of USA Gymnastics and the Olympic Committee. They don’t build champions, they break them. But we’re changing that…. USAG, MSU and USOC continued to look away to protect their reputations. All they cared about was money, medals and it didn’t seem like anything else. They demanded excellence from me, but they couldn’t give it to us.”

In the absolutely heartbreaking Wall Street Journal article Maroney describes that as Nassar’s “favorite”, she was abused hundreds of times, including once when she was drugged and woke up to Nassar straddling her in her hotel room. She described that without Nassar, she would have “starved” during the 2012 Olympics; he gave the gymnasts food when it was withheld from them at the National Training Center (the Karolyi Ranch) and during competitions. She also states that she had told the other gymnasts and coach John Geddert about the abuse, which was furthered corroborated by Aly Raisman.

“‘In my whole gymnastics career, I was trained to be quiet.’ Ms. Maroney said in her New York appearance this week. She said her parents, like those of teammates, are struggling with guilt for having failed to recognize Nassar’s abuse. ‘I, at times,’ she said, ‘Question whether my gymnastics career was worth it.'”

Marcia Frederick’s Coach Confirms Abuse

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Marcia Frederick

The first American woman to win a world championship title in gymnastics, Marcia Frederick, came forward earlier this year with reports that her former coach, Richard Carlson, forced her to perform sex acts on him when she was sixteen years old. Frederick publicly told her story because she was concerned that the complaints she filed in 2011 and 2015 to USA Gymnastics were ignored.

This week, an attorney for Carlson proposed a settlement to USA Gymnastics: Carlson would admit to having sex with Frederick and accept a lifetime ban from the sport, as long as the ban was not made public.

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Me. What. The. Hell.

Frederick states that after she rejected the proposal, Carlson changed his mind and stated that the abuse never occurred:

“I will never be part of an agreement where a coach (admits) to having sex with a teenager but gets a deal where no one knows. My job now is to protect other kids from this happening to them. What good is it to have a banned list if you’re not going to make it public?”

The Karolyis

The Deposition 

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Bela (left) and Martha (right) Karolyi have been heralded as the best coaches in the history of the sport.

This month Bela and Martha Karolyis’ 2017 deposition was obtained by the Dallas Morning News. Both coaches have numerous lawsuits against the couple regarding the enabling of Larry Nassar to abuse gymnasts at their ranch in Texas–the then official training center for USA Gymnastics. The lawsuit by former gymnast Mattie Larson states that the enabling was created by the toxic environment of the training center and the coaches turned a blind eye Nassar, who would come to the bedrooms of the athletes alone.

Martha claims that Nassar was “seldom” at the Ranch and that the responsibility for the safety of the athletes fell solely on USAG. Former athletes and trainers have testified that he was a fixture at training camps, which were also previously called “death camps” by the athletes. Larson, Jeanette Antolin, Raisman, and Maroney among others have stated that they were abused at the home of the Karolyis. When asked about security at the Ranch, Martha stated :“I — I really wasn’t in charge of organizing that. I don’t know. It’s — I think USA Gymnastics took care of it.” and later said that she was not responsible for monitoring the cabins where the gymnasts slept and where Nassar performed his treatment abuse.

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While Martha downplayed her role as the National Team Coordinator, the voices of the gymnasts show how involved she was with every aspect of not just their training, but their lives while at the Ranch:

“’Martha was the national team coordinator but the way I saw it, she sort of had control over anything and everything that went on at the ranch,’ said 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber. ‘She knew what was going on every second in the gym. She knew how many routines that we did. She knew what we were eating. She knew our treatments. So it was just, when you go there, you know that Martha is watching. Everything you’re doing, she’s watching.’”

Martha was the National Team Coordinator from 2001-2016 and was notorious for controlling many aspects of the gymnasts’ lives. The conditions at the Ranch helped create a culture of silence among the athletes; Martha was known to not favor gymnasts who complained or spoke up; Aly Raisman stated that she and her teammates were even afraid to ask for soap or better food. In her impact statement, Mattie Larson said she wasn’t given medical attention and was forced to use a rolling chair because the location lacked a wheelchair. The seclusion of the Ranch–parents were not allowed and there was no cell phone service–contributed to the isolation that allowed Nassar to thrive.

This week the Karolyis gave an interview with NBC News about their lack of knowledge regarding Nassar’s abuse at the home. Bela stated: “The whole thing is just like an explosion, a bomb exploding. Boom.”

The Karolyis will appear on an episode of Dateline this Sunday.

John Geddert

More Survivors of Abuse Come Forward

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John Geddert, owner of Twistars, was the official 2012 Olympic coach and personal coach to 2011 All Around Champion Jordyn Wieber.

In an amazing article by CNN, seven former Geddert gymnasts and their families detail the physical and mental abuse they suffered at Geddert’s gym, Twistars:

“One says he injured her so badly it ended her career at age 17. Another says he failed to get her medical attention after she broke her neck at practice, an injury she said the doctor told her could have left her paralyzed. A third gymnast said Geddert made her train on a broken leg for nearly a month when she was 13. Two teenage gymnasts attempted suicide. All the young women who spoke to CNN said he repeatedly disregarded their injuries.

‘John was always scary, even when he wasn’t my coach yet,’ said gymnast Bailey Lorencen. ‘He would be throwing water bottles at the girls in the gym and get in their face and scream at them.’

Geddert coached through fear, his gymnasts say – and his abuse often led them to seek emotional comfort with Nassar, the doctor at Twistars.”

Geddert was suspended by USAG and is currently under investigation.

Geddert Under Lawsuit by Insurance Company

State Farm has filed a lawsuit against Geddert alleging that they are not responsible for paying the $75,000 worth of legal damages to the women who were sexually abused by Nassar in the Twistars gym. In their statement, State Farm notes that they do not have to cover the gym because Geddert ignored repeated warnings of Nassar’s abuse.

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Geddert’s attorney states that the claims brought forward against the former Olympic coach are invalid due to the statute of limitations.

Everything is a dumpster fire. What do we do?

 

In an article for Slate, Christina Cauterucci sums things up for us:

“MSU and USA Gymnastics have demonstrated what it looks like when powerful institutions make money off the bodies of young girls, prioritize that money and reputation over safety, then switch gears and throw a lot of money at the problem when it all blows up in their faces. Neither organization wanted to spend the time, energy, and human capital it would have taken to thoroughly investigate Nassar and other abusive coaches, slog through any legal challenges the men brought, and replace the offenders with nonabusive employees. Now, they’re on the hook for more money, more legal challenges, and more public scorn than before—plus, it bears mentioning, hundreds of girls were abused in their respective periods of inaction.”

The key here is to keep these institutions on the hook. The fact that these new people in leadership positions (Perry for USAG, Engler for MSU) are continuously making the exact. same. stances on abuse proves that the culture absolutely has not changed. That same culture that created an atmosphere for abuse, that enabled Nassar to hurt hundreds, if not thousands, of people even after multiple people came forward.

Larry Nassar may be the face of one of the largest abuse cases in the history of the United States, but don’t forget all the people that ignored complaints and stood by him even when they were told the truth. Okay, the Karolyis may have not known that Nassar was abusing gymnasts at the their home. But the culture that created that behavior to happen for over 20 years–silencing athletes, isolating girls, promoting competing with injuries, and even monitoring their food intake–those things all allowed a man who was not even licensed to practice medicine in Texas to abuse children under the guise of medical care at the National Training Center for USA Gymnastics.

The sexism in the coverage of this case, along with the silence from NCAA, is deafening. For reference, when Jerry Sandusky was accused of molesting 45 children, their legendary football coach Joe Paterno was forced to resign before the end of the season and the NCAA initially imposed some of the most severe fines in the history of collegiate sports: a four year post-season ban, $60 million fine, and a loss of 40 scholarships. When asked about the MSU case, the president of the NCAA Mark Emmert stated:

“’I don’t have enough information [on] the details of what transpired at the school right now,’ Emmert said via ESPN. ‘That’s obviously something that the university itself is looking deeply into. You hear that testimony — it just breaks your heart when you look at it, but I can’t offer an opinion at this time. It’s clearly very, very disturbing, and I know the leadership there is equally shaken by it.'”

Keep your “heartbreaking testimony” and actually hold the institution responsible. What other details do you need?! For reference, only one person has been fired from MSU and arrested.

The Athletic also disclosed that Mark Emmert knew of 37 cases of abuse at Michigan State University as far back as 2010.

In her victim impact statement, Morgan McCaul says:

“I remember when the Penn State scandal was talked about at length for months and months and even years. This is nearly five times the size and no one knows about it […] I think it plays into the importance that we put on male athletics versus female athletics. This is a case of gymnasts and dancers and figure skaters, not football players or basketball players. I think it’s sexism, to be honest. There’s no other explanation for why this many women have come forward and it’s not big news.”

Larrissa Boyce also added:

“Don’t forget the victims, their stories or their voices. Don’t forget about us when it’s over. Don’t forget those truths that you heard these past weeks..don’t forget me, don’t forget my story, don’t forget the 265 ‘me toos.'”

Don’t forget them. Keep pushing for change.

Required Reading: Why We Treat Victims of Larry Nassar Differently than the Victims of Jerry Sandusky by Marcie Bianco

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Extra special ❤ ❤ to Gymcastic for their continued coverage.

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

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

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

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

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

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Maggie Nichols in 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twistars and Michigan State University are “Immune to Liability”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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John Geddert at the 2012 Olympics.

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

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

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

AG: “And then what happened?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here is the response from USAG:

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

To which I have one reaction:

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Sure, Jan. Okay.

To Recap: 

The Case Against USA Gymnastics:

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

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

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Now What?

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

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Simone and Aly in 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie, Simone, and Aly in 2015.

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

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

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

 

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

Ashlyn

Currently Listening To: Uncivil Season 1

 

 

Larry Nassar Sexual Abuse Part 3: “At Times, I was Unsure Whether I Would Open her Bedroom Door and Find her Dead.”

[A further update can be found at part four]

Please read Part 1 and Part 2 for the background on the sexual abuse allegations against Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics. Here is a timeline of Nassar’s abuse.

Before we start, I want to provide a little context as to why I felt it necessary to continue this series of posts.

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With all of the survivors coming forward during the #metoo campaign, many people have been asking how sexual abuse can happen not only so frequently, but also in seemingly every aspect of American society. Whether at the governmental level, in the workplace, in Hollywood, in sports, survivors have been sharing their stories of abuse over the past few months.

Some people are shocked, many of us aren’t. “But how can this happen? Why has it taken so long for people to come forward?” Because we’ve been scared. We have been living and working in a culture that promotes these systems of abuse, that place blame and responsibility on the victim, rather than the perpetrator. Because sometimes we don’t know if what we experienced was actual abuse or just “normal.” In many instances, because the ways in which institutions are designed–whether it be for-profit, non-profit, in a family setting, in higher education–do not include protocols in place to recognize abuse and support survivors in a way that protects them enough to feel comfortable coming forward.

“Wherever there is a position of power, there seems to be potential for abuse.”

-McKayla Maroney in her Victim Impact Statement

Over 140 survivors have come forward with allegations of abuse against USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar. “How can this happen?” Because these institutions–responsible for protecting the athletes they profit from–silenced victims while continuously supporting the perpetrator. The institutions themselves chose to honor a pedophile while placing blame on their athletes. Today, it was released that USA Gymnastics paid Olympic gold and silver medalist McKayla Maroney $1.25 million dollars to remain silent on her abuse to the public.

“Why has it taken so long for people to come forward?”

Let’s back up here.

Coming Forward: Three Olympians Share their Story

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The Fierce Five wins Olympic gold at the 2012 London Games. Three of the five gymnasts have now come forward as survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse: Douglas (second from left), Maroney (middle) and Raisman (second from right). Nassar was this team’s official physician during the games.

In October, Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney–known best for her “not impressed” face after winning the silver medal on vault–released a statement as a part of the #metoo movement that detailed Nassar’s abuse. Nassar began molesting Maroney at age 13 in the official USAG Olympic Training Center (owned by the Karolyi’s) until her retirement following the 2013 World Championships.

“For me, the scariest night of my life happened when I was 15 years old,” Maroney wrote in her Twitter post. “… He’d given me a sleeping pill for the flight, and the next thing I know, I was all alone with him in his hotel room getting a ‘treatment.’ I thought I was going to die that night.”

Following McKayla, two-time Olympian Aly Raisman also came forward with allegations against Nassar. In her book and through social media, Raisman noted that USAG not only allowed Nassar to conduct examinations alone and without a chaperone, but also in the girls’ personal rooms at the National Training Center. The “master manipulator” groomed the girls for abuse by earning their trust. In her book, Fierce, Aly notes that she didn’t understand that Nassar was abusing the gymnasts until USAG sent an investigator to her home to interview her personally on the doctor’s treatments. After realizing the extent of her abuse, Raisman called USAG to provide more information but was told to keep quiet about the abuse while they conducted their investigation.

Asked if she thought she was receiving medical treatment, Raisman said, “I didn’t know anything differently. We were told he’s the best doctor, he’s the United States Olympic doctor and the USA Gymnastics doctor and we were very lucky we were able to see him.”

Why are we looking at why didn’t the girls speak up? Why not look at what about the culture? What did USA Gymnastics do, and Larry Nassar do, to manipulate these girls so much that they are so afraid to speak up?” (via 60 Minutes)

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Raisman, Douglas, and Maroney

A few days following Aly’s statement, teammate and three-time gold medalist Gabby Douglas also released a post on Instagram stating she too was abused by Nassar. Prior to her statement, Douglas was accused of victim-shaming for stating on social media that women should “dress modestly” in order to avoid assault. Following her apology, she posted her story on Instagram where she details the culture that forced the gymnasts to remain quiet:

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Nassar Trial and Victim Statements

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Larry Nassar in court in 2017

While Nassar originally claimed innocence in the charges brought against him, he decided to plead guilty to federal child pornography charges in July (officers found more than 37,000 images in his home, including photos of infants). Then, in December, he also pleaded guilty to ten first-degree criminal sexual misconduct charges. Prosecutors pushed for Nassar to be given the full punishment–sixty years in prison–and hoped to allow the survivors to read their statements during his sentencing hearing.

On December 7th, the U.S. District Court dismissed the motion to allow the women (Maroney and Raisman included) to read their statements in person. Judge Janet T. Neff stated that the hearing was not the “proper forum” for victim impact statements against Nassar; Judge Neff did allow statements read in court by parents and lawyers of the gymnasts. Maroney’s mother stated:

“I … learned a few weeks ago from my daughter that at the world championships in Tokyo, [Nassar] drugged her, made her lay nude on a treatment table, straddled her and digitally penetrated her while rubbing his erect penis against her…She was only 15 years old. She said to me, ‘Mom I thought I was going to die.’

This experience has shattered McKayla. She has transformed from a bubbly, positive, loving, world class athlete into a young adult who was deeply depressed, at times suicidal. At times, I was unsure whether I would open her bedroom door and find her dead.”

Maroney’s own words:

“Because the National Team training camps did not allow parents to be present, my mom and dad were unable to observe what Nassar was doing, and this has imposed a terrible and undeserved burden of guilt on my loving family.

Larry Nassar deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison. Not only because of what he did to me, my teammates and so many other little girls – He needs to be behind bars so he will never prey upon another child. I urge you to impose the maximum sentence upon him.”…People should know that sexual abuse of children is not just happening in Hollywood, in the media or in the halls of Congress. This is happening everywhere. Wherever there is a position of power, there seems to be potential for abuse. I had a dream to go to the Olympics, and the things that I had to endure to get there, were unnecessary, and disgusting. I was deeply saddened by the stories of my fellow Olympic teammates that suffered as I did at the hands of Larry Nassar. More than 140 women and girls had to say, ‘#MeToo’ to Nassar’s sexual assaults and hundreds more were victimized to create the pornographic images that fueled his evil desires.”
A question that has been asked over and over is: How could have Larry Nassar been allowed to assault so many women and girls for more than two decades? The answer to that question lies in the failure of not one, but three major institutions to stop him — Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee…”

Raisman, also hoping to read her statement in court, published her full letter to The Players’ Tribune. I strongly encourage every single person to read her statement.

“I am not a victim. I am a survivor. The abuse does not define me, or anyone else who has been abused. This does not define the millions of those who’ve suffered sexual abuse. They are not victims, either. They are survivors. They are strong, they are brave, they are changing things so the next generation never has to go through what they did. There have been so many people who’ve come forward in the last few months. They have inspired me, and I hope, together, we inspire countless more. Surviving means that you’re strong. You’re strong because you came out on the other side, and that makes you brave and courageous.

Now, we need to change the cycle of abuse. We need to change the systems that embolden sexual abusers. We must look at the organizations that protected Nassar for years and years: USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic committee and Michigan State University. Until we understand the flaws in their systems, we can’t be sure something like this won’t happen again. This problem is bigger than Larry Nassar. Those who looked the other way need to be held accountable too. I fear that there are still people working at these organizations who put money, medals and reputation above the safety of athletes. And we need to change how we support those who’ve been abused. I want to change the way we talk about sexual abuse and I want to change the way we support survivors of any kind of abuse.”

In her letter, Raisman details the struggles she has had with not only understanding the abuse that was done to her, but also the consequences of those acts. Depression, anxiety, and an inability to trust are just a few of the lasting effects this had on these survivors.

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Nassar was sentenced to sixty years in prison for child pornography, which he appealed. His additional charges have not yet been sentenced.

Response from USA Gymnastics

The federal charges against Larry Nassar are only a portion of the legal actions being pursued by the survivors of his abuse. USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee, Twistars (a Michigan club), Michigan State University, and the Karolyis are all being sued in federal civil court. Maroney’s lawsuit includes the claim that Nassar took photos of her without permission (and as a minor) that could have been potentially shared with other pedophiles.

While the other defendants are important, it is the response of USAG that I want to discuss further. As THE governing body for the sport in the United States, USAG runs all of the programming, events, and travel for both the National Team and developmental programs. Earlier this year, CEO Steve Penny and 1984 Olympic Champion Mary Lou Retton approached Senator Feinstein to convince the legislator not to pass a bill that would immediately require organizations to report sexual abuse allegations to authorities (it is important to note that USAG did not report Nassar to the FBI for five weeks).

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The Bill passed. Under pressure, Penny was fired and provided with a $1 million severance package.

The same day as Nassar’s sentencing, USAG filed a motion to dismiss the Denhollander et al v. Michigan State et al civil case. USAG stated:

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The full motion can be read here. Not only does USA Gymnastics state that they have no obligation to protect athletes (including minors) from an assault at their official training camps (required for all National Team gymnasts to attend), events, and travel, but they also note that they believe they do not have  the responsibility of warning other institutions about potential perpetrators. USAG did not notify Michigan State University about the allegations made against Nassar before MSU hired him.

“Their response has been heartbreaking because it has reminded me time and time again that our voices do not matter,” said Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who was the first person to publicly accuse Nassar. (via the Lansing State Journal)

On December 21st, 2017, it was released that USAG paid McKayla Maroney over $1.25 million dollars in exchange for her silence against the abuse she suffered at the hands of Nassar at USA Gymnastics events and training camps.

“I want people to understand that this kid had no choice. She couldn’t function. She couldn’t work,” Manly said. “They [USAG] were willing to sacrifice the health and well-being of one of the most famous gymnasts in the world because they didn’t want the world to know they were protecting a pedophile doctor.”

USAG responded to the report that the agreement was Maroney’s attorney’s idea and the gymnast signed the document in 2016:

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Maroney could potentially face a counter-suit by USAG for publishing her story and violating the terms of the agreement.

Last week corporate sponsors P&G, Kellog’s, Under Armour, and Hershey’s dropped their contracts with USA Gymnastics.

It is also important to note that even though he was under investigation for abuse, MSU still allowed Nassar to treat patients during all of 2015. The president of MSU has yet to resign. Three of their employees (including a woman who, upon Nassar’s request, removed data from his computer) were allowed to quietly leave the institution.

What Now?

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Via a November 2017 press release by USAG

The Training Center where Larry Nassar abused gymnasts is still used by USA Gymnastics as the official gym for the National Team; gymnasts attended training camp as recently as last month. These athletes train and sleep in the same locations where Nassar sexually assaulted their friends and teammates.

“But how can this happen? Why has it taken so long for people to come forward?

My response to these questions is power and fear. We live in a society that produces systems of oppression that maintain power for those who hold it. It’s institutional. It’s taught to us at a young age. It’s being told to carry pepper spray when statistically you’re more likely to be assaulted by a white male and someone you know: your family member, your friend, boyfriend, teacher, doctor. We don’t institutionally teach signs of abuse, whether it is unwanted contact, verbal misogyny, or sexual assault. We punish students for wearing short skirts but don’t teach consent. We tell gymnasts that they are “lucky” to have such an amazing doctor treating them, then pressure athletes to keep quiet.

Fear of the backlash: what will my family think of me? Was it my fault? Will I not be selected for the national team? A former student told me last week that fear is the strength in holding power. I couldn’t agree more. What now? I believe the cases against USAG, Michigan State, and other institutions will continue to develop. Clearly, even after the assault that occurred at Penn State, American culture has not changed. Will it change as these allegations continue to come forward? Will it change after the #metoo campaign no longer makes headlines?

As Maroney said:

“Our silence has given the wrong people power for too long, and it’s time to take our power back.”

Indy Star and Gymcastic have been the best and most updated sources for all of this information.

Ashlyn

“It’s Penn State All Over Again”: An Update on the Abuse in USA Gymnastics

[For further information, please read part three and four]

I wrote about the sexual abuse allegations against USA Gymnastics, their former National Team Doctor, and numerous coaches here.I wanted to update my previous post as more survivors have come forward and the extent of the abuse is just starting to be understood.

Brian McKeen, a Detroit attorney representing one of the survivors, stated:

“It’s Penn State all over again. You have the same kind of institutional failures, involving multiple victims violated by a trusted staffer.”

Larry Nassar 

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The former National Team Doctor for USA Gymnastics was arrested after child pornography (many filmed by the doctor himself) was found in his home. Now over 60 women have filed charges against Nassar, 40 of whom have filed lawsuits as well. He is still being held without bail.

While USA Gymnastics claimed they reported Nassar to the FBI upon first hearing about the allegations against him, a Wall Street Journal investigation found that USAG did not report to the FBI until ten days after receiving the complaint. The charges stated that a coach overheard two athletes discussing Nassar’s treatment while at the Karolyi Ranch (National Team Training Center) in 2015: “’He put his fingers in there again,’ one teammate said to the other, the gymnast’s mother and her lawyer told the Journal. ‘What’s with that?'”

The fact that many of these women told someone–a parent, a coach, a friend–that Nassar’s procedures felt wrong is indicative of institutional failure. Former Michigan State athletes (gymnasts and non-gymnasts) continuously complained about Nassar to coaching staff and trainers, but their issues were not brought forward to proper authorities. Kathie Klages, the women’s head coach, was recently suspended after one athlete filed a lawsuit stating that the three time Big 10 Coach of Year dismissed her allegations and “told the teen that ‘a formal complaint could lead to serious consequences for the girl and for Nassar.'”

One survivor, who testified in court that the abuse began at the age of six, explained that her family was close with the Nassars and her parents were reluctant to believe their friend was abusing their daughter, even insisting that she was making up the stories. Prior to leaving for college, she explained the years of abuse to her parents; her father committed suicide last year. Another father noted:

“It’s not okay,” the father of the alleged victim said. “It’s not OK they let him keep doing this, knowing because so many people have been affected…little girls…my little girl is still a little girl. He’s the worst kind of predator there is and they let him do it.”

60 Minutes

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Jeannette Antolin, Jessica Howard, Jamie Dantzscher

This past week 60 Minutes aired a segment on the USAG abuse scandal; the episode featured interviews with former national team member Jeanette Antolin, 2000 Olympian Jamie Dantzscher, and US National Champion (rhythmic) Jessica Howard. Dantzscher stated that she is the original Jane Doe who filed a civil lawsuit against Nassar last year.

Howard, a rhythmic gymnast who did not normally train at the (artistic) National Training Center, was directed to the ranch after suffering an injury. She notes:

“He started massaging me. And — he had asked me not to wear any underwear. And then he just continued to go into more and more intimate places … I remember thinking something was off but I didn’t feel like I was able to say anything because he was, you know, this very high-profile doctor. And I was very lucky to be at the ranch working with him.”

All three women were underage at the time and described how Nassar was able to gain their trust at the Karolyi Ranch. In a stressful environment–there are many allegations of emotional and mental abuse at the hands of the Karolyis–he earned athlete trust by being “on their side” as noted by Dantzscher; he brought extra food and listened to their issues. The girls felt the procedure was normal because of how respected he was in the sport. He even conducted his “procedures” in the bedrooms of the athletes, again without gloves or with a guardian present. Antolin also explains, “I remember being uncomfortable because of the area. But– in my mind, I was like, ‘If this helps, I’ll do anything.'” Antolin, who was coached by 1984 Olympic team coach who is now banned from coaching because of sexual abuse, not only suffered at the hands of her coach and Nassar, but Karolyi as well: “Bela Karolyi grabbed my butt and told me to lose it.”

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It’s also important to note how World Championship and Olympic teams are chosen in artistic gymnastics. The 5-7 athletes are chosen by a committee (up until 2016 at the ranch). The team choices were/are made subjectively; Bela was the coordinator in 2000 and his wife from 2001-2016.

John Manly, the attorney representing these athletes and nearly 40 others (some as young as nine years old) stated:

“Because this is somebody who is a serial predator. But the story here is that no one was watching to protect these girls. And they put medals and money first. I believe what– at the end of the day there are members of every single Olympic team since 1996 he did this to. That’s what we’re gonna end up with. Because this is somebody who is a serial predator. But the story here is that no one was watching to protect these girls. And they [USA Gymnastics, the Karolyis] put medals and money first.”

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Response by USA Gymnastics

Prior to the 60 Minutes segment, USA Gymnastics posted the following on Twitter:

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In addition to these posts, they also added the following:

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Wrong, wrong, wrong on so many levels. First, Nassar abused women for years at their national training center, many Olympic and World team coaches (Don Peters, Marvin Sharp) along with club trainers continued coaching even with allegations against them, and USAG did not notify MSU that Nassar “retired” because of the abuse, allowing him to perpetuate abuse against athletes. Finally, just because Tasha Schwikert–a 2000 Olympian along with Dantzscher–had a positive experience with USAG does not discount the claims by the other women coming forward.

Vitaly Marinitch

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An interview released by Gymcastic yesterday reveals the sexual assault allegations against former men’s head coach Vitaly Marinitch. Their interview with former trampoline gymnast Alaina Legendre and her husband Steven, a former national men’s team member, discloses how Marinitch harassed Alaina after a competition in 2014. She states that he drunkenly put his hand down the back of her pants, which he then joked about to her husband when he approached the coach about the harassment. When officers arrived, Alainia opted not to press charges out of fear for her husband; at the time Steven was still a national gymnast (a professional athlete whose income they depended on) and she worried the incident might be held against him when they chose the world team that year.

The Legendres heard similar stories about Marinitch’s harassment from multiple athletes. He was quietly removed as the Head Coach for the 2014 team and later “resigned” from his position, although USAG stated: “this decision was not related to anything that has been in the recent coverage of the Indianapolis Star”. In 2016, President of USAG called the couple twice in one day insisting he knew nothing about the extent of the assault against Alainia. Marinitch is currently a staff member at a club within the Colorado Training Center (the official training center for men’s gymnastics).

Congressional Legislation

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As USA Gymnastics continues to claim they did everything in their power to protect athletes from abuse and dodging responsibility, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has started legislation that, if passed, would create guidelines requiring amateur sporting associations (this includes national governing bodies of sport) to report abuse allegations.

“Our bill would apply to all amateur athletics governing bodies, the organizations responsible for overseeing amateur sports nationwide,” Feinstein said in a statement. “They have a special obligation to protect young athletes and must immediately put an end to any abuse they become aware of.”

Feinstein is currently working with other members of Congress, as well as meeting with athlete survivors of Nassar.

These new allegations, coupled with already established stories of abuse, show the absolute mishandling of abuse by USA Gymnastics. Survivors were/are afraid to come forward. In many instances they did, only to be told that their concerns weren’t valid. When an atmosphere of stress, submission, and power is created, even instituted, you create a culture that allows abuse. Clearly, individual and institutional changes need to happen moving forward. These changes should include consent and bystander awareness training for athletes and coaches, an overhaul at the institutional level of procedures for reporting abuse, and greater transparency of practices, along with the creation of an environment that encourages athletes to speak out. Otherwise, we have yet another Penn State. Another Catholic Church scandal. Another USAG legacy of abuse.

Ashlyn

Sources not linked in text:

Armour, Nancy and Rachel Axon. 2017. “Couple Unhappy with USA Gymnastics Handling of Groping Complaint.” USA Today Online. Available here.

Chastain, Mary. 2017. “New Sports Sex Abuse Scandal? Allegations Against U.S. Doctor Aired.” Legal Insurrection Online. Available here.

Illitch, Alexandra. 2017. “Father of Alleged Nassar Victim: ‘He’s the Worst Kind of Predator There is, and They let him do it.” WLNS Online. Available here.