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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NBC News Dateline Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karolyis File Lawsuit Against USA Gymnastics & USOC

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

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

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

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

Simone’s tweet that closed the Ranch.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Martha is “too ill” to Testify to Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashlyn

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

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 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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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

How USA Gymnastics Mishandled Sexual Abuse Allegations for 20 Years

[update: For a further update, please read part two, three, and four.]

It couldn’t have gone better for USA Gymnastics at the 2016 Olympics. The governing body for the sport in the United States saw their women’s team win an unprecedented number of medals: team gold, all around gold and silver, vault gold, uneven bars silver, balance beam silver and bronze, as well as the floor exercise gold and silver.

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The Final Five have the most successful Olympics in the history of the US.

Basking in all their glory, the organization seemingly attempted to brush aside allegations of sexual abuse that first emerged during the Rio Games. This week it was revealed that over 350 gymnasts have come forward as survivors of sexual assault in their gyms; many of the athletes naming longtime national team doctor Larry Nassar as the perpetrator. After further investigation it has been found that USA Gymnastics not only knew about many of the incidents, but that the organization failed to protect athletes by not notifying authorities and allowing potential offenders to continue in their roles.

IndyStar is currently  involved with investigating allegations and institutional mishandling of the assaults:

“No one knows exactly how many children have been sexually exploited in America’s gyms over the past 20 years. But an IndyStar-USA TODAY Network review of hundreds of police files and court cases across the country provides for the first time a measure of just how pervasive the problem is.

At least 368 gymnasts have alleged some form of sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches, gym owners, and other adults working in gymnastics. That’s a rate of one every 20 days. And it’s likely an undercount.”

USAG’s success over the past sixteen years has overshadowed the sexual abuse allegations that first surfaced this summer. The investigation has shown that not only did USA Gymnastics know about abuse allegations, but also that the organization protected the coaches over their athletes. Just now being picked up by major media outlets, USAG needs to take responsibility for their clear lack of ability in handling issues of sexual assault, as well as better protection of athletes, and enforcing regulatory standards that require reporting accusations to the police and following up in gyms. The gross negligence by the organization to address these issues requires institutional changes in both their system and leadership.

A successful program can’t only be defined by the number of medals won.

 

The Sport of Women’s Artistic Gymnastics in the United States

USAG is a large organization with huge influence:

“USA Gymnastics sets the rules and policies that govern gymnastics in the U.S., and it develops the U.S. Olympic team.

Today, USA Gymnastics counts more than 121,000 athletes and more than 3,000 gyms in its membership. With $23 million in annual revenue, according to its most recent tax return, USA Gymnastics touts itself as a “big time brand” and partners with sponsors such as Kellogg’s and Hershey.”

In the past 20 years women’s gymnastics in the United States has evolved to a semi-centralized system. Following the 2000 Olympics, Marta Karolyi (who, along with her husband Bela, famously trained Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton, Dominique Moceanu, and Kerri Strug) took over the position of National Team Coordinator. There she changed how training and selection for assignments was conducted in the US. She implemented a semi-centralized system which meant that all athletes trained at their own gym, but met at the Karolyi ranch about every month for training camp. There the gymnasts would verify skills and were chosen for competitions.

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A National Training Camp in 2012

This setup is important to note because it is often heralded as not only one of the factors leading to the success of the women’s program after Sydney, but how the gymnasts continually were working with the same staff of coaches, coordinators, and doctors from 2001-2016 as well.

The system seemed to work. The US women have dominated the past 15 years of competition; winning team silvers in 2004 and 2008, team golds in 2012 and 2016, not to mention the all around champion in all four of those Olympic games, and countless individual and team medals in world championships. Even now, USA Gymnastics wants to continue this system after Marta has retired, having actually purchased portions the ranch from the Karolyis to continue to hold training camps under their new Coordinator, Valeri Liukin.

Allegations of Abuse Against Dr. Larry Nassar

In August 2016, IndyStar published a report detailing numerous instances of not only sexual abuse, but also how USA Gymnastics failed to protect athletes from perpetrators with a history of assault. Many of the accusations were directed at former national team doctor Larry Nassar.

The national team doctor for the women’s program from 1996 to 2015, Nassar was hired by Michigan State University following USAG’s decision to fire him due to “athlete concerns,” although Nassar claims he resigned the position because “he wished to pursue other interests outside of USA Gymnastics”.

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Larry Nassar with McKayla Maroney in 2013

In October 2016, two women came forward with allegations of sexual assault against the longtime team physician. The first, known as Jane Doe, is a 2000 Olympic medalist who filed a civil lawsuit against the doctor where she “accuses him of fondling and groping her breasts… and introduced his bare hand to Plaintiff’s vagina and anus, on multiple locations, in Plaintiff’s assigned sleeping quarters, as she lay on the edge of her bed, alone and without any supervision or a chaperone…” The lawsuit in full can be found here.

The second athlete, Rachael Denhollander, also came forward with allegations of abuse at the hands of Nassar. The complaint, filed with Michigan police, details incidents similar to Jane Doe’s lawsuit, including procedures that included penetration. In her interview with IndyStar, Denhollander explains the emotional turmoil of the abuse she experienced at age 15:

“I was terrified,” she recalled. “I was ashamed. I was very embarrassed. And I was very confused, trying to reconcile what was happening with the person he was supposed to be. He’s this famous doctor. He’s trusted by my friends. He’s trusted by these other gymnasts. How could he reach this position in the medical profession, how could he reach this kind of prominence and stature if this is who he is?”

 

Following the complaints by Jane Doe and Rachel Denhollander, IndyStar and Doe’s lawyer reported they were approached by an additional 16+ athletes from different states that were also under Nassar’s care. These stories of abuse again mirrored the already filed complaints: inappropriate fondling of breasts and vaginal penetration treatments performed unprofessionally (either without lubricant, gloves, and/or without parental consent).

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Denhollander in 2016

Dr. Nassar was fired from MSU for “lack of compliance” after these lawsuits were filed.  Gymcastic believes this reason is due to Nassar (a tenured professor at the university) being accused of similar actions against a graduate assistant in 2014, an incident that was investigated by police but no charges were filed; as a response to these allegations, the university set new requirements of Nassar in his contract. Nassar’s first lawyer stated that he did not perform intra-vaginal treatments, which was then contradicted by his second lawyer who explained that yes, the doctor performed this particular treatment, but was done in a professional, medically-sound way.

Later in October, Jane Doe #2 came forward not only with allegations against Nassar, but USA Gymnastics, her coaches, as well as Marta and Bela Karolyi. A member of the national team from 2004-2010, this athlete details similar instances of abuse by Nassar at the Karolyi Ranch during national training camp, as well as stating that the famed coaches “turned a blind-eye to Nassar’s sexual abuse of children at the ranch” and “instituted a regime of intimidation and fear at the ranch for the minor children under their custody.” The claim also outlines other forms of mental and emotional abuse at the ranch; the full lawsuit can be found here.

Over fifty gymnasts have come forward accusing the doctor of sexual abuse. In November he was arrested for assault against a 13 year old non-gymnast. This Friday (12/16), he was arrested on federal charges after a search found over 2,000 images of child pornography in his home.

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Nassar in 2016, being read the charges against him

A System of Abuse: How USAG Failed to Protect Athletes Institutionally

As the sole umbrella organization of their 3,000+ gyms in the United States and the decision-making institution for the sport, USAG’s role is one of the most important aspects of these sexual abuse allegations. USA Gymnastics does have a complaint process in place meant to protect athletes; I believe this method for reporting abuse not only failed miserably, but demonstrates USAG’s sheer lack of accountability and how little action the organization made to ensure the safety of their athletes against sexual predators.

“In August, an IndyStar investigation revealed that USA Gymnastics executives repeatedly failed to forward allegations of sexual abuse at its member clubs to law enforcement authorities. The organization relied on a policy of not alerting authorities unless allegations came directly from an athlete or an athlete’s parent or guardian, according to testimony in court records.”

In court records, the former and current presidents of USAG (Bob Colarossi and Steve Penny) acknowledged that they did not report claims of sexual assault to police for numerous reasons, one being the protection of the coach’s reputation should the allegations were found to be false.

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Again, according to records from USAG subpoenaed by IndyStar, former president Colarossi said he “inherited an executive policy of dismissing complaints as ‘hearsay’ unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent — a policy that experts said could deter people from reporting abuse. It’s not clear exactly when that policy was created or by whom.”

Here is IndyStar’s outline of the multiple coaches accused of sexual assault and how USAG mishandled the complaints:

Ray Adams: Adams abused over 12 gymnasts in multiple gyms over the course of 16 years. He was not only fired on a number of occasions for inappropriate behavior, but also had

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Via IndyStar

many police reports filed against him by family members of victims (including one where both prosecutors declined to press charges after he undressed a student). Adams continued to find work as a coach, even after confessing to molesting children; in 1997 he was allowed to continue working at a St. Louis YMCA (where he abused children). By 2003, he was hired by famed coach Mary Lee Tracy (gymnasts include 1996 gold medalists Jaycie Phelps and Amanda Borden, as well as 2016 Olympic hopeful Amelia Hundley) and Buckeye Gymnastics (a gym now known for coaching 2016 gold medalist Gabby Douglas) even though 12 girls had accused him of sexual abuse. Adams was continuously hired because he still had good standing with USA Gymnastics, a fact that USAG blames on the justice system for failing to list his convictions on his background check.

After a parent of a former student saw Adams was still coaching at a local competition, she wrote a letter to USAG insisting they revoke his membership; a letter the organization denies ever receiving, even with proof that the letter was delivered. In 2009 he was convicted of felony molestation and while on house arrest was arrested for possession of child pornography; it was only after his first conviction that USAG banned him as a coach. He is currently serving his sentence. A detailed timeline including police reports can be found here.

James Bell: Even with a record of sexual misconduct, including those filed through the police and USA Gymnastics,  James Bell was able to continue to coach in the US. A former employer reported Bell to police in 2004. Once apprehended, he was convicted of three counts of molestation.

William McCabe: William McCabe is one of the most damning cases showing the failings of USA Gymnastics. In 1998 USAG reportedly received at least four complaints about McCabe from employers. One letter, sent to USAG after the head coach overheard McCabe say he planned to “f— her very soon” about a gymnast, stated that:

“My feelings are this, no individual should be allowed to work with children or teenagers under any circumstances if there is even a hint of a problem. To allow this scum bag to continue working within the gymnastic community would be a terrible insult… In my opinion this person has no right to work with children and should be locked in a cage before someone is raped.”

The complaints were never reported by USAG–allowing McCabe to not only walk free but also continue coaching–and begin molesting his gymnasts in 1999. He is now serving a 30 year sentence for sexual exploitation of children.

Mark Schiefelbein: Even though Schiefelbein had numerous complaints of sexual assault against him, he was still able to find coaching positions in a number of gymnastics clubs. He was accused of photographing a young athlete, as well as molesting her, in 2003.

Marvin Sharp: 2010’s Women’s Coach of the Year, Sharp is known for training 2008 Olympian and 2009 World Champion Bridget Sloan. A 2011 report stated that Sharp was inappropriately touching gymnasts; after a second allegation surfaced four years later, USA Gymnastics reported him to police. Arrested on child pornography and molestation charges in 2015, Sharp committed suicide in his jail cell.

Why Things Need To Change

There are now 368 gymnasts coming forward with allegations of sexual abuse over the past twenty years. While USA Gymnastics did not commit any of the assaults, they created and implemented a system that failed to protect athletes, allowing perpetrators to continue to abuse gymnasts, while protecting their image. The fact that these coaches and Dr. Nassar are just a few of the cases currently being reviewed demonstrates the extreme lack of accountability of USAG to report crimes to authorities and following up in gyms.

The very organization being heralded as the “great gymnastics power” is the same entity that allowed offenders to continue coaching even at the expense of their own young gymnasts. I personally believe this is for two reasons. The first is that the sexual abuse of children is an uncomfortable topic to discuss, particularly for a sports organization that has a majority of underage athletes. Second, USAG relies on sponsorship for competitions and makes millions off of the success of their athletes.

Even the firing of Nassar was done quietly; if USA Gymnastics was in fact trying to protect gymnasts and let him go as a result of athlete complaints, how can the organization in good conscience not publicly state the true reasoning for firing Nassar? How can USAG allow Nassar to not only walk free but be hired as a professor at Michigan State University, a Division I school that also has many former USAG athletes competing on scholarship?

These men were in positions of great trust and power. Many survivors of sexual assault feel embarrassed, guilty, or ashamed of the abuse that happens to them. Gymcastic reported on an article by Women’s Health that stated how often this type of abuse occurs:

“In a new survey of nearly 500 women conducted by Women’s Health and the anti–sexual violence group RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), 27 percent said they’d been violated by a doctor—reporting everything from lewd comments to masturbation, inappropriate touching, and even rape.”

The continued rhetoric that strangers are the most likely people who abuse only further perpetuates this notion that those close to you will not harm you. As girls, teenagers, young adults, we are taught to carry pepper spray and not walk alone, but hardly ever do we talk about how to handle our coach, doctor, family member, or friend making advances. Even discussing sexual abuse is often seen as taboo. It’s clear that abuse is occurring; we need to start having frank conversations about it. Remaining quiet only further emboldens abusers and silences survivors.

In an interview with BBC, Denhollander explains:

“…The other dynamic is that he was very trusted. It was very difficult to reconcile the person he was supposed to be with what he was doing, so the only conclusion I could come to was that I must be making a mistake… That the truth has not come out in the past 18 years is something that has haunted me. The only thing that I feel now is very deep grief. I did not feel the need to come forward publicly for myself – there is nothing I gain from this for myself. But to be able to see the other women have a voice, that is worth everything. That is more powerful a motivation than fear.”

Journalist Mark Alesi, who has been working on compiling accusations for the case, stated: “There’s a lot more to come out, we suspect, on how USA Gymnastics handles sexual abuse complaints. As part of our investigation we have learned that it was keeping files of sexual abuse complaints but not reporting them to authorities. If we get to those, we think there will be a lot more to report.”

Both BBC and IndyStar report that there are many more athletes coming forward.

Updates as of December 22nd, 2016:

  • After finding over 37,000 images of child pornography, Dr. Larry Nassar was arrested without the option of bail. Judge Ray Kent noted Nassar was “‘worst’ kind of danger to the community.” The hard drives containing the images were found by officers searching Nassar’s home; an officer noted that the garbage pickup was running late that day and checked the cans. The drives–which included Nassar’s name and phone number–included graphic videos of underage girls being abused, some of which included abuse at the hands of Nassar in his swimming pool.
  • Multiple athletes from other sports at Michigan State University have come forward with allegations of abuse against Nassar, bringing his total accusers to more than 60. He has plead not guilty to the charges.
  • A former MSU softball player, Tiffany Thomas Lopez, has also come forward saying she told at least three trainers at Michigan State about the abuse, but all complaints were ignored. She is the 16th former MSU athlete to file a lawsuit against Nassar.
  • USA Gymnastics insists they are “determined to raise standards” of sexual abuse protocol.

Ashlyn