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.

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.

Currently:
Listening: 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.

How USA Gymnastics Mishandled Sexual Abuse Allegations for 20 Years

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

Things could not have been 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 and their best results in history: 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 earn 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 right before 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 we now know that USA Gymnastics not only knew about many of the incidents, but that the organization failed to protect athletes by not notifying authorities and thus 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. 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 American women’s gymnastics 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 (yes, the National Training Center is at the HOME OF THE KAROLYIS–no conflict of interest there) 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. This location is famously in a very rural area of Texas (the Sam Houston National Forest) with no cell phone service or access to the outside world. The isolation–especially as the athletes travel only with their coaches, no parents are allowed–is deemed one of the contributing factors to the program’s winning streak; all is overseen by Martha.

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 under the reason of “athlete concerns,”–this was the private reason, not the public one–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.

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 into 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: Sexual abuse of children is an uncomfortable topic to discuss, particularly for a sports organization that has a majority of underage athletes and 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.