Having written many sports related articles over the years, this is one of the few that were painful to write. In general sports stories are feel-good ones and people like to read them and I enjoy writing them. Unpleasant topics – like athletes using steroids, Jerry Sundusky, the passing of Gary Carter – seem necessary and compelling to write about and so I tackle them, but never has a story sickened me as much as this one, and it needs to be told more than any other one I have written.
Disgraced former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in a state prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting young girls under his care. His dereliction of duty in terms of abusing his patients so flagrantly and so often – 150+ girls were his victims – more than earned him this sentence, but the pain and suffering for his victims goes on and on.
During the seven-day sentencing hearing, more than 100 of the victims came forth and got a chance to face their tormentor and address him publicly. Accentuating the depth of Nassar’s depravity, photographs of the girls taken at the young ages when they were abused were projected on a screen for everyone in the court to see. These young victims looked like any girls with braces and freckles and missing baby teeth, but knowing about their suffering at this monster’s hands proved a picture is indeed worth more than a thousand words.
The victims spoke eloquently and passionately, elucidating how Nassar played the role of doctor and family friend, setting himself up for situations to abuse the girls. When some of the girls told their parents about what Nassar was doing, they were accused of lying because Nassar had cultivated such a wholesome image that the adults couldn’t imagine him being anything other than what they had been duped into believing he was. Nassar’s plan was so nefarious as to cause not only anguish to his young victims but to disrupt their family lives as well.
While Olympians like Aly Raisman and Simone Biles were famous victims of Nassar, those who were previously unknown publicly made their names known in order to confront their abuser in court. The length and breadth of Nassar’s abuse became more apparent with each speaker detailing the horrors of her experience, and the accumulative effect was to shatter all illusions and destroy Nassar over and over, but there also was an opportunity for these victims to rise from the detritus of his actions that shattered their lives and achieve a catharsis they probably never expected.
Now that Nassar is off to his well-deserved fate, the story is far from over. Did all the coaches and trainers and administrators know nothing about Nassar? It is hard to believe that with so many girls being abused that no one knew anything about it or tried to stop it.
The case of MSU student Amanda Thomashow did reach a complaint filed with the university police and a Title IX investigation ensued, but in the end Nassar was cleared, with Ms. Thomashow being told that she misunderstood a medical procedure to be sexual assault, in some ways violating her all over again with such an insulting decision.
There seemed to be a total lack of awareness and compassion at MSU, and the former MSU president Lou Anna Simon had no choice but to resign from her $750,000-a-year position (why is any administrator paid this kind of money?) after mounting pressure. Yes, the captain is supposed to go down with the ship, but there are plenty of others who are likely to join her. Her head is the first to roll, but no doubt many more will follow.
Reports of sexual assault and other infractions by MSU athletes on the football and basketball teams have surfaced. Head football coach Mark Dantonio and head basketball coach Tom Izzo are very likely going to be joining Simon out the door; however, these high-level departures must be only the tip of the iceberg. A fractured culture so widespread as it appears to be at MSU happens over time and many people have to be involved to allow it to fester for so long.
Someone like Larry Nassar didn’t get away with decades of abuse without people knowing, looking away, or perhaps even assisting him either directly or indirectly. Many of Nassar’s assaults occurred with other adults in the room (including parents), but there are indications that he was so skilled at his perverted methods that he could conceal his actions with a turn of the back or working under a blanket. Even with this deception, why was Nassar allowed to work on these minor female patients without another female staff member or nurse present in the first place?
As for the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, news came today that the USOC demanded that USAG board members resign immediately, which they agreed to do. USAG now must also comply with an investigation into the organization to discover who knew about Nassar and also have its members undergo special training to prevent anything like this from happening again. All of this is a beginning, but much more needs to be done to understand how a culture of abuse cannot only begin but continue without there being any safeguards for the most vulnerable.
Larry Nassar will rot in jail, but the memory of his horrific actions will haunt these young women for the rest of their lives. Confronting the monster and even destroying it does bring some closure, but the thought that the monster operated with impunity for so many years clearly makes some other people monsters too.
The young women who told of their torturous experiences are brave and strong and have looked the beast in the eye and stared him down. Nassar is off to state prison where he belongs, and maybe sooner or later he will be joined by others who either enabled him or knew but looked the other way. They know who they are, and hopefully soon we all will know them as well.