Yes, this article’s title could be talking about many things. The fact of the matter is, there is one story right now that is the most horrific, most shameful, most disgusting thing happening in this country and it has nothing to do with Donald Trump. It’s the story of more than 160 girls and women accusing Michigan State University doctor and USA Gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. The 160+ women & girls are comprised of Olympic gold medalists, aspiring gymnasts, family friends of Nassar, Michigan State athletes, or those that just sought treatment from someone deemed one of the best in the business. He committed these assaults over the course of at least two decades under the guise of administering medical treatments. How did a man in a position of authority – a medical professional – get away with two decades of heinous and extesnive abuse?
To be clear, Nassar has more victims than Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Jerry Sandusky COMBINED. But last week as victim impact statements were being read in court and the true breadth of this scandal was being felt by those paying attention, every time I mentioned it to someone the response was either complete ignorance of the entire thing, a semi-acknowledgement, or even a downplaying of the severity and importance. This was an actual conversation I had with a colleague in the sports world:
Me: Have you been following the Larry Nassar stuff?
Him: Kind of.
Me: It’s insane – truly horrific.
Him: Yeah, but it’s not like it’s on par with Jerry Sandusky.
Me: What do you mean? It’s worse! WAY worse!
Him: No, because with that, the entire institution at Penn State was culpable – they enabled his abuse and covered it up for years.
Me (yelling): FDJKHAKDJNDFKDJFSD. Are you fucking kidding me? What do you think USA Gymnastics, the US Olympic Committee, and a shit ton of people at Michigan State have done the last two decades? THAT’S THREE ORGANIZATIONS that have not only covered for him, but also given him more power in certain circumstances, even after multiple accusations had been reported. Also, let me reiterate, ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY VICTIMS. And that’s just those who have come forward!
Him: Oh, I had no idea it was that pervasive. I hadn’t really seen it covered anywhere.
The problem is, he’s not wrong (the part about the coverage, not the other stuff). According to Media Matters, last week, between Monday Jan 15 at 4:00 am and Friday Jan 19 at 9:00 am:
“The three major cable news channels — CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC — have devoted just 19 minutes and 47 seconds of coverage to the events surrounding Nassar’s sentencing and the women’s statements. CNN spent 11 minutes and 49 seconds on the topic. MSNBC spent 4 minutes and 9 seconds covering the topic, and Fox News spent just 3 minutes and 49 seconds.”
That includes close to ONE HUNDRED victim impact statements. It also doesn’t include ESPN and many other sports outlets, who covered it using the reporters and allocation typically allotted for the WNBA. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the WNBA, but the same connotation was implied: this is a woman’s story and only a certain subset of people will be interested in reading/knowing about this – it’s not for the masses. Compare that to Sandusky, whose scandal basically had 24/7 coverage. The “why” isn’t hard to figure out; even in the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, we struggle listening to young women, unless they have recognizable names. It wasn’t until Aly Raisman gave her powerful statement last Friday that people started paying attention (the New York Times ran her speech in its entirety in its print edition).
But the lack of coverage doesn’t just impact the public’s knowledge and understanding of a crisis like this – it also undermines the accountability factor. With the Sandusky scandal plastered over every TV channel, the number of voices asking for all those folks at Penn State to be held accountable, including Paterno, was massive. News anchors, sportscasters, and famous Penn State alums were speaking out, and subsequently the public outcry followed. As of today, only one notable Michigan State alum has spoken out about Nassar, and that’s Jemele Hill. Where’s Magic Johnson? And when the NCAA president was asked to comment on the proceedings last week, all Mark Emmert had to say was “I don’t have enough information [on] the details of what transpired at the school right now…You hear that testimony — it just breaks your heart when you look at it, but I can’t offer an opinion at this time.” YOU CAN’T OFFER AN OPINION AT THIS TIME?? The guy sexually assaulted over 160 people, had a Title IX grievance filed against him, pleaded guilty, and was employed by a large player in the college sports world, and you can’t offer a fucking opinion? The silence from those with the ability to speak out, and who should speak out, is deafening.
So I go back to the original question – how did this happen?
A Detroit News investigation found that over the course of Nassar’s 20 years at Michigan State, reports of sexual misconduct by Nassar reached no fewer than 14 school representatives, with at least eight women accusing Nassar of assault. And, as noted above, in 2014 a Title IX complaint was filed against Nassar, which required now former Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon to be informed. She did absolutely nothing with that information. No investigation. No inquiries. No statements. No nothing.
And let’s talk about USA Gymnastics for a second. An organization, that in conjunction with its parent company the USOC, not only allowed Nassar unsupervised access to its gymnasts, but also required them to use him. These organizations manipulated the system to deprive their gymnasts of any right to use another doctor or to ask for alternate treatment. Let alone the fact that coaches and administrators turned blind eye after to blind eye to unnecessary treatments, including un-gloved “pelvic adjustments” and enabled him to see the girls in their hotel rooms or dorm rooms alone at night. Unsupervised. Unprompted. Just because he wanted to. The coaches and administrators would call them mandatory, according to Raisman. If they refused to see him, they would be reprimanded. I mean Jesus fucking Christ. These girls were essentially forced into the most fucked up of ultimatums: you’re either sexually assaulted or you lose you career. It’s stomach-churning.
And it wasn’t like help or a way out was readily available. These gymnasts were isolated at training camps, away from their families and friends, and forced to submit to a serial abuser – their only recourse for medical treatment & physical therapy. In fact, a 2000 memo at a national training camp for girls as young as ages 9 to 12 instructed them that if they had a problem at night in the hotel they were to call a list of three people. The first name on the list? Larry Nassar. The guy was even head of a committee instituted by USA Gymnastics to ensure the protection and safety of its athletes. There was literally no recourse for them. If a complaint finally got far enough up the ladder, it was squelched and silenced. It wasn’t until they made Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney sign a confidential settlement that he was removed from power. But was there an investigation? NO. Did they shut him down when they should have? NO. Did congress, the entity that actually funds the USOC and subsequently USAG, investigate? NO.
This is by far the biggest sex scandal in sports history and up there with the biggest in our country’s history. Between USAG, USOC, Michigan State, and Nassar himself (and probably others) the culpability is endless. Yes, Lou Anna Simon resigned late yesterday, but she will still be paid $1,875,000 over the next 3 years and in her resignation offered no signs of remorse or regret. Instead, she deferred responsibility, claiming to be the scapegoat, and essentially insinuated she resigned because she was tired of being blamed. [Insert massive eyeroll here]. Can Mark Emmert comment now? Can Congress investigate now? Raisman herself has been metaphorically screaming at the top of her lungs about the systematic manipulations and lack of empathy on the part of USAG & USOC, but until someone who has the power to change things, to enact justice, acts on her behalf, her fighting will be for naught.
Yesterday, Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40-175 years in prison. The Judge presiding over his hearing was Judge Rosemarie Aquilina – a woman I would be proud to vote for for literally anything (and also a true example of why we need more female judges). Her powerful words to conclude yesterday’s sentencing are far better than anything I can come up with, so here they are:
“Inaction is inaction. Silence is indifference. Justice requires a voice. There has to be a massive investigation as to why there was inaction. Why there was silence. Justice requires more than what I can do on this bench.”
And justice is what all 160+ deserve. That, and our respect, our admiration, and our support. ❤️️