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The wrenching victim-impact statements last week by gymnasts who had been sexually assaulted by physician Larry Nassar when they were girls intensified the focus on two institutions: USA Gymnastics, for which Nassar was the national team doctor, and Michigan State University, where he also worked. Both institutions released several media statements — some more impressive than others.
More than 150 girls and women spoke in a Michigan courtroom during Nassar’s weeklong sentencing hearing (his total number of victims is as many as 265). On Jan. 24, he was given a term of 40 to 175 years in prison, in addition to 60 years he previously got for child pornography. Other victims began speaking against him yesterday in another Michigan court, where he will be sentenced on further charges. (Gold medalist Simone Biles, pictured, has said Nassar abused her, but she didn’t speak at either sentencing.)
Both USA Gymnastics, the governing body for the sport, and Michigan State University have been criticized for their handling of the matter. Questions are swirling about why they hadn’t detected and stopped the abuse sooner. Instead, it went on for more than two decades. Several investigations are under way.
USA Gymnastics, which said it didn’t know of the abuse until 2015, when it fired Nassar, has lost several corporate sponsors. Its president, Steve Penny, resigned in March 2017 over the scandal. The day Nassar was sentenced, USA Gymnastics released a statement in the name of President and CEO Kerry Perry, in which she praised the long prison term and said the organization was focused on changing its culture.
The United States Olympic Committee has been more impressive in its communications, but then again it is not as accused of wrongdoing. On Jan. 22, USA Gymnastics had said three board members had quit. In response, the USOC wrote, “New board leadership is necessary because the current leaders have been focused on establishing that they did nothing wrong. USA Gymnastics needs to focus on supporting the brave survivors. The Olympic family failed these athletes and we must continue to take every step necessary to ensure this never happens again.”
On Jan. 24, the USOC put out a long statement demanding change at USA Gymnastics, announcing an internal probe into the Nassar matter, and calling for the rest of the USA Gymnastics board to resign.
USA Gymnastics responded (ignoring the resignation demand), “USA Gymnastics supports an independent investigation that may shine light on how abuse of the proportion described so courageously by the survivors of Larry Nassar could have gone undetected for so long and embraces any necessary and appropriate changes.”
Yesterday USA Gymnastics announced that its entire board had resigned.
As for Michigan State, it fired Nassar in 2016 after an exposé in The Indianapolis Star. In February 2017, its gymnastics coach resigned for allegedly rejecting the sex-assault claims. The day of Nassar’s sentencing, the state legislature had passed a resolution calling for Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon to step down or be fired. She announced her retirement later that same day. Her letter doing so has been criticized for its self-reference and defensiveness.
In it, Simon mentions that she had planned to retire in December 2016, but the crisis put that off. She humblebragged about being pilloried: “As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger. I understand, and that is why I have limited my personal statements.”
The board was officious in its acceptance of her resignation (“We agree with Dr. Simon that it is now time for change”).
Two days later Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis resigned. He wrote, poetically, “I am not running away from anything, I am running toward something. Comfort, compassion, and understanding for the survivors and our community; togetherness, time, and love for my family.”
Both the Michigan attorney general and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have launched investigations into the school’s handling of the scandal.
— Thom Weidlich
Photo Credit: Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock
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