The Fallout From Larry Nassar’s Sexual Abuse Is Just Beginning
Lansing, MI — When dusk falls Friday on Michigan State University, some students will try to keep the light shining on Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of scores of girls and young women — and the school’s role in it.
Students intend to gather on campus at 6 p.m. for a “March for Survivors and Change.” It comes two days after a judge sentenced Nassar, the former Michigan State sports and USA Gymnastics physician, to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing patients under the guise of medical treatment.
Nassar may be set for life in prison, but the heat on institutions associated with him is nowhere near finished. Just this week, Michigan State’s president and athletic director said they were stepping down.
“We’re not going to heal all the way until we know exactly who knew what, when, and how they’re going to fix it,” former Michigan State gymnast Lindsey Lemke, one of 156 accusers who confronted Nassar in court over his abuse of two decades, said after his sentencing Wednesday.
The fallout from the scandal may span years, involving investigations, civil lawsuits and an overhaul of at least one sports governing body. Here’s what’s happening:
Michigan State and USA Gymnastics are among the defendants in a number of civil lawsuits by more than 100 accusers.
USA Gymnastics, which selects and trains US teams competing for Olympic and world championships in the sport, counted Nassar as part of its medical staff or as national team doctor through four Olympic cycles.
Nassar also was a Michigan State sports physician from 1997 to 2016.
Allegations in the lawsuits include negligent failure to warn or protect, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
• In one suit, 2012 Olympics medalist McKayla Maroney alleged USA Gymnastics paid her to be quiet about Nassar’s abuse of her, which she said began when she was 13. The US Olympic Committee, Michigan State and Nassar also are named as defendants.
• In another suit, gymnast Larissa Boyce alleges she told then-Michigan State gymnastics coach Kathie Klages in the late 1990s that Nassar abused her. Boyce recalls Klages telling her that she could not imagine Nassar “doing anything questionable,” then discouraging her from filing a formal complaint, according to the lawsuit.
• Former Michigan State softball player Tiffany Thomas-Lopez says in a lawsuit Nassar abused her in the late 1990s, and that at least three university trainers listened to her accusations but did nothing about them.
USA Gymnastics, the US Olympic Committee and Michigan State have denied wrongdoing, and USA Gymnastics said it reported the sexual abuse allegations to authorities when it learned about the abuse.
Michigan State maintains that no official there believed Nassar committed sexual abuse until newspapers began reporting on the allegations in the summer of 2016. Any suggestion that the university engaged in a cover-up is “simply false,” a school statement asserted last week.
Klages’ attorney, Steve F. Stapleton, told CNN his firm is representing the former coach in federal civil litigation surrounding Nassar and will not comment on pending litigation.
Michigan attorney general to ‘review’ school’s role
A number of investigations also have been announced — with Michigan State as one of the targets.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he will conduct a “review” of what happened at Michigan State, and issue a report and recommendations. His office said details will be announced after Nassar’s final round of sentencing, set for next Wednesday.
Nassar is set to be sentenced then on three counts of criminal sexual assault involving victims in Eaton County, adjacent to Ingham County, where he was sentenced this week on seven counts of criminal sexual conduct.
What could Schuette be looking for?
To start with, some of the same allegations over which Michigan State is being sued. Several victims have said they reported Nassar’s behavior to the school years ago, but that they were either silenced or that officials did nothing to end the abuse.
The Detroit News recently reported that misconduct allegations against Nassar reached at least 14 Michigan State representatives in the two decades before his arrest.
It’s not clear whether Schuette’s review could lead to criminal charges.
Michigan State law professor Mark Totten, who lost to Schuette in a 2014 general election, wrote this week that a criminal investigation — not simply a review — is needed.
“To be very clear, prosecutors don’t perform ‘reviews’ and offer-up ‘recommendations.’ They conduct investigations and bring criminal charges if the evidence demands,” Totten wrote on Facebook.
Ahead of the review, shakeups have been underway:
• Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon is resigning after outcries that the school’s response wasn’t good enough.
• Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis said Friday he is retiring.
• Michigan State physician Brooke Lemmen resigned last year after she allegedly removed “several boxes of confidential treatment records” from the school at Nassar’s request, and allegedly didn’t tell school officials that Nassar had told her in 2015 that USA Gymnastics was investigating him, the Lansing State Journal reported.
• Klages, the gymnastics coach, retired in 2017.
NCAA investigating Michigan State
The NCAA, too, is looking into Michigan State’s handling of allegations against Nassar.
The collegiate athletics governing body said Wednesday it wants to see if the university violated any NCAA rules.
US Olympic Committee wants an investigation …
The US Olympic Committee — itself a focus of victims’ ire — has called for an investigation by an “independent third party to examine how an abuse of this proportion could have gone undetected for so long.”
“This investigation will include both USAG (USA Gymnastics) and the USOC, and we believe USAG will cooperate fully. We will make the results public,” Blackmun wrote.
… and more resignations at USA Gymnastics
Three top USA Gymnastics board members resigned earlier this week — a move Blackmun acknowledged but said wasn’t enough. The Indianapolis-based organization has 18 other board positions.
Blackmun said USAG will lose its status as the country’s gymnastics regulator unless the board meets next week’s deadline and an interim board is in place by February 28.
“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,” Blackmun wrote in a letter CNN obtained. “Our position comes from a clear sense that USAG culture needs fundamental rebuilding.”
Sorting USA Gymnastics’ future
USA Gymnastics already was undergoing an overhaul. The group asked former federal prosecutor Deborah Daniels in late 2016 to review its policies on handling sexual misconduct — and in June she released a report highlighting numerous shortcomings.
USA Gymnastics said it would implement Daniels’ 70 recommendations, including:
• Requiring members to report suspected sexual misconduct to legal authorities and the US Center for SafeSport.
• Implementing an abuse prevention training plan for members, parents and athletes.
• Removing the “athlete representative,” tasked with ensuring the welfare of gymnasts at the training center, from the Olympic selection committee so athletes can feel more comfortable reporting abuse to him or her
USA Gymnastics needs to sort other parts of its immediate future, too.
It was once scheduled to hold a training camp this week at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas. The ranch had been the official US Women’s National Team Training Center since 2001.
But USA Gymnastics cut ties with the ranch last week after several gymnasts said Nassar abused them there. The organization is exploring alternative sites to host camps until it finds a permanent location.
USA Gymnastics also is under financial pressure. AT&T said this week it is suspending its sponsorship of the organization “until it is rebuilt and we know that the athletes are in a safe environment.”