“I Forever Lost My Childhood Due to His Abuse”

by The Cowl Editor on February 1, 2018

Professional Sports

Larry Nassar Found Guilty of Sexually Abusing Over 200 Gymnasts

By Meaghan Cahill ’20

Sports Co-Editor

larry nassar sexually abuses gymnasts
Photo Courtesy of Paul Sancya/E!News

It was a trial that was almost 25 years in the making and has become the greatest sexual abuse scandal in sports history. According to a 2016 lawsuit, in 1994 an unidentified gymnast, who would later go on to medal at the Olympics, stated that Larry Nassar had sexually abused her for six years. She would be the first of over 250 women who would come forward over the years claiming Nassar sexually assaulted them when he was supposed to be acting as their trainer.

Nassar’s career began in 1978 when he became a student athletic trainer at North Farmington High School, outside of Detroit. A graduate of the University of Michigan, he began working with the football and track and field teams at UM in 1985. A year later, he signed onto the medical staff as an athletic trainer for the USA Gymnastics’ national team.

His career only went up from this point. He received an osteopathic medical degree from Michigan State University in 1993, was appointed national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics in 1996, became a team physician and assistant professor at MSU in 1997, and during all of this time, he began attending the Olympic Games as a member of the gymnastics team’s staff. He had the picture perfect career, yet underneath it all, it was anything but perfect.

According to a lawsuit filed in 2017, a concern about Nassar was brought to John Geddert of John Geddert’s Twistars gymnastics club for his behavior in 1997. The claim was overlooked and never brought to police attention. A year later in 1998, according to court records, Nassar began sexually abusing the six-year-old daughter of a family friend, and he acted inappropriately with her “every other week for five years.” That same year, a student-athlete at MSU reported Nassar to the other trainers and coaches, but no action was taken by the university following the claims.

The lack of action on behalf of USA Gymnastics and MSU did not stop the accusations against Nassar. In 2000, a second MSU student-athlete came forward with claims that Nassar was acting inappropriately, as well as gymnast Rachel Denhollander, who stated she was sexually abused by Nassar when she was fifteen while he was treating her for lower back pains.

Flash forward to 2014 and all accusations against Nassar while he was at MSU were cleared by the university. That same year, he retired as USA Gymnastics’ medical coordinator, but stated he would remain as the team doctor for the artistic gymnasts.

It was not until 2016 that an official investigation was opened into how USA Gymnastics handled the sexual abuse cases, including those with Nassar. Once again, Denhollander came forward with the same claims that he assaulted her when she was 15 and she filed a criminal complaint against Nassar.

Later that year, MSU fired Nassar from all clinical and patient duties. And then, the floodgates opened and Nassar’s career came crashing down around him. After he was fired, complaint after complaint came through against him. Denhollander was one of the main accusers on every case and collaborated with others who had worked with Nassar.

On Tuesday, November 22, 2016, Nassar was officially charged in Ingham County with three counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct with a person under the age of 13. In a press conference, it was revealed that over 50 victims had come forward with complaints against Nassar. Less than a month later, Nassar was indicted on federal child pornography charges. On January 10, 2017,  18 more gymnasts filed a federal law suit against Nassar, MSU, USA Gymnastics, and John Geddert’s Twistars gymnastics club alleging sexual assault, battery, molestation, and harassment between 1996 and 2016.

There was never a cease in accusations against Nassar, and they all led up to his 2018 sentencing, where most of his victims took to the stand and testified against him face to face. Some of his more well-known victims include Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, and Aly Raisman.

The statements were powerful. Each victim took the stand and detailed just how much Nassar impacted their lives—and not in a positive way.

“You used my body for six years for your own sexual gratification. That is unforgivable,” Kyle Stephens stated.

“I…developed an intense fear of male hands, like a PTSD response…This fear changed the way I grew up and how I related to boys…I couldn’t just be a normal girl anymore, and I have forever lost a big piece of my childhood due to his abuse,” Jessica Thomashow reflected while on the stand.

One mother even came forward and blamed Nassar’s abuse for her daughter’s suicide, “For my daughter it became a serious, serious bout of depression. So in 2009 she took her own life because she couldn’t deal with the pain anymore.” Donna Markham’s daughter Chelsea claimed Nassar “hurt [her]” after he wrongfully touched her without medical gloves on.

After all of the witness statements, he was sentenced to 175 years in prison with the “hero” judge Rosemarie Aquilina stating “I’ve just signed your death warrant.” The only questions that remains now are ‘why?’ and ‘how?’

How could this abuse have gone on for so long with no one doing anything about it?

As Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman stated in her witness statement, “It’s easy to put out statements talking about how athlete care is the highest priority. But [USA Gymnastics] has been saying that for years, and all the while, this nightmare was happening.”

Joan Ryan, author of Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, a book about the physical and psychological toll gymnastics takes on girls and young women, states, “There is no other sport in which this could have happened…These girls are groomed from an incredibly young age to deny their own experience.”

“Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee didn’t want to scare off sponsors and they didn’t want to risk the piles of Olympic medals. So they covered it up,” 1986 U.S. National Champion Jennifer Sey stated.

In a letter written by Champion Women, an advocacy group for girls and women in sports chaired by former Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar, demanded that laws should be passed to protect young athletes from people like Nassar. The letter asserted, “Research shows that the more elite the athlete, the more likely they are to be sexually abused by someone within their own entourage.”

So, what is the solution? According to Ryan, “We need change to come from the lawmakers, not organizations. There needs to be government oversight with hard and fast rules, because these girls are children, and if they win fewer medals, so be it.”

In wake of the trial, the remaining members of the USA Gymnastics board of directors have all resigned due to the pressure from the United States Olympic Committee. According to USA Today, “The United States Olympic Committee threatened to decertify the organization if it didn’t take more strident steps towards change.”

In a statement issued amid the scandal and remaining board members stepping down, USA Gymnastics claimed that they support “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 appropiate changes. USA Gymnastics and USOC have the same goal-making the sport of gymnastics, and others, as safe as possible for athletes to follow their dreams in a safe, positives, and empowered environment.”

While words are being exchanged on making the sport safer and better for our country’s gymnasts, it is still up in the air if there will be any concrete changes made in the future of gymnastics.