Wednesday, former Team USA gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison.
Larry Nassar was accused of sexually abusing women and girls for decades while he was a Team USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University (MSU) doctor. He pleaded guilty to several counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced the 54-year-old predator on Wednesday afternoon at the Ingham County Circuit Court in Michigan. The powerful hearing ended as the culmination of effort that lasted for years in order to take down the abusive doctor.
More than 150 women and girls have come out to accuse Nassar of assault, and state their testimonies. Victims included former patients, athletes, high-profile gymnasts, and Olympians.
While it is unclear when and how Nassar started abusing his patients, the first allegation surfaced in 1994. As USA Gymnastics national team and MSU doctor, he developed a stellar reputation.
According to a biography by the USA Gymnastics Midwestern chapter: he is a family man – married with three daughters, was a “guiding medical force” at four Olympic Games, and has received many state, regional and national awards “for his countless hours of dedicated service to the athletes in our sport”.
However, there were early warning signs even as his reputation grew.
In 1997, Larry Nassar was indirectly involved in a lawsuit when a parent raised concerns about star coach and owner of Twistars athletic club, John Geddert. Nassar was treating gymnasts for the Michigan athletic club at the time.
On Monday before Nassar’s sentencing, Geddert was suspended by USA Gymnastics pending an investigation.
In 2000, an MSU athlete claimed university staff did not believe her when she told trainers about Nassar’s abuse.
In 2014, a recent graduate accused Nassar of molesting her. However, he was cleared of any wrongdoing after an investigation by MSU.
Between 1997 and 2015, seven women or girls made complaints about Nassar to coaches, trainers, police or university officials according to a Lansing State Journal newspaper report.
In August 2016, a report detailing allegations of sexual abuse committed by USA Gymnastics coaches was published in the Indianapolis Star. The report claimed that the sporting body wasn’t able to report allegations of abuse to relevant authorities.
While Nassar wasn’t named in the article, Rachael Denhollander, a former Michigan gymnast, took this as an opportunity to speak up. A month later, the same paper published allegations against him from Denhollander and one other former gymnasts.
Dr. Larry Nassar
Lawrence Nassar, graduated from the University of Michigan in 1985. A year later, he joined the medical staff of the US national gymnastics team based in Indianapolis. In 1997, while still working for the national gym team, he began working at MSU as a team physician.
He worked in four Olympic Games for the US gymnastics team, and was even often seen rushing to the aid of gymnasts who have experienced awkward falls.
A former softball player at MSU, Carrie Hogan, told the court that treatment by Nassar was seen as a “privilege”. He was considered best of the best and was even seen as a “god” in the gymnastics world.
In December 2013, Nassar spoke about how important it was to look after young athletes in an episode of a gymnastics podcast broadcast. He said,
“Not just physically but mentally, you have to protect your athletes. You have to let them know they will be cared [for].”
Of the danger of mental injury to athletes, he warned,
“The physical injuries almost always they can recover from. The mental injury leaves the scars that keep coming back and haunt them later.”
The vast majority of Larry Nassar’s victims were young female gymnasts. It’s been observed that he had a strikingly similar pattern of how he abused them. They came to him looking for help, often in pain.
He tried to convince his patients that what he was doing was normal, while they were at their most vulnerable moment. He even talked casually about everyday life and joked while touching them.
Nassar made his victims feel they were wrong to believe this was abuse by projecting a sense of normality from his position of authority. He made them think that they would be in the wrong if they complained.
Many of the women who spoke in court said that they were intimidated by his powerful status. They feared criticism after he abused them. Reporting the offence felt almost impossible.
In 1998, Larry Nassar began abusing Kyle Stephens while she was only 6 years old. She is known to be the youngest victim at the time of Nassar’s abuse. In her testimony, she said,
“Let me remind you of the interests of a six-year-old girl. My favorite TV show was Clifford the Big Red Dog. I could not do a multiplication problem, and I still had not lost all my baby teeth. I think we can all agree that someone of this maturity level should not be sexually active, but I was.
I testified to let the world know that you are a repulsive liar. Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that destroy your world.”
To date, a total of 156 women have given their testimony against Nassar.
Larry Nassar issued an apology, which was deemed insincere by Judge Rosemarie Aquilana. He said,
“What I am feeling pales in comparison to the pain, trauma, and emotional destruction that all of you are feeling. There are no words to describe the depth and breadth of how sorry I am for what has occurred.”
On the other hand, in a Wednesday statement, US Olympic Committee officials, through CEO Scott Blackmun, issued an apology to Nassar’s victims:
“The purpose of this message is to tell all of Nassar’s victims and survivors, directly, how incredibly sorry we are. We have said it in other contexts, but we have not been direct enough with you. We are sorry for the pain caused by this terrible man, and sorry that you weren’t afforded a safe opportunity to pursue your sports dreams.”
Following Nassar’s sentencing, MSU President Lou Ann Simon resigned from her post. House Democratic Leader Sam Singh and Senator Curtis Hertel, Jr. called for her resignation amidst the controversy.
Five other legislators called for her resignation. Senator Margaret O’Brien said to Detroit News,
“It’s time for a leadership change at MSU. My patience is gone.”
The Michigan State News Edito-in-Chief Rachel Fradetta published an editorial calling for the president’s resignation following Nassar’s sentencing.
Meanwhile, as of Thursday, January 25, 2018, Nassar’s wife has filed for divorce from her disgraced husband. She is asking for full custody of their three daughters.