USA Gymnastics Scandal: Larry Nassar and the Evil of Complacency

Theo Asher, National Sports Editor

Michigan State and USA Gymnastics Sports Medicine Doctor Sentenced to 40-125 Years

The 2012 Summer Olympics were arguably one of the greatest shows of American athletic dominance in sports history. Among other glorious achievements, the “Supreme Team” easily captured the gold medal in basketball, the swimming teams blasted the competition in the pool with Michael Phelps adding to his collection of golden hardware and the Fab Five women’s gymnastics squad of Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Mikayla Maroney, Kyla Ross and Jordan Wieber dazzled the London crowds to win gold for the red, white and blue.

2012, 2008, 2004 … basically for as long as I can remember, the United States has dominated the competition in the Summer Olympics. The nationalism inspired by the success of our compatriots against athletes of other nations is blissful yet superficial. We derive joy from our successes, but rarely do we ever know the true cost of winning these gold medals. No, not costs in the physical sense of athletic training. There is something that an organization supposedly representative of our most valuable, patriotic ideals of competition never wanted you to hear about.

Before we analyze the sinister nature of the United States Olympic Committee’s complacency, we must acknowledge the facts. Before his tenure at the organization from 1986 to 2016, Larry Nassar earned a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Michigan in 1985, and after graduation assumed the role of lower-level athletic trainer for USA Gymnastics. Along with his work for the delegation, Nassar provided medical support to a local high school and the gymnastics academy Twistars run by the Geddert family. In 1996, after he had completed his Master’s program in sports medicine at Michigan State, Nassar was appointed as national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics and appeared at his first Olympic games in Atlanta. From 1996 to 2012,

Olympians had mandatory appointments with Nassar during the long training regimens and the games themselves. Accompanying this important title was his new role for Michigan State as physician and associate professor of sports medicine. Around this time, disturbing complaints began to surface from individuals in the gymnastics community.

The reports accused Nassar of inappropriate sexual conduct with young female gymnasts. Reading the accounts and listening to the testimonies of the plethora of women abused by Nassar will send chills down your spine. It is hard to grasp how someone could be so unapologetically manipulative and foul toward people who invested their trust in him as their physician. The elite gymnasts seeking physical remedy came to Nassar, only to receive physical and emotional trauma in return.

Raisman, the symbolic leader of the 2012 Fab Five women’s gymnastics team, articulated Nassar’s villainy in her testimony last month before a judge during the sentencing period of Nassar’s trial. A feature of the scandal Raisman highlighted was how he capitalized on their hopes and dreams of becoming decorated gymnasts. Not knowing any better, they trusted that his practices would maintain their bodies and allow them to perform at an elite level. Raisman said that he “insisted that his inappropriate touch would heal her physical pain” with no regard for the athletes’ consent or comfort. The unspoken dynamics in the room were perpetually bent in his favor, and there was nothing the victims

could do.

However, that was not the case for Nassar’s superiors: USA Gymnastics, Geddert’s Twistars academy and Michigan State. These organizations, who tacitly dispensed the power that Nassar exploited, swept any and all complaints of him under the rug.

“A pedophile is only as prominent as the people around him allow him to be.” This quote from Rachel Denhollander, the first of 150 women to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse, encapsulates a serious feature of Nassar’s wickedness that cannot go unacknowledged. The first one was in 1997 when a parent raised a complaint to John Geddert. He, of course, did not notify the authorities. Over the course of the next two decades, numerous complaints were filed with Michigan State and USA Gymnastics, but neither organization reported the incidents to the police or considered Nassar’s firing. It was not until 2016 that they removed him. Even then, they gave minimal explanation for why they got rid of a seemingly successful and intelligent doctor. Flash forward to today, in the wake of the scandal: Michigan State’s president and athletic trainer have both resigned, in addition to the

director of USA Gymnastics.

Raisman evoked the reckoning that the issue of sexual assault has been facing in American milieus as prominent as the Hollywood film industry and  as local as our very own campus. The #MeToo movement has aggressively pursued perpetrators of sexual assault in the most public fashion, exposing the cruelty that was kept secret for so long.

“We, this group of women you so heartlessly abused for so long a period of time, are now a force … and you are nothing,”

Raisman said in her testimony.

Nothing can ameliorate what this man has done. The sexual assault he committed on the hundreds of vulnerable female gymnasts will affect their mental stability for the rest of their lives. Moving forward, it is up to us as common protectors of each other’s well-being to not be silent. The patriotic glory of Olympic success is enticing, but we cannot let ourselves be blinded by the superficial distraction provided by sports. Sexual assault is an issue we all have a responsibility to combat, and it starts with ousting abusers like

Larry Nassar.

Contact Theo Asher at [email protected]