Larry Nassar, the former team doctor for the USA Gymnastics National Team and Michigan State University, has pleaded guilty to state charges involving seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
His sentencing is set for January 12, to last at least 25 years. Nassar also awaits other sentences for child pornography and sexual abuse of over 100 athletes, a majority of them children, over a span of more than 20 years. Victims include Olympians Jamie Dantzscher, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Gabby Douglas.
Widespread attention to allegations of Nassar’s abuse began with a detailed report published by IndyStar on August 4, 2016, titled, “A blind eye to sex abuse: How USA Gymnastics failed to report cases.” Later, in September, Rachael Denhollander reached out to IndyStar to share her experiences being abused by Nassar. Her story set a chain reaction; two weeks later, 16 more women had come forth with accusations against Nassar.
Though USA Gymnastics’ governing body formally claimed they were unaware of Nassar’s actions until 2015, IndyStar tracked down four cases in which USA Gymnastics failed to promptly report abuse of gymnasts from their coaches. “In a 2013 lawsuit filed by one of [the] coach’s victims, two former USA Gymnastics officials admitted under oath that the organization routinely dismissed sexual abuse allegations as hearsay unless they came directly from a victim or victim’s parent.”
Amid criticism for encouraging an environment of complacency during the scandal, former USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny stepped down from his position in March 2017.
Despite Penny’s resignation and the prosecution of Nassar, people are continuing to speak up about USA Gymnastics’ culture of abuse. In an independent review, prosecutor Deborah Daniels stated, “Young athletes (in their teens or younger) and their parents are highly unlikely to report ongoing abuse to the authority that has so much power over the athlete’s success in the sport.” Three-time Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas echoed this sentiment. “We were conditioned to stay silent,” Douglas stated in an Instagram post where she revealed that she too was abused by Nassar. Olympic gold and silver medalist McKayla Maroney wrote that people with power should be “held accountable for their inappropriate actions and behavior” with “zero tolerance for abusers and those who protect them.”
Six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman has been openly critical in expressing her disproval of USA Gymnastics’ policies that facilitated the abuse. In her autobiography, Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything, Raisman wrote about how after she realized she was making excuses for Nassar (a common experience for abuse victims) during a private investigation session, she tried to reach out to USA Gymnastics for clarification, but to no avail. In an interview with 60 Minutes, Raisman stated,
“Why are we looking at why didn’t the girls speak up? Why not look at what about the culture? What did USA Gymnastics do, and Larry Nassar do, to manipulate these girls so much that they are so afraid to speak up? I just want to create change so that they never, ever have to go through this.”