Last Wednesday, January 24th, Larry Nassar, a former doctor for USA Gymnastics (USAG) and Michigan State University (MSU), was sentenced to 40-175 years, according to CNN. This came after Nassar pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct in Ingham Country in Michigan.
In order to get some perspective from coaches and athletic administrators, I sat down this week with a number of individuals who work for Olivet Nazarene University’s athletic department.
“(I am) disgusted,” ONU’s Softball Head Coach Hannah Gardner said. “Disgusted that someone an athlete is supposed to trust is the one hurting them.” Over 150 women were affected during the time Nassar held his position with the USAG and MSU teams. Victims felt as if they had to keep what was happening to them private, and this allowed Nassar to continue for years unabated.
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who decided Nassar’s sentence in Ingham County, made a point that the week-long hearing would be about the victims and hearing them out. More than 150 young women and their families spoke against Nassar. During this time they testified against both Nassar and the USAG as a whole, condemning the people who allowed this catastrophe to continue for years and years. IN addition to these crimes, Nassar is serving 60 years for federal child pornography charges.
“I think the problem really revolves around the institution,” ONU Athletic Director Gary Newsome said while citing some of Olivet’s policies to keep their athletes safe. “I think the problem is with whoever gave him that power, because you cannot do that. … Who gave (Nassar) that authority to do that?”
Newsome firmly believes that accusations should be taken seriously, and that ONU has set up a culture that would not allow any kind of actions similar to that of Nassar’s to take place. Any reports of abuse are taken on, no matter if they concern the president or the janitor. No one would have an excuse these kinds of actions.
“Hopefully there’s always, in any culture, checks and balances,” Lauren Stamatis, head coach of women’s basketball, said. It is important for there to be open communication, and that athletes believe they will be heard.
Stamatis notes that her team captains often bring concerns to her. “All three of (our captains) came to me last week to express some things that they were feeling. That’s not a formal thing, but that’s an opportunity to say something we are concerned about.”
If I may speak frankly, this story nauseates, angers, and cuts all at once. This man was put in a trusted position of power and used it to abuse hundreds of young women who trusted him. I cannot understand the thoughts or motivations that could have moved this man enough to molest and abuse these young women. Kyle Stephens was a six-year-old when Nassar began abusing her, according to the Guardian. McKayla Maroney, an Olympic gold medalist, was given a sleeping pill by Nassar and woke up in his
hotel room. Amanda Thomashow, a former student at MSU, had her accusations covered up when the university had knowledge that should have condemned Nassar, according to Lansing State Journal. What hurts me even more than the despicable actions of this man was that for so long his actions and choices were overlooked and uninvestigated by massive institutions.
“You have people who have been placed on a pedestal,” Women’s soccer team Head Coach Bill Bahr said. “Leaders who have been placed on a pedestal almost become god-like (so) that not only do superiors turn a blind eye to it, maybe they hear and have an idea that something might be going on. … In this case, parents and families. Because of the recognition that this is the Olympic team, families were less inclined to raise a voice. ‘Oh, if I speak up, they lose their spot.’ Or, ‘If I speak up this will happen.’ There’s an element of fear that comes into play when you’re dealing with high profile people that have made a name for themselves. … ‘I don’t want to lose my opportunity to make it somewhere.’”
In my conversations with coaches and in my research, I found two rays of hope in all of this. In regards to Olivet’s athletic department, the entire staff seemed to be well aware of the power that comes with their position and the need for them to govern and use that privilege wisely. Each coach or administrative person who I spoke with had boundaries and rules to keep themselves and players safe from something of this nature happening. Head Athletic Trainer BJ Geasa made it clear how respectful he and his staff are of the athletes and their personal boundaries.
In addition, the US Olympic Committee’s CEO, Scott Blackmun, issued a letter asking for all members of the USAG’s board of directors to resign and that they must elect new directors to replace them within a year’s time, amongst other requirements, according to CNN. Almost without question, the USAG said they would “completely embrace the requirements outlined” and that they understand these instructions.
Whether at Olivet Nazarene University or any institution, strong women and men are rising up to protect those who cannot protect themselves. While it may have taken too long to find the bad apple in their system, we can take solace in knowing that a new day has arrived in which oppressive and manipulative behavior will not be tolerated or overlooked any longer.
Feature photo from New York Times