Thus far, the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal has been primarily focused on his role with USA Gymnastics. Aside from gymnast McKayla Maroney’s pending lawsuit, not much attention has been paid to Michigan State University, where Nassar was sports medicine doctor for more than 20 years.
But a report by Kim Kozlowski of the Detroit News is finally bringing MSU’s role in this tragedy to light. She spoke to eight women who had either told someone at the university, or had complained to the local police. In all, at least 14 MSU representatives were warned of the abuse over a span of two decades. And in all, they did nothing.
Among the others who were aware of alleged abuse were athletic trainers, assistant coaches, a university police detective and an official who is now MSU’s assistant general counsel, according to university records and accounts of victims who spoke to The News.
Larissa Boyce, who was 16-years-old when Nassar began abusing her, is believed to be the first person to alert anyone at MSU about Nassar’s sexual abuse. In 1997 she told a coach, who brought it to Kathie Klages, who was the head of the MSU gymnastics program at the time. According to Boyce, Klages was disbelieving and thought Boyce was misunderstanding what was going on.
Klages, who was MSU women’s gymnastics coach for 27 seasons, brought several of Boyce’s fellow youth program gymnasts into her office and asked them if Nassar did the same to them.
One of them said he had. That woman, who spoke to The News on condition of anonymity, was 14 then, and remembers knowing before the meeting they would be talking about Nassar.
“I remember feeling — finally a female would be an advocate for me, and tell my dad and my mom and I won’t have to tell them about this awkward thing,” said the woman, now 35, who has filed a civil lawsuit against Nassar and MSU. “Finally we’re going to get help, something will change and we won’t have to go back to him. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, I felt very shamed.”
Boyce had wanted to file an official report, but was discouraged by Klages.
“She said, ‘I can file this, but there are going to be serious consequences for you and Nassar,’” Boyce said. “I said I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.”
Klages then reportedly told Nassar himself about the allegations.
Two years later, track and field coach Kelli Burt was reportedly told about the abuse by runner Christie Achenbach. While Burt told the Detroit News that she doesn’t recall every being told about that, Achenbach recalls Burt telling her that Nassar was an Olympic doctor and should know what he’s doing.
In 2000, Tiffany Thomas Lopez demonstrated one of Nassar’s “treatments” on her trainer, and was told that it “wasn’t right.” Thomas Lopez went to MSU athletic trainer Destiny Teachnor-Hauk to tell her about it. According to Thomas Lopez, the response she got was far from what she expected.
“I was told if I felt extremely uncomfortable then of course we could pursue something but I was assured this was actual medical treatment,” said Thomas Lopez. “If I decided to pursue something, it was going to cast a burden over my family. She said it was going cause a lot of heartache, it was going to cause a lot of trauma and why would I want drag him through this?”
A common thread in every story (and there are more of them in the Detroit News article) is that when Nassar said that what he was doing were legitimate medical treatments, he was believed. The girls and women who complained that Nassar was violating them and making them uncomfortable, were not. They were also shamed, embarrassed, and repeatedly discouraged from making any official complaints.
MSU president Lou Anna Simon maintains that she was not told about any of this until 2014, when she was alerted that a sports medicine doctor was under investigation. She says that she was not told the name of the doctor, and was not given a copy of the report. It’s not clear if Simon was told of the nature of the crimes that were being investigated.
When the 2014 investigation was concluded, MSU found that Nassar hadn’t violated any policies and did not fire him. He was allowed to continue treating patients, though with certain restrictions. Nassar wasn’t fired by MSU until 2016 when his abuse began to come out in the press, nearly 20 years after the first employee was told about Nassar’s abuse.
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