It’s been nearly a year since a Michigan judge sentenced former sports doctor Larry Nassar to up to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting hundreds of women and girls, including several top Olympic gymnasts.
Today, the number of women and girls who have said they were abused by Nassar has topped 500, Michigan Radio reported. But questions remain about how a culture of abuse of young athletes at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University continued for so long.
A new report released Monday details how two top officials at the U.S. Olympic Committee, which oversees USA Gymnastics, failed to act promptly in 2015 when they first learned of the abuse allegations against Nassar. One of the officials, USOC chief of sport performance Alan Ashley, was fired shortly after the report was made public.
Judy Woodruff talks with Robert Andrews of the Institute of Sports Performance about how Nassar’s abuse continued for so long.
In the past year, several organizational heads have also lost jobs or now face criminal charges related to the case. At Michigan State University, the scandal has felled the school’s top leadership, including three officials who face criminal charges. And just last week, USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body, filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition.
Here’s a look at the fallout from the sex abuse case, regarded as the worst in sports history, and what’s happening to the institutions where Nassar hurt the athletes he was hired to help.
U.S. Olympic Committee wants to dismantle USA Gymnastics
USA Gymnastics said in its bankruptcy statement that the filing would delay all pending actions against the organization. That appears to include the United States Olympic Committee’s process to remove USA Gymnastics as a governing body for the sport.
But USOC disagreed, saying the organization was still reviewing whether the filing would affect the decertification process, USA Today reported.
But a new report suggests the USOC also hesitated to take action against Nassar
In February, the USOC commissioned an investigation of actions by its top officials to better understand how they responded after being alerted to allegations against Nassar. The resulting 233-page report, first reported Monday by USA Today, found that USOC CEO Scott Blackmun and USOC chief of sport performance Alan Ashley were told about the allegations in July 2015, but did not share the information with anyone else until Nassar’s abuse was made public by the Indianapolis Star in September 2016.
In those 14 months, the report said, neither man alerted USOC board members, its facilities or other youth-serving organizations about the allegations, nor did they order any internal reviews.
Blackmun resigned in February, while Ashley was Monday morning, shortly before USA Today published a story on the report’s findings.
Susanne Lyons, USOC’s incoming board chairman, said in a statement that the report’s findings meant there’s a board “much more comprehensive view of individual and institutional failures.”
She added: “Everyone in the Olympic and Paralympic community, including the USOC, must learn from the report and take appropriate actions to strengthen protections for athletes. We recognize that we must do more, and we will do more.”
USOC said it has already taken certain actions — leadership changes, new policies and procedures, among others — “to strengthen athlete safeguards” and would share if any additional measures are taken as a result of the report.
USA Gymnastics files for bankruptcy
Facing 100 lawsuits from hundreds of survivors over Nassar’s abuse, the organization moved last week to file for bankruptcy.
Attorney John Manly, who represents 180 survivors in the case, said USA Gymnastics leadership “has proven itself to be both morally and financially bankrupt,” adding that the organization continues “to inflict unimaginable pain on survivors and their families.”
Kathryn Carson, who was appointed USA Gymnastics board chairman last week, said the move would help expedite many survivors’ claims “and help them move forward.”
USA Gymnastics said in an online Q&A that the claims against the organization are covered by previously purchased insurance and that Wednesday’s filing would not affect the payments to survivors. The filing would allow USA Gymnastics to maintain its daily operation, the statement said.
But The Wall Street Journal reported that filing for bankruptcy would put an “automatic stop” to depositions and discovery in lawsuits filed by survivors in the Nassar case.
Former USA Gymnastics officials have been charged
In October 2018, a Texas grand jury indicted former USA Gymnastics president and CEO Steve Penny on a tampering change in the investigation of incidents that took place at the Karolyi Ranch, a national training facility, outside Huntsville, Texas. Penny now faces a third-degree felony that carries a punishment between two and 10 years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.
In September, Texas police arrested a former gymnastics trainer who worked with Nassar at the Texas ranch. Debra Van Horn faces one count of sexual assault of a child. According to court documents, the second-degree charge resulted from Van Horn “acting as a party with one or more individuals,” ESPN reported.
And top leadership keeps changing
Leadership at USA Gymnastics has been in a state of upheaval since early 2017. The organization has changed its top officials three times in two years, starting with Penny, who resigned in March of that year amid mounting pressure from the USOC.
Rachael Denhollander, one of the survivors who described Nassar as a “hardened and determined sexual predator” in her testimony, pointed to the organizational culture as something that enabled or failed to stop his assaults.
“This is what it looks like when people in authority refuse to listen, put friendships in front of the truth, fail to create or enforce proper policy and fail to hold enablers accountable,” Denhollander said shortly before Nassar’s sentencing earlier this year.
Kerry Perry replaced Penny as USA Gymnastics head in December 2017, and was fired nine months later. USOC expressed disappointment in Perry’s ability to navigate the post-Nassar fallout.
In October, former Rep. Mary Bono was announced as USA Gymnastics’ new interim head, about a month after Perry’s resignation. Five days later, she was removed from the position after a tweet about Nike’s decision to put former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in its new ad campaign.
Michigan State officials face criminal charges
Among the most notable ousters:
Lou Anna Simon: Michigan State University’s president resigned in late January under intense scrutiny over the school’s handling of the Nassar abuse.
In November, authorities charged Simon with lying to Michigan police in its investigation into Nassar’s abuse.
She faces two felony counts and two misdemeanor counts of lying to police, and, if convicted, faces up to four years in prison.
Simon’s attorney said the charges are “completely baseless,” adding that they “will be proven to have no merit” in court, the Journal reported.
William Strampel: Strampel, the former dean of the university’s College of Osteopathic Medicine who was also Nassar’s boss, went on medical leave in December 2017 amid criticism of his handling of the 2014 Title IX investigation into Nassar’s abuse.
In March, police charged Strampel with four criminal charges, including two misdemeanor counts — willful neglect of duty — related to that investigation. He also faces one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of misconduct in office.
At least four women made allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Strampel, saying he made sexually inappropriate comments and groped them. They also said Strampel has also offered “quid pro quo” sexual favors, the Journal reported.
Investigators also found dozens of pornographic images on his work computer.
Through his attorney, Strampel has denied the allegations.
A District Court judge ruled in June that there was enough evidence against Strampel for the case to proceed to court. In July, the case was adjourned, and a trial date has yet to be determined.
The university president wanted to fire Strampel according to the Lansing State Journal, a process that would have taken many months because of Strampel’s tenure status. Instead, he struck a retirement deal with the university, which partly relinquished some of benefits.
Kathie Klages: The former MSU head gymnastics coach was charged in August on two counts — one felony, one misdemeanor — of lying to investigators in the Nassar case. If convicted, she faces up to four years in prison.
Klages denied to state police that she knew about Nassar’s sexual misconduct before 2016. But “witnesses have said that they reported Nassar’s sexual abuse to Klages dating back more than 20 years,” according to Michigan’s attorney general’s office.
Klages, who resigned from the head coaching position in February 2017, has denied the allegations.
MSU closes $10 million fund set up for survivors
Last week, Michigan State University completed its multimillion-dollar payment to survivors.
But in a decision that was met with swift condemnation, MSU announced that it was closing the Healing Assistance Fund, which was created by the university in December to help pay for counseling and mental health services for survivors.
In a statement, MSU said the $10 million fund was initially meant to be a “bridge” that provided survivors with financial assistance until the $500 settlement payment was made. The university has no current plans on reopening the fund.
MSU has not responded to the NewsHour’s request for more information about the fund’s closure.
Robert Andrews, founder and director of the Institute of Sports Performance, told the PBS NewsHour that he’s seen some changes in gymnastics culture, albeit at a slow pace.
“A culture only changes with accountability, and this culture is changing slowly,” said Andrews, a mental training expert who’s worked with Olympic gymnasts like Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez.
Andrews said since Nassar’s abuse became public, there seems to be more transparency at meets and camps, and a more positive attitude regarding interactions between coaches. But some problems persist. Andrews, who works with gymnasts of all ages at all levels, said he still hears stories of coaches tormenting and humiliating athletes.
The changes in leadership at USA Gymnastics is a step in the right direction, Andrews said, but he added that he’d like to “see fresh faces and leadership that aren’t so attached to the old guard and the old ways of doing things.”
Andrews said he wants top officials to bring in people who are “willing to just completely pull the culture apart” and “rebuild it in a way that’s more athlete focused and not so much ego and power focused as the old leadership was.”