What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

How was Larry Nassar allowed to abuse athletes for so long?

A Michigan courtroom erupted in clapping as former sports doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to as many as 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting scores of women and girls, including three Olympic gold medal gymnasts, under the guise of medical treatment. Judy Woodruff talks with Robert Andrews of the Institute of Sports Performance about how the abuse continued for so long.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    First- the day of reckoning for Larry Nassar. The one-time doctor was sentenced today in Lansing, Michigan in a case that sent shockwaves through American gymnastics and abroad.

  • Judge Rosemarie Aquilina:

    It is my honor and privilege to sentence you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    After a weeklong hearing, Michigan Judge Rosemarie Aquilina pronounced Larry Nassar's fate, up to 175 years for sexually assaulting scores of women and girls, including Olympic gold gymnasts, under the guise of medical treatment.

  • Judge Rosemarie Aquilina:

    You do not deserve to walk outside of a prison ever again. I have just signed your death warrant.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    With the sentence, the courtroom erupted in clapping, as some of Nassar's victims and the prosecution team embraced.

    The former sports doctor had pleaded guilty to victimizing young athletes over more than two decades, with USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.

  • Judge Rosemarie Aquilina:

    Your decision to assault was precise, calculated, manipulative, devious, despicable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, Nassar attempted to apologize to his victims.

  • Larry Nassar:

    There are no words that can describe the depth and breadth of how sorry I am for what has occurred.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But the judge was having none of it. She read parts of a letter that Nassar had submitted to the court, in which he charged his accusers were not telling the truth.

  • Judge Rosemarie Aquilina:

    Would you like to withdraw your plea?

  • Larry Nassar:

    No, Your Honor.

  • Judge Rosemarie Aquilina:

    Because you are guilty, aren't you? Are you guilty, sir?

  • Larry Nassar:

    I have said my plea exactly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    More than 150 victims had shared wrenching testimony over the past seven days, concluding today with Rachael Denhollander. She was the first to publicly accuse Nassar in 2016.

    She says she was 15 when he first abused her.

  • Rachael Denhollander:

    And 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.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just last week, three USA Gymnastics board members resigned, and now the NCAA has launched an investigation of Michigan State. That is after The Detroit News reported that 14 university officials learned of Nassar's crimes over the past 20 years, but did nothing.

    Judge Aquilina called today for a federal investigation into how Nassar wasn't exposed earlier.

    The Michigan assistant attorney general, Angela Povilaitis, said Nassar would still be in his position, had it not been for those who bravely came forward.

  • Angela Povilaitis:

    The breadth and ripple of this defendant's abuse and destruction is nearly infinite. But we have also seen how one voice can start a movement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Povilaitis said she hopes the Nassar case will encourage girls and women everywhere to speak out.

  • Angela Povilaitis:

    The fact that the women led the investigation, the prosecution team, and that three female judges now sentenced defendant Nassar is poetic justice.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nassar has already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for possession of child pornography.

    There were also new developments late today related to the leadership and culture of gymnastics that allowed these assaults to continue for years. The CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee apologized for failing to protect the girls and women involved. He also called for the resignation of the entire board of directors of USA Gymnastics.

    And Michigan lawmakers called for the resignation of the Michigan State University president.

    After seven days of painful testimony, there are still so many questions about why the abuse went on for so long.

    We explore just some of those now with Robert Andrews. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Sports Performance. He is a coach who worked on mental training with Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez, among others.

    Robert Andrews, thank you for being here.

    First of all, tell us, what is the Institute for Sports Performance? What sort of work do you do with athletes?

  • Robert Andrews:

    Help them handle pressure of big performances like national world championships, Olympic Games, help them manage distractions, create a real strong, mentally tough mind-set.

    And I do a lot of work with injured athletes, helping them overcome the psychological impact of serious sports-related injuries.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Have you been surprised at the revelations about Larry Nassar?

  • Robert Andrews:

    You know, yes and no.

    It doesn't surprise me, given the culture. I'm shocked at the depth of it and how many victims have been affected by this and their families. So it's a mixed bag for me.

    It's not surprising, though. When I heard the news initially, a lot of things started clicking and falling in place for me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tell us just quickly a little bit about the world that young gymnasts live in, what they have to go through to get to the highest levels of competition.

  • Robert Andrews:

    Well, a lot of that depends on the culture in the gym where they're training and their parents, of course. I call it the three-legged stool, the parent, coach and the athlete.

    And a weakness in any one of those legs can prevent the athlete from reaching their full potential. In an ideal world, there would be great coach-athlete relationships and great parent-coach-athlete relationships.

    However, in the current USA Gymnastics culture, there is quite a few gyms out there with horribly abusive coaches running the shows. And I think that this has started with the leadership on the national level. And coaches go to national team training camps and watch how athletes are treated on the women's side, I want to clarify, and then they go back to their gyms and they carry that virus with them.

    On the men's side — I worked with the men's program for over five years, and I didn't see any psychological abuse or screaming or yelling. There were other issues on the men's side that I feel like need to be addressed, but on the women's side in particular, a tremendous amount of horrendous psychological abuse, and manipulation, and shaming, and degrading, and humiliation, and how you dare not question authority, and that's what set this whole thing up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why — but how can that be? How could it be that these — that he had access to these young girls for so long without any eyes, any supervision of what he was doing?

  • Robert Andrews:

    That's the question we all have to get the answer to.

    He created the perfect feeding ground for himself, and that might sound cold or harsh. But when you have girls that are terrified of leadership, and a guy like Larry Nassar comes in and sneaks them food and is kind to them and treats them with some kind of dignity and befriends them and listens to their problems and complaints, and he's this renowned doctor, well, then he created trust with them.

    And he groomed them over many, many years. And I also think there were many people in leadership positions with USAG that were totally asleep at the wheel, if not in total denial about what was going on.

    And I believe there were people that knew what was going on and refused to do anything about it, just like MSU.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean knew that there was sexual abuse that was going on, in addition to the mental abuse you are describing?

  • Robert Andrews:

    Well, the mental, everybody knew about. It was well known. And that was a lot of my work was teaching these girls how to deal with that or teach the coaches how to buffer the athlete from that kind of psychological and mental-emotional abuse.

    But if we have girls getting hush money, then people knew, right? To me, that's obvious. And I would like to know names. You know, who was it that set up these hush money accounts with these girls to not speak up and not say anything? Or, when things were reported years ago, why has it taken this long, and why has it taken these brave women's voices and empowerment to create the change, when this has been going on for so long?

    Dominique Moceanu has been talking about horrendous psychological abuse way back when. I'm just wondering why it's taken so long.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's, I think, what people are trying to understand, because it's clear that, with that sort of system, what he was doing, it was much easier, it seems, for him to get away with it because everybody was used to some kind of abuse.

  • Robert Andrews:

    Absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But how — I keep coming back to, who's in charge? Was anybody being held accountable?

  • Robert Andrews:

    Evidently not.

    And, you know, it's an old cliche, but leadership always starts at the top. You look at the president and begin to work your way down through national team coordinator, women's program director and other people in positions of power, who clearly saw the way girls were being treated.

    You look at Mattie Larson's testimony yesterday. Two falls at worlds annihilated her. She was shunned and ignored and degraded and humiliated. And she was a beautiful, dynamic, powerful gymnast that the system just — it just crushed, when she made two mistakes at world championships that cost USA a gold medal.

    And she's one of many that have been victims of that type of abuse in the system. And that can set them up for, you know, I don't have a voice, I don't have any sense of personal power, I can't ask for help, because I know I'm not going to get it.

    And so Larry just swept in and picked whoever he wanted, is what I believe happened.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you believe that this sort of — that sexual abuse could be taking place right now on the part of other team doctors, other individuals who were involved?

  • Robert Andrews:

    No, I don't see that. God, I hope not, but I don't see that.

    You know, Larry was — I had one incident in the 2012 national championships, where a girl on the women's national team texted me to meet. We were going to meet to just help her get ready for the competition.

    Well, where are you? She was in the treatment room. Well, that was Larry's domain. I said, I will be right there.

    So, when I walked in, it was almost like — have you ever seen a female — a mother dog with puppies and how, when another dog comes around, they go on full alert?

    I felt that. I'm a real intuitive guy. And I remember I felt that reaction from him, like, what are you doing in here?

    And when I found out he has been accused and arrested, everything made sense. It's like, he didn't want me in that domain. If those girls confided many in me over time, they might let me know about him.

    So, he never referred me anybody, knowing good and well how I could have helped them. So, all the pieces started falling into place. So, he had it under wraps. He had his system in place.

    And I just don't believe there would be anybody else abusing girls in that system, at least not sexually.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we certainly hope not. And we certainly hope that things are going to change, because the system you describe is just horrible. I don't know of any other word for it.

  • Robert Andrews:

    Well, I can guarantee you there's going to be change, because there's so many of us that are demanding it.

    And these brave 160 women and girls, they have busted the door down and created the room for all of us to push through and demand change.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Robert Andrews, we thank you.

  • Robert Andrews:

    My pleasure.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest