Yup. Sometimes I write about serious things with a lot of words. But these matter, because they speak to the courage of young women who have been wronged, hurt. They are the strongest women I know -- not personally, but I would be honored to be their friend. Their collective stories have shaken a university that turned their heads away from them to the core. I am already in their court.
|Source: The Detroit Free Press|
A lot of my international blog readers probably don't have a clue where Lansing, Michigan is. But I've been surprised that more than one of you, living in other countries, have emailed me about a trial happening here in my home town. I guess news has crossed the pond. I've read articles (or translations) in online newspaper reports from the UK, Canada, France, Germany and even Al Jazeera.
Lansing is in the heart of mid-Michigan and is the home of Michigan State University, the university where I worked for many years (and from which I received both my degrees) and for my money, one of the most beautiful campuses anywhere.
Larry Nassar, a doctor employed by the U, has been on trial for molesting young women, many from the time they were little girls, under the guise of medical treatment. These young women were aspiring gymnasts, some children at a local gymnastics center. Others were Michigan State University students and still more, Olympic athletes and national champions. Nassar, also served as team doctor for the United States Olympic team and USA Gymnastics.
This story has been circulating in our community and in national press for at least a decade and even before that. Girls were told they didn't understand the medical treatments they were being given when they reported abuse. Colleagues and coaches supported him.
His method was simple. Be the friendly guy, the one who gave them treats, brought them gifts. The kind of guy you didn't really want to go against because he was , well, so nice. His reputation as the Olympics' team physician added a certain allure to the impressionable and aspiring gymnasts. If the treatments for their injuries seemed odd, well, so be it. Fame and reputation can make even parents and colleagues turn a blind eye. And besides, a young girl -- or two or ten or more -- against a reputable doctor?
But it was more than one girl. More than 200 girls, some now young women, filed suits, including leading stars in the gymnastics world, like Simone Biles, Mckayla Maroney (who broke her non-disclosure agreement), Ali Raisman, and Jordyn Wieber.
Recently, Nassar pleaded guilty to some of the abuse charges and was also sentenced 60 years for federal child pornography charges.
This past week, our little city became a focal point and was seen around the world as Nassar, found guilty for molesting and abusing these young women, has been listening to the victim impact statements for additional sentencing for the abuse charges.
More than 150 young women and in some cases, their parents, have given profoundly moving statements in court, including Olympians Raisman and Weiber and victim number one, Rachel Denhollander.
At one point, several days into the impact statements, Nassar asked if he could be excused from court because listening to these statements was bad for his mental health. (He also blamed the media for bad press -- a pretty common argument these days -- and told the judge she just wanted to be on TV a lot, so that was why she was making him listen to all the victim statements.)
Let's just say the judge, Rosemarie Aquilina -- who will get my vote for anything she runs for -- was not amused.
In the end, Aquilina sentenced Nassar to 40-175 years in prison, to be served after his federal sentence. He will begin trial soon for three more related offenses in another Michigan county. There is subsequent fallout in the U.S. gymnastics world.
The prosecutor also praised the efforts of investigative journalism (Indianapolis Star) who happened onto a story about a complaint to USGA that had been ignored. Without this fine reporting and Denhollander going on record, this may well have continued. Subsequent reporting by other media outlets, including in-depth coverage on ESPN's Outside the Lines, has been stellar.
These women have the courage of champions. They told of their experiences in graphic detail. The impact of these events resulted in more than one suicide, self immolation and shattering memories that cannot be erased. They have been praised and supported by media, demonstrations on their behalf and most especially through Aquilina, the sentencing judge, who made her courtroom a safe place for these young women to tell their stories.
Through all this, the university remained relatively silent, turning a blind eye. They did not initially cooperate with an investigation into their role. An investigation by the Detroit News revealed that at least 14 representatives and leaders from Michigan State knew of such reports over the years, including President Lou Anna Simon
While some heads have rolled in individual departments, the higher levels have avoided this one like the plague. One of the board of trustees stated "we have more to worry about than this Nassar thing" and the board fell in line to support the university president, one of the more money-grubbing human beings I've been associated with during my time at MSU. (Now the NCAA -- National Collegiate Athletic Association -- has finally launched an investigation into the University's complicity.)
The state House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for her resignation or dismissal, as did numerous editorials and news commentary. The university faculty had a vote of no confidence. And social media was screaming with posts pushing the president and board to resign and let Michigan State begin to heal and rebuild and attempt to become the school it once was, where students matter more than money and outward appearances.
Late yesterday, Lou Anna Simon, MSU's president, did resign. Her resignation letter left much to be desired, making it more like she was taking it for the team, stating that of course people would blame the president and that it was a shame all this was politicized. It's all about the money. But what about the people, what about those girls? What about the girls to come? She danced around apology -- the "I'm sorry he was a bad guy" argument -- but never once took responsibility that more effective action was never taken. No personal "I'm sorry." But that's typical. This woman can spin with the best of them.
These gymnasts are not the first women to have been abused by a trusted medical professional as a child or adolescent. This I know to be true. And those encounters leave a mark that takes decades to heal, if it ever really does, and the love and support of those who matter most to a child or young woman.
These strong, young, rightfully angry women have a courage some of us may never know. The youngest among them has the strength of a champion, the champions standing in that courtroom. I applaud each and every one and thank them for speaking out. They are my heroes.
Spring will come soon to MSU and to these strong women. May it bring a new start and sorely needed healing. (And if you've read with me this long, thanks more than you know.)