Wiedmer: Larry Nassar case a lesson on the need to listen to our kids

Wiedmer: Larry Nassar case a lesson on the need to listen to our kids

January 23rd, 2018 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

A victim makes her "impact statement" to Larry Nassar during a sentencing hearing as he puts his head down in front of Judge Rosemarie Aquilina in district court on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, in Lansing, Mich. Nassar has pleaded guilty to molesting females with his hands at his Michigan State University office, his home and a Lansing-area gymnastics club, often while their parents were in the room. (Dale G. Young/Detroit News via AP)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

The program director at the Chattanooga Rape Crisis Center on East 8th Street, Rebecca Jones has paid painfully close attention to the tragedy and travesty surrounding the horrific sexual assault case involving former Team USA physician Larry Nassar.

"It's a mix," she said Monday regarding Nassar, whose accusers, many of them prominent Olympic gymnasts, now number more than 150, some of them first abused by the former Michigan State and Olympics team doctor when they were as young as 6 years old.

"On the one hand, these girls were trying to tell people about this for years and no one would listen. On the other, he's now going to spend the rest of his life in prison. The culture is changing. It's changing to our advantage."

It's changed enough that the 54-year-old Nassar already has been sentenced to 60 years in prison on child pornography charges and could wind up with a 125-year sentence, which is expected to be delivered before the end of the week.

But just as adults who should have known better looked the other way for far too long in the Jerry Sandusky case before the former Penn State defensive coordinator and moral monster finally went to prison on 48 counts of child molestation, there is growing evidence that officials at both Michigan State and USA Gymnastics failed to investigate numerous charges of sexual abuse regarding Nassar.

In this Aug. 17, 2013 file photo McKayla Maroney smiles after competing on the floor exercise during the U.S. women's national gymnastics championships in Hartford, Conn. Maroney says the group that trains U.S. Olympic gymnasts forced her to sign a confidential settlement to keep allegations of sexual abuse by the team's doctor secret. Maroney filed a lawsuit Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, in Los Angeles, against the United States Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics. The suit also seeks damages from Michigan State University, where the team's doctor, Larry Nassar, worked for decades. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola,File)

In this Aug. 17, 2013 file photo McKayla...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Former Olympians Aly Raisman, left, and Jordyn Wieber sit in Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina's courtroom during the fourth day of sentencing for former sports doctor Larry Nassar, who pled guilty to multiple counts of sexual assault, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, in Lansing, Mich. (Matthew Dae Smith /Lansing State Journal via AP)

Former Olympians Aly Raisman, left, and Jordyn Wieber...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

"I was not protected, and neither were my teammates," Olympic gold medal gymnast Jordyn Wieber said last week inside a Lansing, Mich., courtroom. "My parents trusted USA Gymnastics and Larry Nassar to take care of me, and we were betrayed by both. The lack of accountability from USAG, USOC and Michigan State have caused me and many other girls to remain shameful, confused and disappointed."

It is more than disappointing and shameful and confusing. It's inexcusable and nauseating and repulsive, the despicable things he did to rob these girls and young women of their innocence and trust and self-esteem. And it needs to be a lesson immediately learned by every parent regarding those who teach, coach or have even modest influence over their children.

How much pain and suffering was Nassar allowed to cause?

For starters, he probably should be charged with murder for the suicides of gymnast Kyle Stephen's father and former gymnast Chelsea Markham, who took her own life at 23, apparently never able to reconcile the emotional trauma she endured due to Nassar's abuse when she was 12 years old.

Said a tearful Stephen, first abused when she was 6, as she addressed Nassar in court last week: "You convinced my parents that I was a liar. You used my body for six years for your own sexual gratification. That is unforgivable."

She later added,"Little girls don't stay little girls forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world."

Much like with Sandusky, Nassar's world should have been destroyed years earlier. And both Michigan State — where he often treated female athletes — and USA Gymnastics should pay a heavy price for their enabling of this true Dr. Evil for more than two decades.

"Adult after adult ... protected you," Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman told Nassar last week in court. "How do you sleep at night? ... You are the person they had 'take the lead on athlete care.' ... I cringe to think that your influence remains in the policies that are supposed to keep athletes safe."

Raisman also blasted USA Gymnastics in a series of tweets earlier this month, posting: "You are 100% responsible. It was mandatory to get 'treatment' by Nassar. The system has to change so that athletes are safe. Enablers need to be held accountable."

Former family friend to the Nassar family, and babysitter to Nassar's children Kyle Stephens, far left, addresses Larry Nassar, far right, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, during the first day of the victim impact statements addressing the former sports medicine doctor in Circuit Court Rosemarie Aquilina's courtroom in Lansing, Mich. Nassar made little, if any eye contact. Seated next to Nassar is his attorney Shannon Smith. (Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via AP)

Former family friend to the Nassar family, and...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

The Rape Crisis Center's Jones said Nassar's ability to escape prosecution for so long was due to a "power dynamic," meaning that too many people, both victims and parents of those victims, feared what might happen if they went after the doctor.

Said Wieber last week: "He was the national team doctor. Who was I to question his treatments or, even more, risk my chance at making the Olympic team or being chosen to compete internationally?"

And make no mistake that Nassar was viewed as having great power. After all, as far back as the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, it was Nassar who helped Team USA gymnast Kerri Strug to the bench in Atlanta after she was injured on the vault, arguably the most memorable moment of the Atlanta Games.

Yet these brave young women's questions are finally delivering some painful answers to at least a few of those who enabled Nassar.

USA Gymnastics recently severed all ties with coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi and their Karolyi Ranch in Texas, where the USA team long trained. On Monday it officially announced the suspension of coach John Geddert, who was one of Nassar's strongest supporters. Three USAG board members have also resigned and longtime Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon may soon lose her job for failing to act on complaints regarding Nassar.

In one of those "you-can't-make-this-up" moments, 15-year-old Nassar accuser Emma Ann Miller revealed Monday that the sports clinic where he allegedly abused her is still attempting to bill her family for that appointment.

She also told Nassar in front of the entire courtroom: "Do the right thing for us. Tell us who knew what and when. Make your last public act actually help someone."

Jones said she has never sensed an attempt to protect the guilty in Chattanooga.

"If you have the courage to speak up, know that there are people here who will believe you," she said. "Especially in this community."

If only those violated by Nassar could have felt that same support. If only girls and women the world over can begin to feel that support from this point forward.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com