Nassar case a sad example of institutional failure

By Lanthorn Editorial Board | 1/18/18 1:48am


On Tuesday, Jan. 16, former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics (USAG) doctor Larry Nassar's victim survivors began to give their impact statements in front of a Lansing judge for Nassar's sentencing on sexual abuse charges, which include the molestation of underage girls while he was serving as a doctor. The statements will be read throughout the week before the judge decides Nassar's fate. Nassar is already slated to serve a minimum of 60 years in prison on other charges.

Based on the early impact statements, several things are clear. First and foremost, Nassar is a monster who preyed on young, vulnerable girls who only wished to succeed as gymnasts. Some of them did in spite of Nassar, including USA Olympians Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla Maroney, who have all come forth to reveal that they, too, were abused by Nassar. Luckily, Nassar will die in prison and will be prevented from scarring any other hopeful gymnasts from here on out.

Secondly, MSU and USAG are also culpable in this case. Through a 14-month investigation conducted by ESPN, it was found that officials from both institutions had knowledge of the issue. It was in 1998 that the first complaint about Nassar was made to athletic trainers at MSU, yet he worked at the university until September 2016. In the report, it is recorded that numerous high-ranking officials at the university had knowledge of complaints against Nassar. He even continued to work at MSU during a 16-month investigation conducted by MSU. 

While MSU's failures as an institution have yet to be criminally proceeded, it is very likely that several high-ranking officials within the university will resign. Lou Anna Simon, MSU president, didn't even show up to the first day of sentencing, only showing up on day two after public pressure. 

But MSU was not the only enabler of Nassar. USAG, several of its coaches and other figures also tried to suppress the stories about Nassar. After several notable gymnasts shared their stories, the main concern from USAG and its CEO Steve Penny was to keep the story from getting out. This was in 2015, the year before the Rio Olympics in which Raisman and Biles earned gold for USAG.

There are several damning factors in the Nassar story. No matter the judges' verdict, the readers of the whopping 98 impact statements will never be able to erase what Nassar did to them. 

But it's also clear to see that institutional silencing of voices played a factor in allowing Nassar to continue to prey on young girls. Having swept things under the rug, MSU and USAG failed to ensure the safety of its athletes. Title IX laws exist to make sure cases of sexual assault are reported, but clearly something has failed here. 

Both MSU and USAG failed in their handling of Nassar by not putting a stop to his actions upon first hearing of them. Nassar's case—and his victims—should serve as a reminder of the responsibility that institutions have. Hopefully the coverage of this case will ensure that universities and other institutions are held responsible for protecting their most vulnerable members.

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