The Chilling Details From The Larry Nassar Sex Abuse Scandal

Over the past decade, there might have not been a more celebrated team in sports within the United States than the country's female gymnastic team. Its members such as Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, and McKayla Maroney have become some of the biggest names in the country before they were even old enough to vote. The members of the USA Gymnastic team have found themselves on Madison Avenue, appearing in films, shows, and commercials, while at the same time, bringing home gold medals over the past few Olympic Games.

However, much like the successful tenure of Penn State under Joe Paterno, the cloud of sexual abuse of minors befell the team, leaving a bitter feeling over the recent success of the girls. Unlike the Paterno/Jerry Sandusky scandal, in which the abuse victims were children who were not connected with the team, in the case of the gymnasts, the victims were the team themselves. 

As detailed by Vox, Biles, Douglas, Raisman, McKayla and around 300 women have accused former Olympic trainer and doctor, Larry Nassar of sexual abuse and misconduct. As stated by Alanna Vaglanos, Nassar has more victims than comedian Bill Cosby, film producer Harvey Weinstein and Penn State's predator coach, Jerry Sandusky, combined (via Huffington Post).

The scandal left a permanent scar on both the United States National Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, and any other place that employed Nassar. For more than three decades, Nassar was able to prey on girls and young women until the dam burst after years of rumors and secrets.

Larry Nassar Worked both for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University

Arguably the most famous moment in USA gymnastic history was Kerri Strug completing her routine at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics on a severe ankle injury. As she was carried off by coach Bela Karolyi, Larry Nassar could be seen on the sidelines (via Vox). Nasser had been an important part of the USA Gymnastics since 1986, working as an athletic trainer. A decade later, he became the chief medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics, where he stayed until his retirement in 2015, a year before the allegations went public.

Nassar, an alumnus of Michigan State University, also taught and practiced medicine at the school since 1997. During his time as a student, Nassar worked on the football team and track and field program as he obtained a degree in kinesiology (via The Indianapolis Star). On the outside looking in, Nassar was the model for an athletic trainer. His victims have detailed their relationships with Nassar on multiple platforms, saying the doctor "won over their trust" and made them "feel special" in receiving treatment from a doctor of his caliber. Nassar was married to another Spartan alum, Stephanie Nassar, and the couple had three children together (per Women's Health Magazine). The pair wed in 1996.

Nassar's sexual abuse began in 1994, according to a 2016 lawsuit filed by one of his patients and former Olympic athlete, Jamie Dantzscher. She accused Nassar of sexually abusing her for six years.

The Indianapolis Star Breaks Open the Story

Larry Nassar's sexual abuse continued virtually unabetted until August 2016 when the Indianapolis Star published a detailed history of allegations against the famed doctor (via The Indianapolis Star). Nassar was removed from his duties at Michigan State University by the end of the month. In 2014, Nassar retired from his position as USA Gymnastics Medical Coordinator, though he stayed with the organization as a doctor for the women's artistic gymnastics. That same year, MSU conducted a three-month investigation after a graduate from the university accused Nassar of sexually assaulting her during a medical examination.

The rest of the year would see a flood of lawsuits, accusations, and the eventual arrest of Nassar. By the end of August 2016, one of his former patients, Rachael Denhollander, filed a criminal complaint against Nassar, accusing him of sexually assaulting her when she was 15 years old during treatment for her back. Michigan State University removed Nassar from his clinical and patient duties the next day and by September, Nassar was fired altogether from the school. That same month, Jamie Dantzscher filed a civil lawsuit in California for sexual abuse suffered at the hands of Nassar from 1994 to 2000.

On November 22, 2016, Nassar was charged with three counts of first-degree sexual conduct with a person under 13. The next month, charges were both upon him by the federal government on child pornography, with the federal government claiming Nassar obtained or attempted to obtain child pornography.

Nassar's Trial, Guilty Pleas and Sentence

By the time of Larry Nassar's first set of charges in November 2016, officials of Ingham County said that they had received about 50 complaints alleging sexual abuse at the hands of Nassar (per The Indianapolis Star). This alone would have been enough to put Nassar in jail for the remainder of his life, though more disturbing details and evidence would soon follow. The next month, after being charged by the federal government for child pornography, an FBI agent testified that they found around 37,000 images of child porn on Nassar's hard drive, collected by Nassar between 2003 and 2016.

By June 2017, 119 women and girls had filed lawsuits against Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics. Recognizing the overwhelming evidence against him, Nassar pleaded guilty to the three child pornography charges in his federal case that July. In November he pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct under Ingham County's jurisdiction, which carried a minimum sentence of 25 to 40 years. A week later, he pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Eaton County Circuit court in Michigan.

Between December 2017 to January 2018, Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the child pornography charges, 40 to 175 years in the Ingham County case and 40 to 125 years in the Eaton County case. One-hundred and fifty-six women and girls made statements against their former doctor and trainer during his sentencing.

The Nassar Trial Exposed the Systemic Failures of Different Institutions

During and after the trials of Larry Nassar, a familiar question was repeated: How could he get away with this for decades? The answer disturbed the public as investigations found systemic failures in the institutions where Nassar worked that allowed a predator to roam free with impunity. Despite receiving an allegation of Nassar's abuse around June 2015, USA Gymnastics waited around five weeks to contact law enforcement (via The Indianapolis Star). The Wall Street Journal reports that the FBI did not begin to seriously investigate the allegations until April 2016, 10 months after the initial allegations.

As court records and evidence continued to compile, what was found was that Nassar's behavior had been known for decades (via The Indianapolis Star). A parent spoke to John Geddert, another coach in USA Gymnastics about Nassar's behavior in 1997, but Geddert did not report Nassar to law enforcement. A Michigan State athlete raised their concerns about Nassar the following year, which was also ignored. Two years later, a second Spartan athlete raised red flags about Nassar to the university, which was again ignored. In 2004, an alleged victim of Nassar told her parents about the abuse she had suffered, but the family did not go to the police. The final cover-up came in 2014 when MSU cleared Nassar of any wrongdoing following an investigation following an MSU graduate allegation she was sexually assaulted by Nassar. Two years later, Nassar's abuse finally became known.

The Aftermath

The results of Larry Nassar's reign of terror saw more than 330 girls and women accuse him of sexual abuse at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University (via BBC). The publicity of the trial and court documents, coupled with the heightened awareness of sexual abuse from the #MeToo Movement granted Nassar's victims the platform to speak of their pain and push for a better environment for all people. USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy in 2018, during the height of the accusations. Eventually, the organization was forced to pay out $380 million to hundreds of women after settling in December 2021. Aside from Nassar's sexual abuse, USA Gymnastics has been accused by former athletes of decades of physical and psychological abuse. Former gymnast Nadia Comaneci claimed in a book that she and other gymnasts were starved, assaulted, and forced to steal food by the program run by famed gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi (via the New York Post). Karolyi and his wife, Martha, also were accused of turning a blind eye to Nassar's abuse on their training ranch in Texas.

Michigan State agreed to pay $500 million to the victims of Nassar in their lawsuit with the university. Multiple administrators and coaches were forced to resign from the school over their failures over the years to prevent Nassar's abuse (via Vox). Many women who suffered under Nassar have since become advocates for the #MeToo Movement and have been honored by Glamour and the ESPYs, as well as testified to Congress.