Last week former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University physician Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing more than 150 women over several decades. Nassar, a world-renowned doctor, preyed upon the athletes he was supposedly treating.
Girls as young as 6 years old were being victimized. Some didn’t even realize they were being abused. However, there were also many who spoke out against Nassar. Allegations were brought against him as early as 1998 at Michigan State. More than 20 years later, Nassar has finally been convicted, after 156 of his victims gave testimonials.
This case is absolute proof of a culture which values the reputations and careers of men above the well-being of women. Women have not only been abused by Nassar, but have endured the emotional turmoil of speaking out against him and publicizing their experiences for decades.
And yet, somehow, this man has been allowed to return to work, time and again, to sexually exploit more women and young girls. Yes, Nassar is a predator. He’s a master manipulator. He was cunning and calculated. But the notion that he committed these crimes exclusively, or that he acted alone, is specious.
Nassar had a village of enablers behind him, which is the only reason the abuse was allowed to go on for so long. We have cultivated a culture which blames, silences and disregards victims. Let Nassar be verification of that, but also the culmination of enabling culture. Let those who permit this behavior be held accountable as well.
Last week, Michigan State President Lou Anna K. Simon resigned, following backlash over her handling of allegations brought against Nassar during her tenure. Simon has said she believes the issue is being “politicized” which has shifted the blame on to her.
However, it is important to realize Michigan State was a large part of the systematic suppression of victims, which allowed Nassar’s abuses to go on. 14 different Michigan State representatives were notified of Nassar’s sexual misconduct, and yet, he remained an active member of the faculty, even after being investigated. Simon most definitely deserves some blame for the complete and utter botching of these sexual misconduct investigations and for the general disregard for victim allegations. However, there is more blame to go around.
The NCAA President, Mark Emmert, was notified of 37 reports involving sexual assaults within the Michigan State athletics program, according to The Athletic. Kathy Redmond, the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, sent a letter to Emmert, urging him to take a serious stance against sexual misconduct. In that letter, Redmond discusses Michigan State specifically, and expressed concerns about Simon’s handling of the issue.
Had Redmond been taken seriously, the NCAA could have the potential to address the issue at Michigan, which goes far beyond Nassar and his abuse. The NCAA Board of Governors has officially opened an investigation into the handling of the Nassar scandal at Michigan State. Which is great, considering Nassar has already been tried and convicted, and the president of the university has stepped down. Can you say too little, too late?
University President Eric Kaler is also a chair on the NCAA Board of Governors, and the parallels between the issue at Michigan State and Minnesota are hard to deny. This University has also had numerous sexual misconduct issues throughout our athletics department, including our gymnastics team. The office for civil rights stated that the University “failed to take effective steps to end the harassment and remedy its effects,” after the gymnastics scandal in 2014, as reported by the Star Tribune.
Kaler needs to do more than past presidents and the NCAA Board. There are distinct patterns of denial and inaction on the part of universities that should no longer be tolerated. The reputation of neither universities, nor their faculty should trump the safety of students. Sexual misconduct needs to be addressed swiftly and completely, or Kaler can face Simon’s fate.