Larry Nassar: A Societal Tipping Point


Former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar appears at Ingham County Circuit Court on November 22, 2017 in Lansing, Michigan. Former USA Gymnastics team doctor Lawrence (Larry) Nassar, accused of molesting dozens of female athletes over several decades, on Wednesday pleaded guilty to multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct. Nassar -- who was involved with USA Gymnastics for nearly three decades and worked with the country's gymnasts at four separate Olympic Games -- could face at least 25 years in prison on the charges brought in Michigan. / AFP PHOTO / JEFF KOWALSKY (Photo credit should read JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

Megan Curling, Editor in Chief

When I was in elementary school, my parents and I took a week of summer vacation to go to Cherokee. I am sure that the week was spent swimming, biking, roasting marshmallows, and so much more. However, the sole visual memory I have from that trip is one late night, sneaking out of our cabin to run across the campground into the shower house. I did not need to shower or brush my teeth, I just needed a TV to watch the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I pulled a stool up to the cabinet, fingers gripping the edge, eyes wide, just fighting to peek at the small screen.

    The lights flashed on the screen and I eagerly watched as Nastia Liukin, one of the six girls on the United States Women’s Gymnastics team, glided across the stage to receive the gold medal for all-around artistic gymnastics.

    In my 17 years filled with eight different Olympics both winter and summer, the standout team, the talk of the town, the one that everyone is watching for, has been the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team. Millions across the world have watched as the graceful and athletic young women perform so incredibly well on the international stage.

    In 2012, the ‘Fierce Five’ went to London and came home with the gold team medal. The five girls (Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, and Jordyn Wieber) ranged from 15-17 years old at the time of the competition.

    In 2016, the ‘Final Five’ went to Rio de Janeiro and again, came home with the gold team medal. The five girls (Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, and Aly Raisman) ranged from 15-21 years old at the time of the competition.

    Apart from gold medals, home country, and a teammate or two, there is one thing that all these talented women have in common: they all spent time in contact with Dr. Larry Nassar.

What Happened?

    In 1986, Nassar began working as the athletic trainer for the USA Gymnastics team. In 1993, he completed his medical residency at a family practice office. In 1996, he began working as the team doctor at a high school. From 1997-2016, he worked in sports medicine at Michigan State University. From 1996 to 2014, he was the medical coordinator for the USA Gymnastics team. Every last one of these positions put Nassar in contact with young girls.

    Over the past few years, young gymnasts have been standing up and claiming that Nassar sexually assaulted them as early as 1992, and many police reports having been filed and ignored. Everything changed on August 4, 2016 when The Indianapolis Star announced an ongoing investigation, opening to story to the public for the first time.

    Within one month, Nassar was fired from both the university and U.S. teams and the first civil suit had been filed. Within one year, the first 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct the first charges had been confirmed and Michigan suspended Nasar’s medical license through 2020.

    In 2017, Nassar pleaded guilty to having possession of roughly 37,000 images of child pornography, videos of himself molesting young girls, and tampering with evidence; Nassar is charged with 60 years in federal prison.

    As 2018 began, the trial continued on and many girls bravely told their stories in front of the court. More than 150 suits have been filed. All 18 members of the USA Gymnastics Board have turned in their resignations as have the President and Athletic Director at Michigan State University.

    As of January 31, 2018, a total of 265 girls have come forward with accusations of sexual misconduct. Nassar has been sentenced to 40 to 175 years in federal prison.

What effect does all of this have?

    I took gymnastics for roughly three months when I was in first grade and I was terrible at it. So much so that I have absolutely no connection to the sport. The majority of the 29.6 million people who watched the gymnastics final in 2012 also have no connection to the sport. An important thing to remember here is that while there is seemingly no connection, it is still there.

    Three months ago when the #MeToo movement began on Twitter, Hollywood executives resigned left and right, and some of my favorite actors were accused of sexual assault. As a sixteen year old girl, I rolled my eyes. I thought it was an exaggeration, and that there was no way, and that people were lying. And while yes, there is always the chance that is exactly what is happening, the Larry Nassar trial has changed it all.

    Those in Hollywood are often falsely idolized by moviegoers and children alike, as are athletes, yet in very a different way. There will always be new movies and new actors coming to the big screen everyday but when something so sacred and honored as the Olympics is tampered with, it catches the world’s eye.

    I have no intention of ever being a gold medalist gymnast, but again, the connection is still there.

    Young girls all across America and across the world have watched as the USA Gymnastics team has dominated the global stage for decades. They have become a beacon of optimism and encouragement for young athletes, those who need someone to tell them ‘you can do it too.’

    For almost 30 years, a man who was trusted in the athletic community abused his power and got away with horrific actions, scaring his victims into silence. Parents of these girls were in the next room over, completely unaware of what was happening to their daughters. Coaches and teachers of these girls sat by as these events happened right under their noses.

    Thousands of news reports have been written in the last few months about sexual assault scandals, a congressional bill has been initiated, citizens in over a dozen countries have followed with similar responses and the world’s attention has officially been captured.

    With all of this on the surface, one has to ask, how does this affect young girls? Just this week, during the trial, a father of three of Nassar’s victims pleaded with the judge for just one minute alone with the doctor. Of course this could not be granted and when the man charged at the accused, he was tackled by police officers, as is standard. A father stood up for his daughters and while this is honorable and part of the role of being a father, it should never had to have happened in the first place.

    Personally, I am lucky enough to have never been assaulted in any form. Yet at seventeen, I have many friends who have. There is absolutely no excuse for this behavior from any man or woman ever. There is absolutely no excuse for these offenders to walk free on the streets and there is absolutely no excuse that more is not being done.

    While I am not suggesting a full on witch hunt ensue, America and those watching have seen the Boston archdiocese and Sandusky scandals that both turned in to massive uncoverings that triggered many more. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the actresses showing support, and the media coverage that has so quickly been completely switched to the topic all prove that big changes are capable of happening.

    No one in their right mind is saying that coming forward is an easy task and no one is saying that it is any victim’s fault, simply that time is truly up for assailants and it is truly time, now more than ever, for any and all victims to come forward to tell their story.

    These past and next few months are and will be a difficult time now more than ever for women in modern America. Mothers and fathers will have to have conversations with their daughters of things to look out for and to report.

    Although it will likely get a lot worse before it gets better, as victims come forward and predators are exposed, there is indeed hope for a brighter day.


If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, please do not hesitate to seek help and talk to a trusted teacher or faculty member at RJR. You are not alone.