Silence is Criminal
Larry Nassar will rot and die in prison. He is a monstrous predator. He is the kind of person they profile on shows like Criminal Minds where it almost becomes so twisted and violent that you’re convinced people like this don’t actually exist. They do.
Nassar has been accused of raping and sexually abusing over 150 girls during his tenure as Michigan State University and the USA Olympic team’s doctor. Among these girls are some of our most prominent stars in gymnastics, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, MyKayla Maroney, Jordyn Weiber, Aly Raisman. There are hundreds more. One by one these victims have been telling their horror stories in the courtroom. Their bravery and courage to face this man is unmatched. It surpasses any physical and mental strength any athlete ever has had to endure.
In true predatory fashion Nassar targeted girls as young as 6 years. He would coerce families and parents to believe him over the accounts of their daughters. This is predatory behavior. Entrusting the families of your victims. Cozying up with them for dinner and slick talking your way into their homes. That was the case of Kyle Stephens. She said the abuse started when she was in kindergarten. Abuse is not just a singular incident. It affects entire families, changes the path of people’s lives and leaves them with crippling anxiety or PTSD conditions. That was also the case for Stephen’s family. This caused her family to split over the matter and she believes it’s what caused her father to complete suicide in 2016.
Teenage club gymnasts, collegiate gymnasts and olympians all went to Nassar for various injuries, back, neck, spine, ankle. Gymnastics is a grueling physical sport. It is a sport that takes a dedicated and committed like no other. The end goal of getting on the Olympic circuit is every gymnasts dream. Nassar knew this. Nassar knew that many athletes will do whatever it takes to make it to the top. With unrelenting drive and sacrifice “making it” is the pinnacle of athletics. Nassar was part of Michigan State both as a doctor and a professor since 1997. He used his power and trusted medical reputation to “treat” hundreds of girls whom he abused over and over again. Nassar convinced girls that his treatment was the only thing that would be able to treat their injuries. He would always act behind closed doors. Nassar had a reputation in gymnastics that made athletes feel like they should be lucky to be treated by him. In a sport where devastating injuries abruptly end the careers and hopes of young girls, Nassar played the savior. He manipulated them into thinking he was the only person on this trajectory to gold that had their back as he continued to abuse them.
In order for him to continue to do this for so many years there needed to be silence. No not among the girls because they spoke. They said enough. They told other coaches and trainers and university officials that should have had this man removed and jailed immediately. In Nassar’s 20 years at MSU it was reported that 14 university officials knew what was happening. They fell silent. The complaints went up as high as MSU president Lou Anna Simon, not to mention all the other athletic trainers and administrators who are still collecting checks from MSU. They are all complicit. They are all guilty. Same goes for the United States Gymnastics Organization. Coaches and trainer knew about Nassar, they failed to follow up. They not only failed to follow through with reports made by their athletes but they told them to be quiet. That they would tip off the investigation. The investigation that they didn’t report, the one they sat on for upwards of a year. USA Gymnastics is complicit, they are also guilty.
Monsters can only exist in a system that allows them do so. This is the case with Larry Nassar. This system existed at Penn State, at Baylor, in the Boston Archdiocese in the Catholic Church, in American Politics. The system gives the monster its power and it strips the victims of any mobility. When we are brought on campus as athletes we are quickly introduced to those who hold the power. We are taught and conditioned to obey them, to trust them. They know best, they are professionals with laundry lists of credentials and experiences that will outweigh anything some college kid says or thinks. Well what if the people we are suppose to trust the most end up hurting us. Many of us can’t imagine being in situations like the 150 plus girls that Nassar “treated” but if we were what would we do? Would our other coaches and trainers act on our behalf? Would we even say anything out of fear of repercussion. What if we were being told we needed this person to get us healthy, to get us to the next level, to get us olympic goal, what would we do?
If this were not young women and instead young men I do wonder what would happen. I do wonder what would happen if this was big time college football and basketball players and not non-revenue earning gymnasts. I still don’t think the public outrage quite matches the atrocities committed by this man and the silence by his counterparts. Compared to Penn State and Baylor, Michigan State is getting off with a slap on the wrist. While the monsters exist in this system of silent protection they also attend church with us, coach little league and attend PTO meetings. They work at our schools and buy kale from Whole Foods if its on sale. They get their car washed and walk their dog at the park. And when the system works on protecting their business partnerships, institutional prestige and stuffy reputations, the monsters just get closer and closer to becoming the new neighbors.
Silence is a criminal. And the scarier speaking out against something wrong becomes the more Larry Nassars we let prey on others.
Chalk Talk is a weekly What's Next column by Anthony Cinelli, one of our founders. It will be published every Monday morning. Anthony is currently a mental health counselor and baseball coach in New Jersey.