Former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar is serving long sentences for decades of sexual abuse of young gymnasts. But how did the sports doctor get away with his crimes for so long?
Nearly four years ago, the Indianapolis Star published its first report, “Out of Balance,” on a sexual abuse scandal at USA Gymnastics. On Wednesday, Netflix is releasing a documentary, “Athlete A,” in which athletes and IndyStar journalists elaborate on the investigation.
Here’s what has happened since August 2016:
Larry Nassar sentenced
Larry Nassar, 56, a former U.S. gymnastics physician, is serving what is essentially a life sentence in prison.
He was accused of assaulting at least 250 women and girls dating back to 1992. He was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison in July 2017, to 175 years in a Michigan state prison in January 2018, and to 40 to 125 years in state prison in February 2018. The state prison sentences are to run consecutively with his federal sentence.
“I just signed your death warrant,” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said at the January 2018 sentencing.
Rachael Denhollander was the first to allow her name to be used in IndyStar interviews about the case. She was cited by Michigan Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis during sentencing.
“Without that first Indianapolis Star story in August 2016; without the story where Rachael came forward publicly shortly thereafter — he would still be practicing medicine, treating athletes and abusing kids. … Let that sink in for a minute,” Povilaitis said.
USA Gymnastics files for bankruptcy
In December 2018, USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy protection, a move it said would help resolve lawsuits stemming from the Nassar case. The action was intended to preserve itself as a national governing body after the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) threatened to remove that status.
So many lawsuits
The legal fallout is complex and ongoing. However, resolution of a major case might be forthcoming.
As a result of a remotely held conference before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana last week, Judge Robin Moberly issued an order that could produce a settlement with the Nassar survivors committee.
The Indianapolis court is allowing three depositions to be taken of USOPC staff, and USA Gymnastics will file a new reorganization plan. The survivors committee, USOPC, USA Gymnastics and insurance carriers were ordered to participate in remote mediation sometime between July 27 and Aug. 14. Ten days before the mediation date, the survivors committee, USOPC and insurance carriers are to submit a settlement offer, not to be disclosed.
Attorneys had filed a motion opposing a protective order sought by the USOPC to block testimony in the Nassar case. The motion stated the USOPC “seeks to quietly hide in the periphery of this bankruptcy” in hopes claimants would tire of the process and accept a settlement without the USOPC “disclosing any facts whatsoever related to its liabilities.”
In January, USA Gymnastics filed a reorganization plan in response to a motion filed on behalf of survivors to dismiss bankruptcy protection. The plan offered two options: survivors as a group may vote to accept $217 million to settle all claims, or vote to continue to pursue lawsuits and collect judgments from insurance policies.
John Manly, attorney for more than 200 survivors, called the proposed settlement “unconscionable.” Jon Little, an Indianapolis attorney who also represents survivors, told IndyStar that $217 million is a “starting point,” but not nearly enough. He said money should be set aside for those filing future claims.
Bottom line: The USOPC and insurers have the money, and USA Gymnastics does not. So the two sides facing off are the survivors committee and USOPC, whose financial position has been damaged by the pandemic and whose reserves could be depleted by cancellation of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Steve Penny out on bond
Steve Penny, former president of USA Gymnastics, pleaded not guilty in a Texas courtroom in October 2018 to a charge of tampering with evidence in the Nassar case. If convicted, Penny faces two to 10 years in prison.
He was accused of destroying or hiding documents related to Nassar’s activities at the Karolyi ranch, the former national training center outside Huntsville, Texas. He was freed after posting $20,000 bond. He had been arrested in Gatlinburg, Tenn., where his attorney said he was on a family vacation trip.
Penny first learned of allegations against Nassar in July 2015, more than a year before the Rio Olympics. In Rio, the United States won nine medals in women’s gymnastics (the most by one country since the Soviet Union in 1972) and an unprecedented second straight team gold.
Rather than alert authorities in 2015, Penny hired an outside firm to investigate. He resigned from USA Gymnastics in March 2017. The day after his arrest, he was placed on the “permanently ineligible” list by USA Gymnastics.
In February 2019, USA Gymnastics hired Li Li Leung as president and CEO, becoming the fourth to hold that position in a period of 23 months. She remains CEO. Previous CEOs were Kerry Perry and Mary Bono, who resigned four days after her appointment.
Simone Biles outraged
Imagine a sport alienating its biggest star. That is what has happened with gymnastics and Simone Biles, arguably the greatest athlete in the sport’s history.
For the first time in a public court filing, Biles identified herself as a plaintiff in the civil case involving USA Gymnastics and the USOPC.
“It’s hard coming here for an organization, having had them fail us so many times,” Biles told reporters at the 2019 national championships.
The Wall Street Journal reported USA Gymnastics withheld the investigation of Nassar’s sexual abuse from Biles. When USA Gymnastics approached the FBI in Indianapolis in 2015, Biles was in town doing promotional appearances for the upcoming nationals.
“Can’t tell you how hard this is to read and process. The pain is real and doesn’t just go away…especially when new facts are still coming out,” Biles posted on Twitter.
Karolyi Ranch closes
USA Gymnastics used the ranch owned by Bela and Martha Karolyi from 2000 to 2018 for its national training center. The Karolyis filed suit against USA Gymnastics, seeking damages for the canceled sale of their gymnastics facility and declarations that they are not liable for Nassar’s actions. Critics complained of a “toxic culture” at the ranch.
After using gyms in Sarasota, Fla., and Crossville, Tenn., USA Gymnastics designated an Indianapolis facility as interim training center. The Gymnastics Company is on the southeast side at 5646 Mutual Lane.
Creation of SafeSport
The U.S. Center for SafeSport launched in 2017 to address child abuse in sport. In February 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act, an attempt to amend a patchwork of state laws by requiring adults who interact with amateur athletes to report suspected abuse to law enforcement within 24 hours. Statute of limitations is not to begin until a victim realizes the abuse.
SafeSport was created to collate a central database. The program has been criticized as being underfunded and not independent of the USOPC.
Contact IndyStar reporter David Woods at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.