Nassar victims: Response from MSU, USA Gymnastics 'heartbreaking'

Victims of Larry Nassar hold press conference after sentencing

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A 60-year sentence for former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar Thursday marked a step toward healing for several of his victims.  

But the fight for justice isn’t over, they said.

In a press conference after Nassar’s sentencing Thursday, victims suing Nassar, Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics called for more accountability from the institutions that employed the infamous doctor.

“Their response has been heartbreaking because it has reminded me time and time again that our voices do not matter,” said Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who was the first person to publicly accuse Nassar.

Denhollander and four other victims addressed a room full of media members Thursday in Grand Rapids, shortly after U.S. District Judge Janet Neff sentenced Nassar to 60 years in prison.

Denhollander outlined at least three victims who came forward to MSU officials, staff or police and were rebuffed, ignored or discouraged from filing formal complaints between 1999 and 2014. And when she came forward last year, her allegations were mocked by MSU officials, she said.

"MSU trustees and other high ranking officials have characterized all of us as ambulance chasers looking for a pay day," Denhollander said.

Victims Thursday along with their attorneys called for MSU to release the findings of an internal investigation conducted by the university's own attorneys and for an independent criminal investigation.

“I think there should be a criminal investigation,” lawyer John Manly said. “This is a government entity funded by the taxpayers. How could they have messed this up so badly?”

MSU spokesman Jason Cody said the university “unequivocally denies” implications that the university engaged in a cover up of Nassar’s behavior and repeated MSU's promise to report to police any employee believed to have had knowledge of Nassar’s actions.

“As for the call for an independent investigation, the FBI and MSU Police Department conducted a joint investigation earlier this year to determine whether any university employee other than Nassar engaged in criminal conduct,” Cody said. 

SA Gymnastics lawyer David J. Gass filed a motion Thursday to dismiss civil claims against USA Gymnastics because, according to Michigan law, the organization is not responsible for the criminal conduct of Nassar. Further, Gass said, USA Gymnastics reported Nassar to the FBI as soon as the organization learned of his conduct.

“My client acted when it had information to act upon, and it followed the instructions of the FBI not to do anything to interfere with its investigation,” Gass said in a statement.

During the press conference Thursday, Manly said the timing of the USAG motion was "cruel" and "despicable."

Victims said the university’s silence and, at times, disbelief in response to their complaints has been frustrating.

“I was told on several occasions that I was crazy, that I was making this up,” said Tiffany Thomas Lopez, a former MSU softball player who said she reported Nassar to coaches and trainers in 1999.

“This will forever have an impact on me,” Thomas Lopez said.

Denhollander said the "deliberate indifference" of MSU and USA Gymnastics allowed Nassar's behavior to continue for years. 

"They enabled someone who is arguably the greatest pedophile in U.S. history for more than 20 years," she said. 

Jeanette Antolin, a USA National Team gymnast, said the “sisterhood” of victims still seeks accountability from MSU, USA gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

“We’re standing up against this huge giant,” Antolin said.

Sterling Riethman, a diver at Denison University who sought treatment from Nassar at his MSU office, echoed Antolin’s statement.

“We seek the truth, we seek justice and we seek change,” she said.

At a separate news conference, five additional Nassar accusers – who had united publicly under the hashtag #MeTooMSU – expressed a complex range of emotions.

“It’s hard to sit and think about how many strings were pulled to keep Nassar with his status and so we could keep being victimized,” said Jessica Smith, who said she was sexually assaulted by Nassar when she was 17 and now runs the #MeTooMSU Facebook group. “Are strings still being pulled to protect MSU, and not to protect us?”

U.S. Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney attended Nassar’s sentencing, less than two months after announcing on Twitter that she too had been sexually abused by Nassar.

In a victim impact statement, Maroney said she achieved her dream of becoming an Olympian, but not without a steep price.

“Wherever there is a position of power, there seems to be potential for abuse," Maroney wrote. "I had a dream to go to the Olympics, and the things that I had to endure to get there were unnecessary and disgusting.”

Contact Reporter Beth LeBlanc at 517-377-1167 or eleblanc@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @LSJBethLeBlanc.

© Lansing State Journal


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