JSEL Highlight 2.24

According to a report by the Washington Post, Lawrence G. Nassar, former team physician for the U.S. women’s and Michigan State University (“MSU”) gymnastic teams, was charged on February 22, 2017 with sexually abusing nine female athletes, some of whom were younger than 13 years old. Although the Washington Post noted that USA Gymnastics first alerted the FBI of Nassar in the summer of 2015, it was after the IndyStar published a striking piece about two sexual abuse allegations against Nassar in September 2016 when additional complaints alleging sexual abuse by Nassar were reported to MSU police

Reportedly, Nassar was a central figure in the USA Gymnastics community. Many accusers have stated Nassar was a “god” in the gymnastics community and in 2014 USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny stated that Nassar’s contributions to USA Gymnastics were “immeasurable and will continue to be so.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette stated that Nassar allegedly sexually abused female athletes in his home treatment room and medical offices. Michigan State University Police Chief Jim Dunlap said, “[t]he allegations of sexual assault against Dr. Nassar continue to increase nearly every day. . . .” The charges against Nassar include 22 counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, five of which are for victims under 13 years of age.

According to The State News, Nassar pleaded not guilty at his February 23 arraignment. Attorney General Bill Schuette told reporters, “[t]his guy is disgusting, this guy is despicable, he is a monster,” and stating further that “Dr. Nassar used his status and authority to engage in horrid sexual assaults under the guise of medical procedures.” Nassar will not be released from jail after his arraignment—he is in jail without bond from charges in an unrelated child pornography case.

The criminal charges against Nassar are part of an allegedly larger pattern of sexual abuse across USA Gymnastics. An IndyStar investigation found that at least 368 gymnasts had alleged some form of sexual abuse in USA Gymnastics in the last 20 years. Famed coaches Marta and Bela Karolyi have also been accused of creating a training environment rife with intimidation and abuse.  In a separate suit against the Karolyi’s as reported by CNN, the coaches were charged with striking and scratching their pupils and depriving gymnasts of food and water. Moreover, the complaint alleges that the Karolyi’s were aware of but turned a blind eye to Nassar’s conduct.

Kendall Howell is a Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2019).