Ex-USA gymnastics coach John Geddert couldn't outrun his poisonous legacy

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His past finally catching up with him, with authorities now demanding answers for years of "verbal, physical and sexual abuse" of the little girls who came to him to learn gymnastics, John Geddert pulled into a rest stop off Interstate 96 in mid-Michigan on Thursday afternoon.

Then he killed himself.

After all of this, after his old friend Larry Nassar was exposed and sent away, after tales of how his relentless coaching style at local Twistars Gymnastics sent some of his girls into shells of depression, after the state of Michigan finally indicted him on 24 counts earlier in the day, including allegedly lying to police in the Nassar investigation and an alleged sexual assault of his own, John Geddert chose to take his own life rather than defend it.

“This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

It is. Suicide always is, and in this case not merely because Geddert’s victims will never get the chance to confront him, to challenge him and to seek justice from him.

FILE - In this March 3, 2012, file photo, gymnastics coach John Geddert is seen at the American Cup gymnastics meet at Madison Square Garden in New York. Prosecutors in Michigan filed charges Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, against Geddert, a former U.S. Olympics gymnastics coach with ties to disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar. Geddert was head coach of the 2012 U.S. women's Olympic gymnastics team, which won a gold medal. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
In this 2012 photo, gymnastics coach John Geddert is seen at the American Cup gymnastics meet at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

These were the charges John Geddert was facing

It is a turn for the 63-year-old, who always fashioned himself as the toughest of the tough guy coaches. He bragged about being a demanding coach who would push and push and push little girls who dreamed of becoming Olympians, such as prize pupil Jordyn Wieber of the 2012 gold medal winning USA Gymnastics Team.

In truth, he was little more than a bully and, the state of Michigan now alleges, a predator himself.

Geddert was hit with 24 charges. They included:

  • 14 counts of human trafficking, forced labor causing injury

  • Six counts of human trafficking of a minor for forced labor

  • One count of continuing criminal enterprise (racketeering)

  • One count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct

  • One count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct

  • One count of lying to a peace officer during a violent crime investigation

Concerning the criminal sexual conduct complaints, charging documents state that in January of 2012, Geddert “did engage in sexual penetration” with his fingers on a victim between the ages of 13-16. He also “coerced the victim to submit by exerting his/her authoritative position and/or defendant effected sexual penetration through force or coercion and the victim sustained personal injury.”

The first-degree charge alone would have carried a potential life sentence.

The forced labor charges stem from Geddert's strict coaching style, where prosecutors said he used “extreme conditions that contributed to them suffering injuries and harm. Geddert then neglected those injuries that were reported to him by the victims and used coercion, intimidation, threats and physical force to get them to perform to the standard he expected ...

“Under the guise of coaching, he reportedly subjected multiple young women to an environment of continued abuse,” the attorney general's office stated.

That included having Nassar operate within the Twistars complex located in the suburbs of Lansing. The Michigan State doctor would sexually assault hundreds of girls there, as well as dozens more while working as a volunteer with USA Gymnastics before being arrested in 2017 on child pornography charges.

Nassar pleaded guilty to 10 counts of sexual assault and heard from nearly 200 victims during a multi-week sentencing hearing in 2018. The now 57-year-old is in federal prison in Florida until at least 2068.

Among the women who have spoken up is Sara Teristi, who alleged in the 2019 book “The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down" that in 1988, Geddert watched as Nassar, during a treatment that was supposed to be for broken ribs, iced her nipples.

“They would stand there and have a conversation right in front of me,” Teristi said in the book. “John would joke about how small my ‘tits’ were. He said if I was lucky, they would get bigger.”

Geddert served as Wieber’s coach when the then 15-year-old won the all-around gold at the 2011 World Championships, and the following year at the London Olympics. He also served as Team USA’s officially designated head coach (the system also included “national team coordinator” Martha Karolyi). Nassar was there too and assaulted the entire team before and during the Games.

Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, stands in court during his sentencing hearing in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte, Michigan, U.S., February 5, 2018.  REUTERS/Rebecca Cook     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, stands in court during his sentencing hearing in Michigan. (REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)

Larry Nassar, John Geddert were wicked tandem

One of Geddert’s charges was lying to authorities in 2016, just as they were beginning their investigation of Nassar following allegations by former gymnast Rachel Denhollender that appeared in the Indianapolis Star.

The charging document alleged that Geddert underplayed Nassar’s role at Twistars and lied about not ever hearing a complaint about him or being aware of the controversial penetration treatment Nassar later acknowledged was a way to assault the girls.

The Nassar case put continued focus on Geddert, whose coaching style, victims say, played a role in how Nassar was able to operate.

Geddert was the bad cop, allegedly mentally and emotionally abusing the girls during their training. When injuries flared up, they flocked to Nassar, who used sympathy and empathy to gain trust and then sexually assaulted them during what were supposed to be physical recovery sessions.

“[Nassar] became a safe person of sorts, and to my teenage self, he appeared to be the good guy in an environment that was intense and restricting,” Wieber, who began seeing Nassar at age 8, said at Nassar's 2018 sentencing hearing. “He would try to advise me on how to deal with the stresses of training or my coaches. He would bring us food and coffee at the Olympics when we were too afraid to eat too much in front of our coaches.

“I didn’t know that these were all grooming techniques that he used to manipulate me and brainwash me into trusting him,” Wieber said.

The result was a cocktail of wickedness at Twistars.

Desperate young athletes in a sport that prizes compliance and discipline stood little chance against Geddert and Nassar, twin monsters in their own right who seemed all powerful due to their affiliation with USA Gymnastics.

On Thursday, all of that caught up to John Geddert. All the accusations. All of the old horror stories. All of the former little girls turned grown women demanding their crack at justice.

A 2:30 p.m. arraignment was scheduled where he could begin to face the charges, his accusers and the challenges in front him. Instead the demanding old coach didn’t show.

Cops found him soon enough — alone and dead at a rest stop.

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