They hauled pathetic Larry Nassar out of federal prison on Tuesday and sat him down inside an Ingham County Courtroom in Lansing, Michigan. There, he faced a parade of his victims, little girls turned grown women in spite of the sexual abuse he perpetrated on them.
It was Day 1 of an extraordinary four-day sentencing hearing before Judge Rosemarie E. Aquilina, who has offered time to anyone Nassar abused while serving as a renowned athletic doctor for nearby Michigan State and nationally for USA Gymnastics. Some 98 women are expected to do so, either personally or via video. At the end, Aquilina will sentence Nassar for up to 125 years in state prison. He’s already facing 60 years on a federal child pornography conviction. He’s never getting out.
Tuesday was a parade of pain and power, of heart-wrenching tales and glimmers of hope, of rage and forgiveness, of nearly every emotion on the spectrum. It was a day of tears. Of horror. And yet, it was also a day of love and strength in a courtroom for the brave.
Women stood up and spoke. Videos were played from as far away as Korea. Parents read for daughters. Brothers stood behind sisters, husbands beside wives.
One mother, Donna Markham, came to speak of her daughter, Chelsea, who committed suicide in 2009.
“It all started with him,” Markham said of Nassar and her once full-of-life child’s descent into depression.
A daughter, Kyle Stephens, spoke of how she was abused at age 6 by Nassar and eventually told her father, who didn’t believe her. In 2016, when the case broke, her dad committed suicide due to guilt and grief, Stephens said.
Every story was that awful, yet that necessary.
“The room needs to hear this,” Aquilina said. “The world needs to hear this.”
Yet, part of the tale of the packed courtroom was who didn’t come to hear it, who didn’t attend, who couldn’t be bothered, or simply wasn’t brave enough, to show up.
Lou Anna K. Simon, president of Michigan State University, where Nassar operated for decades with impunity despite victims speaking up? Nope.
Any member of the Michigan State Board of Directors, which keeps standing behind Simon and an investigative process victims call empty and pointless? Nope.
No sign of anyone from Michigan State. No sign at all. Three and a half miles from campus and not a one.
“After much consideration, President Simon and Board of Trustee Chairperson Brian Breslin chose not to attend,” MSU spokesman Jason Cody said. “They believe Nassar’s sentencing is about getting justice for the victims, so the focus and priority should remain on them. They are truly sorry for the abuse these victims suffered and want to hear these brave women as they make their voices heard. Both the President and Trustee Breslin are viewing the sentencing hearing through live media streaming.”
Go Green. Stay home.
If they did, indeed, watch the live stream and did, indeed, listen intently the way the silence and seriousness of open court demands, they would have heard that the victims want them there, too, want to make sure their words and stories and suffering are coming through loud and clear. They want MSU to confront its role the way they want Larry Nassar to confront his. They want State to know it failed. They want USAG to realize it failed. No one thinks Simon or Breslin or anyone else wanted Nassar to abuse kids, or don’t feel bad for the victims. Almost no one could be that evil.
That isn’t the point.
USA Gymnastics had the decency to come. New CEO Kerry Perry believed it was imperative, and while it hardly exonerates or excuses the organization, if nothing else, good on Perry for that.
“USA Gymnastics is attending this week’s proceedings for one reason – to listen firsthand to those who were victimized by Larry Nassar,” the organization said in a statement. “USA Gymnastics will keep their words and experiences at the core of everything we do as we remain focused on our highest priority – the safety, health and well-being of our athletes and creating a culture that empowers and supports them.”
Maybe Lou Anna K. Simon and her brethren still think this will all just go away. Well, not if the victims can help it. Neither they, nor USA Gymnastics, were forgotten on Tuesday. Victim after victim mentioned them, called them out by name, demanded they finally step up.
“To those at MSU, USAG and the USOC who knew about Larry Nassar but did not act, the sin of omission is just as bad as the sin itself,” victim Megan Halicek said. “You added a heartless, depraved level of denial and victim-shaming to the mix.
“You’ve said terrible things like, ‘Victims didn’t understand the nuanced difference between sexual abuse and medical treatment,’ ” Halicek continued. “And that ‘it is virtually impossible to stop a determined sexual predator on a campus.’ This is disgusting.”
Worse, victim after victim noted, was that the first complaints about Nassar were leveled in 1997 to MSU, yet he continued on. And there is widespread anger over what victims believe are shallow investigations by the school and USA Gymnastics.
“Your attitudes of apathy and dismissal have made the healing process particularly difficult especially because you haven’t taken actions that have produced legitimate investigations,” Halicek said.
Halicek was but one voice of many.
Simon couldn’t be moved to drive over to hear that in person? Couldn’t leave her ivory tower to come to circuit court to see and feel it all in person?
Showing up isn’t an admission of guilt for these people or these institutions, although there very well may be considerable guilt to go around.
It’s a sign of sympathy, of empathy, of simple decency. It’s a sign of competency. It’s a sign of leadership, a sign that they can be, perhaps, trusted to finally handle this awful, awful situation. It’s a sign of being adult enough, responsible enough, caring enough to listen to every last gut-wrenching testimony and consider what led to it and what can be done different in the future.
Instead, Michigan State stayed away. Instead, it took the passive route, the easy route, the comfortable route.
Live-streaming? Pitiful. Just pitiful.
There’s still a courtroom of truth waiting to confront it, though. Still more women coming. Still more nightmares to tell. Sadly, this horror show is just getting started. Three more days for MSU, for Lou Anna K. Simon, for any member of the Board of Trustees to show up and sit there and listen.
Three more days to do the right thing.
Maybe for the first damn time.
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