Water Polo Slideshow

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 22: A Water Polo ball sits in net as The Australian Water Polo team trains at the Water Pool Venue in the Olympic Park on July 22, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Olympics - Previews - Day - 5
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 22: A Water Polo ball sits in net as The Australian Water Polo team trains at the Water Pool Venue in the Olympic Park on July 22, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
<p>NCAA stands for National Collegiate Athletic Association.</p><p>The non-profit organization is made up of 1,117 schools that are split into 40 conferences. among three divisions. Division II schools do not have as many athletic scholarships to offer as Division I schools, and Division III schools do not award any athletic scholarships.</p><p>There are 24 sports played by NCAA teams. Baseball, basketball (men&#39;s and women&#39;s), beach volleyball, bowling, cross country (men&#39;s and women&#39;s), fencing, field hockey, football, golf (men&#39;s and women&#39;s), gymnastics (men&#39;s and women&#39;s), ice hockey (men&#39;s and women&#39;s), lacrosse (men&#39;s and women&#39;s), rifle, rowing, skiing, soccer (men&#39;s and women&#39;s), softball, swimming and diving (men&#39;s and women&#39;s), tennis (men&#39;s and women&#39;s), indoor track (men&#39;s and women&#39;s), outdoor track (men&#39;s and women&#39;s), volleyball (men&#39;s and women&#39;s), water polo (men&#39;s and women&#39;s) and wrestling are the sports the NCAA offers.</p><p>The organization was founded in 1906 and its headquarters is in Indianapolis.</p><p>There are 351 teams in Division I men&#39;s basketball, 349 Division I women&#39;s basketball teams and 252 Division I football teams (129 in Division I-A and 123 in Division I-AA).</p>
What Does NCAA Stand For?

NCAA stands for National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The non-profit organization is made up of 1,117 schools that are split into 40 conferences. among three divisions. Division II schools do not have as many athletic scholarships to offer as Division I schools, and Division III schools do not award any athletic scholarships.

There are 24 sports played by NCAA teams. Baseball, basketball (men's and women's), beach volleyball, bowling, cross country (men's and women's), fencing, field hockey, football, golf (men's and women's), gymnastics (men's and women's), ice hockey (men's and women's), lacrosse (men's and women's), rifle, rowing, skiing, soccer (men's and women's), softball, swimming and diving (men's and women's), tennis (men's and women's), indoor track (men's and women's), outdoor track (men's and women's), volleyball (men's and women's), water polo (men's and women's) and wrestling are the sports the NCAA offers.

The organization was founded in 1906 and its headquarters is in Indianapolis.

There are 351 teams in Division I men's basketball, 349 Division I women's basketball teams and 252 Division I football teams (129 in Division I-A and 123 in Division I-AA).

<p>The stories coming out of Lansing, Mich., over the past few weeks have been gutting. <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/01/24/larry-nassar-sentencing-usa-gymnastics-abuse-victims-michigan-state" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:More than 150 women" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">More than 150 women</a> gave victim statements in the <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2018/01/31/how-long-larry-nassar-spend-behind-bars/1083275001/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:sentencing" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">sentencing</a> of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who in November pled guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with minors. Credit the <em>Indianapolis Star</em>, who in 2016 published <a href="http://interactives.indystar.com/news/standing/OutOfBalanceSeries/index2.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a lengthy investigation" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a lengthy investigation</a> into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints over decades, for triggering the reporting.</p><p>This week I impaneled a group of five reporters (including two of the <em>IndyStar </em>reporters involved in the investigation above) who have covered the story in full, from the role of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State to the Nassar sentencing. I wanted to get insight into their reporting and what the public should know about this kind of work. I hope you will find it as illuminating as I did.</p><p><strong>The panel:</strong></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/markalesia" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Mark Alesia" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Mark Alesia</a>, reporter, <em>IndyStar</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/kimberkoz?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kim Kozlowski" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Kim Kozlowski</a>, higher education reporter, <em>Detroit News</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/IndyMarisaK?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Marisa Kwiatkowski" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Marisa Kwiatkowski</a>, investigative reporter, <em>IndyStar</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/MattMencarini?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Matt Mencarini" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Matt Mencarini</a>, reporter, <em>Lansing State Journal</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/katelouisewells?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kate Wells" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Kate Wells</a>, host/reporter/producer, Michigan Radio</p><h3><strong>When did you first start reporting on USA Gymnastics or Larry Nassar—and what was the impetus behind that decision?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>After Marisa came back from Georgia with about 1,000 pages of court documents, I was asked to get involved. Tim Evans joined us soon after that.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> One of the metro editors at the <em>Detroit News</em> thought we needed to do a story about the Larry Nassar case in January 2017, when it became clear that his sexual abuse extended beyond USA Gymnastics. Another colleague, Frank Donnelly, and I wrote the first few stories and I continued to follow it after that.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>In March of 2016, I was investigating failures to report sexual abuse in schools when a source suggested I look into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints. The source pointed me toward a lawsuit in Georgia. As I gathered more information, I was told a judge was about to seal important records in the case. My bosses allowed me to fly to Georgia later that day. I picked up nearly 1,000 pages of court records. As soon as I returned to Indianapolis, Mark Alesia, Tim Evans and I began our investigation into the organization.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> My reporting on Nassar began the day the <em>IndyStar </em>story was published. <em>Indy</em> and the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> are part of the USA Today Network so I knew something was coming in the days before their story, but my reporting the local side of it began that day. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Our newsroom actually started covering this from the sports angle, after the IndyStar 2016 report came out. We didn’t recognize the scale at that time—it seemed to us, in our limited perspective, like it was an offshoot of <em>IndyStar</em>’s incredible USA Gymnastics investigations. It was one of our sports/general assignment guys, Josh Hakala, who jumped on it first in our newsroom.</p><h3><strong>When did you realize the scope and importance of this story?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>For Nassar, it was when Jessica Howard, a former national champion in rhythmic gymnastics, left a message on my work voicemail on a Sunday evening. I called back and her story of Nassar’s abuse tracked closely to what we had heard from Rachael Denhollander and the people behind a lawsuit that was about to be filed by Jamie Dantzscher, then an anonymous plaintiff. The women didn’t know each other. I thought there had to be more victim/survivors.</p><p>After publication, we started hearing from more victim/survivors (and getting nasty emails and voicemails from Nassar’s supporters). We also checked the public Michigan State University Police log daily. More and more people were reporting sexual assaults at addresses connected to Nassar. At no point, though, could I have ever imagined more than 250 victim/survivors coming forward to police.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> February 2017 was a key month, when Michigan State head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages stepped down after Larissa Boyce and another gymnast filed lawsuits that they told Klages about Nassar in 1997 but she didn’t believe them. Also in February 2017, Kyle Stephens became the first woman to publicly testify against Nassar during a preliminary exam in court. She spoke of how Nassar assaulted her for years beginning when she was six years old during family visits to his house. Other women testified about Nassar’s pattern of grooming them, earning their trust and then assaulting them. But the tipping point was just a few weeks ago when more than 150 women came forward and made statements about Nassar’s abuse in a courtroom. During those seven days, the majority of woman shed their Jane Doe identities and gave their names, allowing the world to see and hear their painful stories and how many people did not believe them or take action. Had the majority of the women remained anonymous, the cameras would have stopped rolling and the newspapers wouldn’t have been able to put so many faces behind Nassar’s crimes. But one woman’s courage empowered the next and created a milestone in women’s history in the movement to end sexual violence against women.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> We knew early in our investigation that USA Gymnastics executives had followed a policy of dismissing complaints as “hearsay” unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent. My colleagues and I spent the next few months investigating the impact of that policy on the safety of children in gymnastics. From the beginning, we knew it was an important topic. I started to understand the scope of allegations against Larry Nassar after we published our first piece about him. We received calls and emails from more than a dozen other survivors.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> Within days of the first <em>Indy</em> story, police and prosecutors were saying they had received more than a dozen new sexual assault reports against Nassar. So it was clear whatever criminal case developed would be high profile. But early on, my editor Al Wilson instilled in me that the real story, for us at the <em>State Journal</em>, was MSU. We covered every step of Nassar&#39;s criminal cases, but from the start our investigative reporting focus was squarely on the university. This felt, to us, like an important institutional story pretty early on, especially once we had the 2014 Title IX report.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Honestly, every time I think I do understand it, that’s usually a sign that the weight of this—of the experiences of the people involved in it—is just going to hit me like a freight train all over again. Going into the sentencing hearings, I’d been so consumed by this story, and then Kyle Stephens stood up there as the first to speak and taught us we don’t know s---. It’s humbling. And in those moments, your job is to shut up and let these women and girls speak for themselves. </p><h3><strong>What would you consider to be the most difficult part of your reporting and why?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia</strong>: I can think of a few things. I’m a 54-year-old man. Much younger women were telling me about deeply personal and private matters. We had to have a certain level of detail so readers wouldn’t think these were accidents or misunderstandings. They were sexual abuse. In a few instances where we needed a lot of detail—even if it wouldn’t be published—Marisa talked with the women. Also, with one exception, USA Gymnastics would only take written questions. We received written answers that invariably ignored some questions and gave partial answers to others. It was frustrating. And we found USA Gymnastics to have a secretive culture with power concentrated in a few people. People at all levels of the sport were afraid to rock the boat.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Language. Getting words like “vagina,” “anus” and “clitoris” in the paper. Publishing these words was not meant to be titillating. They involved crimes against these women. But there was more than one debate in the newsroom about how to describe the crimes accurately. For the public to understand what Nassar did to these young women, I believe we should describe what he did briefly but explicitly because not every person pays attention to every news story.</p><p>The phrase “sexual abuse under the guise of a medical treatment” is commonly used. But what will that mean years from now? Nassar had a pattern. Since “sexual abuse” can mean many things, I believe it should be clear that Nassar inserted his fingers inside women’s vaginas, and sometimes their anuses, without gloves, lubricant or consent, often while their parents were in the room. All the women testified in court what he did to them so I believe we have a responsibility to report the words they used and be part of the culture that sheds light on sexual violence so it doesn’t stay in the shadows.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>It was difficult to pin down whether USA Gymnastics had changed its policy for handling sexual abuse complaints. The organization declined our request for an in-person interview and, with one exception, required all questions to be submitted in writing. When USA Gymnastics responded, it ignored some questions and provided partial answers to others.</p><p><strong>Mencarini: </strong>This is a tough question. This story is a heavy topic. It can grind you down mentally and emotionally over the course of 16 months, or during a seven-day sentencing. Understanding the overlapping timelines, separate investigations, individual assaults, lawsuits, university responses and connections between them all is, in my opinion, the most crucial part of reporting this story. I think the most difficult part of my reporting is understanding those connections while being aware of the specific abuses and trauma suffered and not getting burned out. It pales in comparison to what the women and girls have gone through, or are going through, but as a reporter it&#39;s been the most difficult part of covering this story. I&#39;ve had ups and downs with it.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> I don’t think I’m going to have a good answer on this one for a while. It’s not done yet.</p><h3><strong>When did sources begin reaching out to you on this story?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>In summer 2016, before our first story, I had been trying to contact a longtime coach and judge in the sport. Finally, I left a letter at the door of her home. That weekend, the woman happened to be staying with a former national team gymnast, Molly Shawen-Kollmann, in Cincinnati. Molly saw the letter and sent me an email. She became an invaluable source on the culture, history and power players in the sport. Now we’re getting so many tips, we can hardly keep up.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski</strong>: Immediately after we started reporting the story, in early 2017. There was an understanding about the power of media among those who wanted Nassar behind bars. That understanding came as news is more accessible than ever. Denhollander’s report about Nassar to Michigan State was followed by her account to the <em>IndyStar</em>. There used to be a time when mostly Indiana residents might have seen that story. But that story, and so many others, reverberated beyond local markets and prompted other victims to come forward. Journalism gave voice to those who were voiceless for so long, and those voices are louder than they have ever been.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski</strong>: It was a source who first suggested I look into USA Gymnastics. As word spread about our investigation, we received calls from others.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I began hearing from sources within days of the first Indy story. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Late fall 2016? Maybe very early 2017?</p><h3><strong>Journalists are not necessarily well versed in topics like sexual assault and child predators. How did you prepare for this assignment?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I worked a lot on the Jared Fogle case, including a feature on the prosecutor and cops who specialize in child pornography cases. So, unfortunately, this was not new territory for me.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Many years ago I attended a training for journalists held by the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> I’ve spent years reporting on child abuse and neglect. In my role at <em>The Indianapolis Star</em>, I handle investigations relating to social services and welfare issues—such as child abuse and neglect, poverty, elder abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and access to mental health services. I used that experience as my colleagues and I investigated USA Gymnastics and the allegations against Larry Nassar.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I cover the criminal justice system and had reported quite a bit on sexual assault by the time <em>Indy</em> published the Nassar story. I spent good portions of 2015 and 2016 reporting on a local case that involved a pediatric dentist who had been convicted, years later, of sexually assaulting a young boy who was a patient. I profiled the victim in that case, who was in his 20s when he reported to police. I also reported on the Court of Appeals decision to overturn the former dentist&#39;s sexual assault convictions and the no-jail plea agreement on a child abuse charge that followed. In June 2016, I began working on an investigation into the way Michigan State University handled sexual assault and harassment complaints over a several year period. That story ran in Dec. 2016 and included details of Nassar&#39;s 2014 Title IX investigation and an interview with the victim. So by the time the <em>Indy</em> story was published, I had already had a lot of conversations with sexual assault advocates and experts about trauma, sexual abuse and the systems in place to respond to abuse. Those conversations have proved invaluable. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> So, fortunately or unfortunately, I’d already had a few years of reporting around how higher education handles sexual assault, including a long, MSU-specific investigation.</p><p>But child sexual abuse is a completely different field, obviously, that needed very specific tools. Rachael Denhollander was the one who pointed me to specialists like Carla Van Dam (she’s basically written the manual for understanding men like Nassar: <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Socially-Skilled-Child-Molester-Differentiating/dp/0789028069" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused</a></em>, which should be required reading) and Anna Salter. It was also helpful to talk with organizations working to educate adults, like Darkness to Light, and those who’ve handled large child sexual abuse cases from the law enforcement perspective. All those people I talked to had seen this before—so many times, really, that they were totally unsurprised about the details when I filled them in on this case, and basically could have charted this out from the beginning. Which shows you how we keep letting this happen to kids, over and over and over again, because we are so abysmal at understanding that the most effective predators are the people we trust. From the journalism perspective, the Dart Center for Journalism &#38; Trauma at the Columbia Journalism School has some great resources for reporters doing this kind of work—basically, how to not screw things up further for the people you’re talking to. It is not just have you talked them through the potential fallout from this interview? But also, what kind of support system do they have? Are you just leaving them high and dry at the end of an upsetting, emotional interview? What kind of expectations are you giving them about what will happen or come of this story?</p><h3><strong>Is there anything you would have done differently in your reporting or writing or broadcasting and why?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>Not really. I think we made the most of our resources based on what we knew at the time.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> In 2015, federal officials issued a report that Michigan State did not have the procedures and policies in place to handle Title IX complaints. The report was part of a nationwide crackdown on campus sexual assault, so MSU was not alone. Even so, if we had looked more closely and reported on some of the Title IX reports upon which this report was based, maybe the story would have emerged a year earlier while Nassar was still assaulting women.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>No.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> This is another tough question. I think I&#39;m still too close to it all to have that perspective. The MSU side of this story is still developing rapidly. I&#39;m immersed in the reporting every day. I&#39;m proud of the work I&#39;ve done and the details about MSU&#39;s involvement I&#39;ve been able to uncover. Right now I can&#39;t think of anything I would have done differently, but ask me in two years and I might have an answer. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Oh, so many things. But top two that come to mind: 1) there were editors outside of Michigan, who were telling me this was a “local story” for a long time—pretty much right up until the sentencing. While I disagreed, I didn’t fight them that hard on it. I should have. 2) I wish I had started saying something earlier about how the media and the public are approaching this differently, because it’s girls and because it’s gymnastics. The women and girls I spoke with were saying that for months and months, and every time I said “yup, I totally agree,” but I never thought “let’s do a story about that. Let’s talk about that.”</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>In her sentencing of Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said to him, &quot;I just signed your death warrant.&quot; The remark sparked some debate. What was going through your head when she said that and how did you write/broadcast about that?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I didn’t write it. My story that day was about Rachael Denhollander. I rode with Rachael and her husband to court from Kalamazoo, where they were staying with her parents.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> It was a provocative quote that became the headline over our story. But I agreed with the judge and others who thought the sentence was to serve justice for the victims. I wrote through the story with some of the victims’s quotes very high in the narrative, including one from Kyle Stephens, who said: “My monster is gone.”</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>I was working on another project at the time and did not see that portion of the sentencing hearing. Nor did I write about it. Our colleagues at the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> did a great job handling that coverage.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I&#39;ve covered enough sentencing hearings in Judge Aquilina&#39;s courtroom to know that a line like that was possible. I can&#39;t say I expected something so direct, but she doesn&#39;t hold back when addressing defendants at sentencing. We included the line high up in our story and as part of the headline online.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Honestly, it wasn’t that far out of line with things previously said during the sentencing hearing, and if you’re familiar with Judge Aquilina, you know she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind. So I wasn’t clutching my pearls or anything.</p><h3><strong>Although this case generated significant national attention during the week of sentencing, Nassar was not covered extensively by most national media until then. Why do you think this was the case?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I’ll take this answer and the one below together. The initial story, which had nothing to do with Nassar and was published on the eve of the Rio Olympics, received a lot of attention. But there wasn’t a big national hit on Nassar until three Olympic gymnasts went on <em>60 Minutes</em> in February 2017. And although Rachael Denhollander had been doing media interviews consistently, the Nassar story didn’t get national attention again until more Olympic gymnasts went public with their abuse. It took the Lansing hearing and 156 women telling their stories to shake people into paying attention.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Sexual assaults reported nationally generally involve unusual circumstances. In the Nassar case, national media reports emerged when Olympic gymnasts began going public in early 2017. But even before that, lawsuits were piling up against Nassar and he lost his job and medical license. Police also discovered 37,000 images of child pornography on external hard drives that he disposed of in his trash can. So I am not sure why the national media did not cover the Nassar case more extensively.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> Our investigation generated significant attention from national media when the first piece published in August 2016. That attention waned in the months afterward, until several high-profile gymnasts shared their experiences. National attention focused on USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar and others again in January as 156 women and girls shared their stories during Nassar’s sentencing hearing.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I&#39;ve thought about this a decent amount, but I don&#39;t think I have a great answer. In March 2017, Judge Aquilina granted a request by Nassar&#39;s attorneys to place a gag order on those connected to the criminal case, which included many of the women and girls who spoke at sentencing. A federal lawsuit was filed over that gag order. I think that played a role as many couldn&#39;t share the stories they did at sentencing until the gag order was lifted in November after Nassar pleaded guilty. This is also a complex story, with police and university investigations, lawsuits and sexual assaults disguised as medical procedures that even some victims didn&#39;t realize were abuse until decades later. I think it&#39;s a difficult story to drop in on and for a while it moved pretty fast. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> If I’m being generous, it’s that the sheer scale and power of this case was really best demonstrated by seeing those survivors tell their stories, one after another. It was powerful and riveting and I understand why that moment made such an impact. But it’s also frustrating, because the women and girls were getting up in court and saying, “I was reporting this abuse 20 years ago, where were you guys then?” Rachael Denhollander and others had been putting themselves out on a limb, publicly, for more than a year and a half. The national media’s reaction doesn’t feel all that different. I was driving back from the sentencing hearing this week, listening to a podcast that covers the media, from a network I really respect. The two hosts were asking each other why it had taken so long for the national media to cover the Nassar case, and while their general take was that the lack of coverage had been an unfortunate failure, some of their reasoning didn’t hold water.</p><p>For instance: they were saying how even sports networks don’t have a full-time gymnastics reporter, so it’s not like you’ve got somebody who can really jump on this story. Ok, sure. But you’ve got a bunch of college sports reporters, right? You’re telling me if, say, the water polo team at Ohio State started having dozens and dozens of former male players come out to say they’d been sexually abused for 20 years and no adults had listened to them, that you don’t dispatch even one guy to Columbus for a couple days? These podcast hosts also said that, until this month’s criminal sentencing, there was no “present tense” to the Nassar story, no solid “news hook” to give your editor. But new allegations have been coming out for 18 months straight, with more than 130 civil suits being filed, multiple preliminary exams in the criminal case, charges at the federal level, a police investigation, an FBI investigation, suspensions, resignations, etc. Newspapers like the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> managed to produce more than 100 stories in 18 months. There were news pegs. </p><p>None of us in this job are perfect. There are 18 million things I would like to go back and do differently about this story. And lord knows, if I was working in New York or D.C. and had started hearing about the Nassar case, I’m not saying I would have demanded my editor put me on the next plane to East Lansing. Far from it. But I am saying, let’s be honest about what happened here: these were girls. So unless it was happening in your backyard, the media didn’t care—or worse, didn’t think its audience would care, and didn’t feel like putting in the work to persuade them otherwise.</p><h3><strong>In your opinion, did gender or that the sport was gymnastics play a role in why the story did not receive national coverage compared to other sports scandals?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I do believe that gender and the sport played a role.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> I think gender played a role but some attributed it more to the sport and other factors. The Jerry Sandusky/Penn State case involved the national pastime of football and a legendary coach, besides the assaults of young boys and cover up. However, the Nassar case eclipsed the number of victims in the Sandusky scandal a long time ago. Our society seems a little more shocked when boys are assaulted than girls. Maybe this will help change that.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>My focus has been on examining failures in the system, not making comparisons to other situations.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I think it&#39;s possible. I&#39;d like to think that the national media doesn&#39;t care less about young gymnasts, young girls or women (not all were athletes) being abused than it does young boys or men being abused. But I can&#39;t rule it out. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Yes. This case has shown us just differently people react when a woman or a girl accuses a man of abuse, compared with a man or a boy making the same allegations. Over and over again, we saw dozens of women and girls say the same thing during sentencing: I thought I must be mistaken. Or: it felt wrong, but this guy was a really big deal so I must be the one with the dirty mind. That says something about the way we raise our girls, the way we teach them to be so petrified of being “difficult,” that it’s easier to just say nothing.</p><p>I know with the Jerry Sandusky case we saw coaches and administrators look the other way when male children were being abused—but not because they didn’t believe the abuse could be happening. You can argue the cover up went so high up the chain of command, because those involved knew how big the fallout would be. With the Nassar case, multiple adults just didn’t believe girls.</p><p>Even now, when the national media is finally interested, the way we cover it sometimes feels…gendered. There are those who really want us to get to the point where these women are at a place of “healing,” where they’re “so empowering.” Are they powerful? Absolutely. Have they managed to survive a living hell? Yes. But if these were boys, would we be rushing them to emotionally wrap it up, so to speak? Their strength is formidable and awe-inspiring, but I’m wary of the desire to package these survivors’ experiences into something neat and pretty, just so we can feel more comfortable with it. </p><p>To that same end, I’ve encountered a lot of pushback and limits on what we can say about the abuse itself. I understand that, especially with broadcast, your kids could be in the car and you may have missed the disturbing-content warning at the beginning of the story. But what happened to these women, matters. Their decision not to shield us from that brutality and horror, matters.</p><p>Still, some of those I work with (and not everyone, to be clear) repeatedly want to edit those parts out and sub in the vaguest terms possible: words like “digital penetration,” which frankly couldn’t be more clinical, get replaced with the vague and confusing “inappropriate touching.” If you were the one who’d experienced this abuse, how would you feel about someone deciding your story, the one you chose to tell in court for the entire world, was too indecent to accurately describe? Of course it’s indecent. It’s abuse. And if we don’t trust our audience enough to tell them the facts about what’s actually happened, then we are doing them a disservice as well as these survivors. </p><p>?</p><h3><strong>What should the public know about the resources it takes to cover these types of stories?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong><em>IndyStar</em> devoted three reporters to the story, virtually full-time, for a year. That is a very big deal for an operation of our size. We travelled all over the country. And, we hired a lawyer in Atlanta to intervene in a court case in Georgia to unseal 54 files that USA Gymnastics kept on abusive coaches. USA Gymnastics fought to keep the files secret, saying in court filings that we wanted to do a “<em>National Enquirer</em>-like article … to satisfy the economic interests of <em>Indy Star</em>’s advertisers, owners, and investors.” The process dragged on for about nine months. I don’t know how much our company paid, but the lawyer could not have been cheap. It was a big commitment by Gannett, the USA Today Network and <em>IndyStar.</em> We used the USA Today Network for help on various aspects of the reporting, especially Matt Mencarini in Lansing, Mich.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> These stories demand enormous time and energy, and involve numerous members of our staff. But telling the Nassar scandal is the reason why my colleagues and I are in journalism: To give voice to the voiceless and hold those with power accountable. In a public statement in Eaton County court on Friday, Larissa Boyce turned to the media and told us to not forget. She asked us continue to report so that other victims will come forward and the dialogue around sexual assault will result in change in the future. To Boyce, and every other woman who has been sexually assaulted: We will continue to report on this and other sexual assault stories, and demand answers from those who don’t do the right thing.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>Our bosses at <em>IndyStar</em> and Gannett invested significant time and resources toward this investigation. They supported our project from its first day. They let Mark, Tim, Steve Berta, Robert Scheer and me work on this investigation nearly full-time for a year. We flew to a dozen states. We sought public records in at least 23 states. We received help from colleagues throughout the USA TODAY Network. And the company fought a legal battle for access to court records in Georgia. If you believe in the value of journalism, please subscribe to your local newspaper.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> <em>The State Journal</em> has 13 news reporters. For much of the 16 months since the first <em>Indy</em> story, this is the only thing I did. There were stretches, especially at the end of 2016, when I did other reporting, but for the most part this story has occupied nearly all of my time. In a newsroom of our size, that&#39;s a significant investment. Time, in my opinion, is the most valuable resource for a story like this. I needed time to review each lawsuit, go to each hearing, dig through court and public records and speak with as many people connected to the case as possible. Not every newsroom could or would devote resources that significant to a single story for such a long time. I can&#39;t imagine covering this story without the time and resources my editors gave me. Local journalism and local investigative reporting are important, and the Nassar story—with the USAG and MSU sides—shows exactly why. </p><h3><strong>Feel free to add anything you wish.</strong></h3><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>Thank you to the people who trusted us to share their stories.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Sorry, I’m going on my soap box here, but I worry that, as Nassar becomes a name we put in the same category with Sandusky or Boston priests, the general public concludes these predators look like boogeymen, you know? When the reason they were able to victimize so many, is because these were seemingly kind, trustworthy, respectable people who looked like they were doing a lot of good. The most effective predator is the one who makes you think, “there’s got to be a misunderstanding here, let’s work this out” when you see a red flag. Most adults don’t get into coaching or medicine or just general education because they think, “I hope I’m part of enabling large-scale sexual predation one day.” Lots of good adults are capable of giving other nice-seeming adults the benefit of the doubt. And that’s how this continues. </p><p><em>If interested in the work of the panelists above, click below:</em></p><p>Alesia, <em><a href="https://www.indystar.com/staff/4121/mark-alesia/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Indy Star" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Indy Star</a></em><br>Kozlowski, <em><a href="https://www.detroitnews.com/staff/28115/kim-kozlowski/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Detroit News" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Detroit News</a></em><br>Kwiatkowski: <em><a href="https://www.indystar.com/staff/10048078/marisa-kwiatkowski/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Indy Star" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Indy Star</a></em><br>Mencarini: <em><a href="https://www.lansingstatejournal.com/staff/37347/matt-mencarini/%5D" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Lansing State Journal" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Lansing State Journal</a></em><br>Wells: <em><a href="http://michiganradio.org/people/kate-wells" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Michigan Radio" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Michigan Radio</a></em></p>
Inside the Reporting of Five Journalists That Helped End Larry Nassar’s Serial Sexual Abuse

The stories coming out of Lansing, Mich., over the past few weeks have been gutting. More than 150 women gave victim statements in the sentencing of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who in November pled guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with minors. Credit the Indianapolis Star, who in 2016 published a lengthy investigation into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints over decades, for triggering the reporting.

This week I impaneled a group of five reporters (including two of the IndyStar reporters involved in the investigation above) who have covered the story in full, from the role of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State to the Nassar sentencing. I wanted to get insight into their reporting and what the public should know about this kind of work. I hope you will find it as illuminating as I did.

The panel:

Mark Alesia, reporter, IndyStar

Kim Kozlowski, higher education reporter, Detroit News

Marisa Kwiatkowski, investigative reporter, IndyStar

Matt Mencarini, reporter, Lansing State Journal

Kate Wells, host/reporter/producer, Michigan Radio

When did you first start reporting on USA Gymnastics or Larry Nassar—and what was the impetus behind that decision?

Alesia: After Marisa came back from Georgia with about 1,000 pages of court documents, I was asked to get involved. Tim Evans joined us soon after that.

Kozlowski: One of the metro editors at the Detroit News thought we needed to do a story about the Larry Nassar case in January 2017, when it became clear that his sexual abuse extended beyond USA Gymnastics. Another colleague, Frank Donnelly, and I wrote the first few stories and I continued to follow it after that.

Kwiatkowski: In March of 2016, I was investigating failures to report sexual abuse in schools when a source suggested I look into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints. The source pointed me toward a lawsuit in Georgia. As I gathered more information, I was told a judge was about to seal important records in the case. My bosses allowed me to fly to Georgia later that day. I picked up nearly 1,000 pages of court records. As soon as I returned to Indianapolis, Mark Alesia, Tim Evans and I began our investigation into the organization.

Mencarini: My reporting on Nassar began the day the IndyStar story was published. Indy and the Lansing State Journal are part of the USA Today Network so I knew something was coming in the days before their story, but my reporting the local side of it began that day.

Wells: Our newsroom actually started covering this from the sports angle, after the IndyStar 2016 report came out. We didn’t recognize the scale at that time—it seemed to us, in our limited perspective, like it was an offshoot of IndyStar’s incredible USA Gymnastics investigations. It was one of our sports/general assignment guys, Josh Hakala, who jumped on it first in our newsroom.

When did you realize the scope and importance of this story?

Alesia: For Nassar, it was when Jessica Howard, a former national champion in rhythmic gymnastics, left a message on my work voicemail on a Sunday evening. I called back and her story of Nassar’s abuse tracked closely to what we had heard from Rachael Denhollander and the people behind a lawsuit that was about to be filed by Jamie Dantzscher, then an anonymous plaintiff. The women didn’t know each other. I thought there had to be more victim/survivors.

After publication, we started hearing from more victim/survivors (and getting nasty emails and voicemails from Nassar’s supporters). We also checked the public Michigan State University Police log daily. More and more people were reporting sexual assaults at addresses connected to Nassar. At no point, though, could I have ever imagined more than 250 victim/survivors coming forward to police.

Kozlowski: February 2017 was a key month, when Michigan State head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages stepped down after Larissa Boyce and another gymnast filed lawsuits that they told Klages about Nassar in 1997 but she didn’t believe them. Also in February 2017, Kyle Stephens became the first woman to publicly testify against Nassar during a preliminary exam in court. She spoke of how Nassar assaulted her for years beginning when she was six years old during family visits to his house. Other women testified about Nassar’s pattern of grooming them, earning their trust and then assaulting them. But the tipping point was just a few weeks ago when more than 150 women came forward and made statements about Nassar’s abuse in a courtroom. During those seven days, the majority of woman shed their Jane Doe identities and gave their names, allowing the world to see and hear their painful stories and how many people did not believe them or take action. Had the majority of the women remained anonymous, the cameras would have stopped rolling and the newspapers wouldn’t have been able to put so many faces behind Nassar’s crimes. But one woman’s courage empowered the next and created a milestone in women’s history in the movement to end sexual violence against women.

Kwiatkowski: We knew early in our investigation that USA Gymnastics executives had followed a policy of dismissing complaints as “hearsay” unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent. My colleagues and I spent the next few months investigating the impact of that policy on the safety of children in gymnastics. From the beginning, we knew it was an important topic. I started to understand the scope of allegations against Larry Nassar after we published our first piece about him. We received calls and emails from more than a dozen other survivors.

Mencarini: Within days of the first Indy story, police and prosecutors were saying they had received more than a dozen new sexual assault reports against Nassar. So it was clear whatever criminal case developed would be high profile. But early on, my editor Al Wilson instilled in me that the real story, for us at the State Journal, was MSU. We covered every step of Nassar's criminal cases, but from the start our investigative reporting focus was squarely on the university. This felt, to us, like an important institutional story pretty early on, especially once we had the 2014 Title IX report.

Wells: Honestly, every time I think I do understand it, that’s usually a sign that the weight of this—of the experiences of the people involved in it—is just going to hit me like a freight train all over again. Going into the sentencing hearings, I’d been so consumed by this story, and then Kyle Stephens stood up there as the first to speak and taught us we don’t know s---. It’s humbling. And in those moments, your job is to shut up and let these women and girls speak for themselves.

What would you consider to be the most difficult part of your reporting and why?

Alesia: I can think of a few things. I’m a 54-year-old man. Much younger women were telling me about deeply personal and private matters. We had to have a certain level of detail so readers wouldn’t think these were accidents or misunderstandings. They were sexual abuse. In a few instances where we needed a lot of detail—even if it wouldn’t be published—Marisa talked with the women. Also, with one exception, USA Gymnastics would only take written questions. We received written answers that invariably ignored some questions and gave partial answers to others. It was frustrating. And we found USA Gymnastics to have a secretive culture with power concentrated in a few people. People at all levels of the sport were afraid to rock the boat.

Kozlowski: Language. Getting words like “vagina,” “anus” and “clitoris” in the paper. Publishing these words was not meant to be titillating. They involved crimes against these women. But there was more than one debate in the newsroom about how to describe the crimes accurately. For the public to understand what Nassar did to these young women, I believe we should describe what he did briefly but explicitly because not every person pays attention to every news story.

The phrase “sexual abuse under the guise of a medical treatment” is commonly used. But what will that mean years from now? Nassar had a pattern. Since “sexual abuse” can mean many things, I believe it should be clear that Nassar inserted his fingers inside women’s vaginas, and sometimes their anuses, without gloves, lubricant or consent, often while their parents were in the room. All the women testified in court what he did to them so I believe we have a responsibility to report the words they used and be part of the culture that sheds light on sexual violence so it doesn’t stay in the shadows.

Kwiatkowski: It was difficult to pin down whether USA Gymnastics had changed its policy for handling sexual abuse complaints. The organization declined our request for an in-person interview and, with one exception, required all questions to be submitted in writing. When USA Gymnastics responded, it ignored some questions and provided partial answers to others.

Mencarini: This is a tough question. This story is a heavy topic. It can grind you down mentally and emotionally over the course of 16 months, or during a seven-day sentencing. Understanding the overlapping timelines, separate investigations, individual assaults, lawsuits, university responses and connections between them all is, in my opinion, the most crucial part of reporting this story. I think the most difficult part of my reporting is understanding those connections while being aware of the specific abuses and trauma suffered and not getting burned out. It pales in comparison to what the women and girls have gone through, or are going through, but as a reporter it's been the most difficult part of covering this story. I've had ups and downs with it.

Wells: I don’t think I’m going to have a good answer on this one for a while. It’s not done yet.

When did sources begin reaching out to you on this story?

Alesia: In summer 2016, before our first story, I had been trying to contact a longtime coach and judge in the sport. Finally, I left a letter at the door of her home. That weekend, the woman happened to be staying with a former national team gymnast, Molly Shawen-Kollmann, in Cincinnati. Molly saw the letter and sent me an email. She became an invaluable source on the culture, history and power players in the sport. Now we’re getting so many tips, we can hardly keep up.

Kozlowski: Immediately after we started reporting the story, in early 2017. There was an understanding about the power of media among those who wanted Nassar behind bars. That understanding came as news is more accessible than ever. Denhollander’s report about Nassar to Michigan State was followed by her account to the IndyStar. There used to be a time when mostly Indiana residents might have seen that story. But that story, and so many others, reverberated beyond local markets and prompted other victims to come forward. Journalism gave voice to those who were voiceless for so long, and those voices are louder than they have ever been.

Kwiatkowski: It was a source who first suggested I look into USA Gymnastics. As word spread about our investigation, we received calls from others.

Mencarini: I began hearing from sources within days of the first Indy story.

Wells: Late fall 2016? Maybe very early 2017?

Journalists are not necessarily well versed in topics like sexual assault and child predators. How did you prepare for this assignment?

Alesia: I worked a lot on the Jared Fogle case, including a feature on the prosecutor and cops who specialize in child pornography cases. So, unfortunately, this was not new territory for me.

Kozlowski: Many years ago I attended a training for journalists held by the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Kwiatkowski: I’ve spent years reporting on child abuse and neglect. In my role at The Indianapolis Star, I handle investigations relating to social services and welfare issues—such as child abuse and neglect, poverty, elder abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and access to mental health services. I used that experience as my colleagues and I investigated USA Gymnastics and the allegations against Larry Nassar.

Mencarini: I cover the criminal justice system and had reported quite a bit on sexual assault by the time Indy published the Nassar story. I spent good portions of 2015 and 2016 reporting on a local case that involved a pediatric dentist who had been convicted, years later, of sexually assaulting a young boy who was a patient. I profiled the victim in that case, who was in his 20s when he reported to police. I also reported on the Court of Appeals decision to overturn the former dentist's sexual assault convictions and the no-jail plea agreement on a child abuse charge that followed. In June 2016, I began working on an investigation into the way Michigan State University handled sexual assault and harassment complaints over a several year period. That story ran in Dec. 2016 and included details of Nassar's 2014 Title IX investigation and an interview with the victim. So by the time the Indy story was published, I had already had a lot of conversations with sexual assault advocates and experts about trauma, sexual abuse and the systems in place to respond to abuse. Those conversations have proved invaluable.

Wells: So, fortunately or unfortunately, I’d already had a few years of reporting around how higher education handles sexual assault, including a long, MSU-specific investigation.

But child sexual abuse is a completely different field, obviously, that needed very specific tools. Rachael Denhollander was the one who pointed me to specialists like Carla Van Dam (she’s basically written the manual for understanding men like Nassar: The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused, which should be required reading) and Anna Salter. It was also helpful to talk with organizations working to educate adults, like Darkness to Light, and those who’ve handled large child sexual abuse cases from the law enforcement perspective. All those people I talked to had seen this before—so many times, really, that they were totally unsurprised about the details when I filled them in on this case, and basically could have charted this out from the beginning. Which shows you how we keep letting this happen to kids, over and over and over again, because we are so abysmal at understanding that the most effective predators are the people we trust. From the journalism perspective, the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma at the Columbia Journalism School has some great resources for reporters doing this kind of work—basically, how to not screw things up further for the people you’re talking to. It is not just have you talked them through the potential fallout from this interview? But also, what kind of support system do they have? Are you just leaving them high and dry at the end of an upsetting, emotional interview? What kind of expectations are you giving them about what will happen or come of this story?

Is there anything you would have done differently in your reporting or writing or broadcasting and why?

Alesia: Not really. I think we made the most of our resources based on what we knew at the time.

Kozlowski: In 2015, federal officials issued a report that Michigan State did not have the procedures and policies in place to handle Title IX complaints. The report was part of a nationwide crackdown on campus sexual assault, so MSU was not alone. Even so, if we had looked more closely and reported on some of the Title IX reports upon which this report was based, maybe the story would have emerged a year earlier while Nassar was still assaulting women.

Kwiatkowski: No.

Mencarini: This is another tough question. I think I'm still too close to it all to have that perspective. The MSU side of this story is still developing rapidly. I'm immersed in the reporting every day. I'm proud of the work I've done and the details about MSU's involvement I've been able to uncover. Right now I can't think of anything I would have done differently, but ask me in two years and I might have an answer.

Wells: Oh, so many things. But top two that come to mind: 1) there were editors outside of Michigan, who were telling me this was a “local story” for a long time—pretty much right up until the sentencing. While I disagreed, I didn’t fight them that hard on it. I should have. 2) I wish I had started saying something earlier about how the media and the public are approaching this differently, because it’s girls and because it’s gymnastics. The women and girls I spoke with were saying that for months and months, and every time I said “yup, I totally agree,” but I never thought “let’s do a story about that. Let’s talk about that.”

?

In her sentencing of Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said to him, "I just signed your death warrant." The remark sparked some debate. What was going through your head when she said that and how did you write/broadcast about that?

Alesia: I didn’t write it. My story that day was about Rachael Denhollander. I rode with Rachael and her husband to court from Kalamazoo, where they were staying with her parents.

Kozlowski: It was a provocative quote that became the headline over our story. But I agreed with the judge and others who thought the sentence was to serve justice for the victims. I wrote through the story with some of the victims’s quotes very high in the narrative, including one from Kyle Stephens, who said: “My monster is gone.”

Kwiatkowski: I was working on another project at the time and did not see that portion of the sentencing hearing. Nor did I write about it. Our colleagues at the Lansing State Journal did a great job handling that coverage.

Mencarini: I've covered enough sentencing hearings in Judge Aquilina's courtroom to know that a line like that was possible. I can't say I expected something so direct, but she doesn't hold back when addressing defendants at sentencing. We included the line high up in our story and as part of the headline online.

Wells: Honestly, it wasn’t that far out of line with things previously said during the sentencing hearing, and if you’re familiar with Judge Aquilina, you know she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind. So I wasn’t clutching my pearls or anything.

Although this case generated significant national attention during the week of sentencing, Nassar was not covered extensively by most national media until then. Why do you think this was the case?

Alesia: I’ll take this answer and the one below together. The initial story, which had nothing to do with Nassar and was published on the eve of the Rio Olympics, received a lot of attention. But there wasn’t a big national hit on Nassar until three Olympic gymnasts went on 60 Minutes in February 2017. And although Rachael Denhollander had been doing media interviews consistently, the Nassar story didn’t get national attention again until more Olympic gymnasts went public with their abuse. It took the Lansing hearing and 156 women telling their stories to shake people into paying attention.

Kozlowski: Sexual assaults reported nationally generally involve unusual circumstances. In the Nassar case, national media reports emerged when Olympic gymnasts began going public in early 2017. But even before that, lawsuits were piling up against Nassar and he lost his job and medical license. Police also discovered 37,000 images of child pornography on external hard drives that he disposed of in his trash can. So I am not sure why the national media did not cover the Nassar case more extensively.

Kwiatkowski: Our investigation generated significant attention from national media when the first piece published in August 2016. That attention waned in the months afterward, until several high-profile gymnasts shared their experiences. National attention focused on USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar and others again in January as 156 women and girls shared their stories during Nassar’s sentencing hearing.

Mencarini: I've thought about this a decent amount, but I don't think I have a great answer. In March 2017, Judge Aquilina granted a request by Nassar's attorneys to place a gag order on those connected to the criminal case, which included many of the women and girls who spoke at sentencing. A federal lawsuit was filed over that gag order. I think that played a role as many couldn't share the stories they did at sentencing until the gag order was lifted in November after Nassar pleaded guilty. This is also a complex story, with police and university investigations, lawsuits and sexual assaults disguised as medical procedures that even some victims didn't realize were abuse until decades later. I think it's a difficult story to drop in on and for a while it moved pretty fast.

Wells: If I’m being generous, it’s that the sheer scale and power of this case was really best demonstrated by seeing those survivors tell their stories, one after another. It was powerful and riveting and I understand why that moment made such an impact. But it’s also frustrating, because the women and girls were getting up in court and saying, “I was reporting this abuse 20 years ago, where were you guys then?” Rachael Denhollander and others had been putting themselves out on a limb, publicly, for more than a year and a half. The national media’s reaction doesn’t feel all that different. I was driving back from the sentencing hearing this week, listening to a podcast that covers the media, from a network I really respect. The two hosts were asking each other why it had taken so long for the national media to cover the Nassar case, and while their general take was that the lack of coverage had been an unfortunate failure, some of their reasoning didn’t hold water.

For instance: they were saying how even sports networks don’t have a full-time gymnastics reporter, so it’s not like you’ve got somebody who can really jump on this story. Ok, sure. But you’ve got a bunch of college sports reporters, right? You’re telling me if, say, the water polo team at Ohio State started having dozens and dozens of former male players come out to say they’d been sexually abused for 20 years and no adults had listened to them, that you don’t dispatch even one guy to Columbus for a couple days? These podcast hosts also said that, until this month’s criminal sentencing, there was no “present tense” to the Nassar story, no solid “news hook” to give your editor. But new allegations have been coming out for 18 months straight, with more than 130 civil suits being filed, multiple preliminary exams in the criminal case, charges at the federal level, a police investigation, an FBI investigation, suspensions, resignations, etc. Newspapers like the Lansing State Journal managed to produce more than 100 stories in 18 months. There were news pegs.

None of us in this job are perfect. There are 18 million things I would like to go back and do differently about this story. And lord knows, if I was working in New York or D.C. and had started hearing about the Nassar case, I’m not saying I would have demanded my editor put me on the next plane to East Lansing. Far from it. But I am saying, let’s be honest about what happened here: these were girls. So unless it was happening in your backyard, the media didn’t care—or worse, didn’t think its audience would care, and didn’t feel like putting in the work to persuade them otherwise.

In your opinion, did gender or that the sport was gymnastics play a role in why the story did not receive national coverage compared to other sports scandals?

Alesia: I do believe that gender and the sport played a role.

Kozlowski: I think gender played a role but some attributed it more to the sport and other factors. The Jerry Sandusky/Penn State case involved the national pastime of football and a legendary coach, besides the assaults of young boys and cover up. However, the Nassar case eclipsed the number of victims in the Sandusky scandal a long time ago. Our society seems a little more shocked when boys are assaulted than girls. Maybe this will help change that.

Kwiatkowski: My focus has been on examining failures in the system, not making comparisons to other situations.

Mencarini: I think it's possible. I'd like to think that the national media doesn't care less about young gymnasts, young girls or women (not all were athletes) being abused than it does young boys or men being abused. But I can't rule it out.

Wells: Yes. This case has shown us just differently people react when a woman or a girl accuses a man of abuse, compared with a man or a boy making the same allegations. Over and over again, we saw dozens of women and girls say the same thing during sentencing: I thought I must be mistaken. Or: it felt wrong, but this guy was a really big deal so I must be the one with the dirty mind. That says something about the way we raise our girls, the way we teach them to be so petrified of being “difficult,” that it’s easier to just say nothing.

I know with the Jerry Sandusky case we saw coaches and administrators look the other way when male children were being abused—but not because they didn’t believe the abuse could be happening. You can argue the cover up went so high up the chain of command, because those involved knew how big the fallout would be. With the Nassar case, multiple adults just didn’t believe girls.

Even now, when the national media is finally interested, the way we cover it sometimes feels…gendered. There are those who really want us to get to the point where these women are at a place of “healing,” where they’re “so empowering.” Are they powerful? Absolutely. Have they managed to survive a living hell? Yes. But if these were boys, would we be rushing them to emotionally wrap it up, so to speak? Their strength is formidable and awe-inspiring, but I’m wary of the desire to package these survivors’ experiences into something neat and pretty, just so we can feel more comfortable with it.

To that same end, I’ve encountered a lot of pushback and limits on what we can say about the abuse itself. I understand that, especially with broadcast, your kids could be in the car and you may have missed the disturbing-content warning at the beginning of the story. But what happened to these women, matters. Their decision not to shield us from that brutality and horror, matters.

Still, some of those I work with (and not everyone, to be clear) repeatedly want to edit those parts out and sub in the vaguest terms possible: words like “digital penetration,” which frankly couldn’t be more clinical, get replaced with the vague and confusing “inappropriate touching.” If you were the one who’d experienced this abuse, how would you feel about someone deciding your story, the one you chose to tell in court for the entire world, was too indecent to accurately describe? Of course it’s indecent. It’s abuse. And if we don’t trust our audience enough to tell them the facts about what’s actually happened, then we are doing them a disservice as well as these survivors.

?

What should the public know about the resources it takes to cover these types of stories?

Alesia: IndyStar devoted three reporters to the story, virtually full-time, for a year. That is a very big deal for an operation of our size. We travelled all over the country. And, we hired a lawyer in Atlanta to intervene in a court case in Georgia to unseal 54 files that USA Gymnastics kept on abusive coaches. USA Gymnastics fought to keep the files secret, saying in court filings that we wanted to do a “National Enquirer-like article … to satisfy the economic interests of Indy Star’s advertisers, owners, and investors.” The process dragged on for about nine months. I don’t know how much our company paid, but the lawyer could not have been cheap. It was a big commitment by Gannett, the USA Today Network and IndyStar. We used the USA Today Network for help on various aspects of the reporting, especially Matt Mencarini in Lansing, Mich.

Kozlowski: These stories demand enormous time and energy, and involve numerous members of our staff. But telling the Nassar scandal is the reason why my colleagues and I are in journalism: To give voice to the voiceless and hold those with power accountable. In a public statement in Eaton County court on Friday, Larissa Boyce turned to the media and told us to not forget. She asked us continue to report so that other victims will come forward and the dialogue around sexual assault will result in change in the future. To Boyce, and every other woman who has been sexually assaulted: We will continue to report on this and other sexual assault stories, and demand answers from those who don’t do the right thing.

Kwiatkowski: Our bosses at IndyStar and Gannett invested significant time and resources toward this investigation. They supported our project from its first day. They let Mark, Tim, Steve Berta, Robert Scheer and me work on this investigation nearly full-time for a year. We flew to a dozen states. We sought public records in at least 23 states. We received help from colleagues throughout the USA TODAY Network. And the company fought a legal battle for access to court records in Georgia. If you believe in the value of journalism, please subscribe to your local newspaper.

Mencarini: The State Journal has 13 news reporters. For much of the 16 months since the first Indy story, this is the only thing I did. There were stretches, especially at the end of 2016, when I did other reporting, but for the most part this story has occupied nearly all of my time. In a newsroom of our size, that's a significant investment. Time, in my opinion, is the most valuable resource for a story like this. I needed time to review each lawsuit, go to each hearing, dig through court and public records and speak with as many people connected to the case as possible. Not every newsroom could or would devote resources that significant to a single story for such a long time. I can't imagine covering this story without the time and resources my editors gave me. Local journalism and local investigative reporting are important, and the Nassar story—with the USAG and MSU sides—shows exactly why.

Feel free to add anything you wish.

Kwiatkowski: Thank you to the people who trusted us to share their stories.

Wells: Sorry, I’m going on my soap box here, but I worry that, as Nassar becomes a name we put in the same category with Sandusky or Boston priests, the general public concludes these predators look like boogeymen, you know? When the reason they were able to victimize so many, is because these were seemingly kind, trustworthy, respectable people who looked like they were doing a lot of good. The most effective predator is the one who makes you think, “there’s got to be a misunderstanding here, let’s work this out” when you see a red flag. Most adults don’t get into coaching or medicine or just general education because they think, “I hope I’m part of enabling large-scale sexual predation one day.” Lots of good adults are capable of giving other nice-seeming adults the benefit of the doubt. And that’s how this continues.

If interested in the work of the panelists above, click below:

Alesia, Indy Star
Kozlowski, Detroit News
Kwiatkowski: Indy Star
Mencarini: The Lansing State Journal
Wells: Michigan Radio

<p>The stories coming out of Lansing, Mich., over the past few weeks have been gutting. <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/01/24/larry-nassar-sentencing-usa-gymnastics-abuse-victims-michigan-state" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:More than 150 women" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">More than 150 women</a> gave victim statements in the <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2018/01/31/how-long-larry-nassar-spend-behind-bars/1083275001/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:sentencing" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">sentencing</a> of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who in November pled guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with minors. Credit the <em>Indianapolis Star</em>, who in 2016 published <a href="http://interactives.indystar.com/news/standing/OutOfBalanceSeries/index2.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a lengthy investigation" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a lengthy investigation</a> into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints over decades, for triggering the reporting.</p><p>This week I impaneled a group of five reporters (including two of the <em>IndyStar </em>reporters involved in the investigation above) who have covered the story in full, from the role of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State to the Nassar sentencing. I wanted to get insight into their reporting and what the public should know about this kind of work. I hope you will find it as illuminating as I did.</p><p><strong>The panel:</strong></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/markalesia" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Mark Alesia" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Mark Alesia</a>, reporter, <em>IndyStar</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/kimberkoz?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kim Kozlowski" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Kim Kozlowski</a>, higher education reporter, <em>Detroit News</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/IndyMarisaK?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Marisa Kwiatkowski" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Marisa Kwiatkowski</a>, investigative reporter, <em>IndyStar</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/MattMencarini?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Matt Mencarini" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Matt Mencarini</a>, reporter, <em>Lansing State Journal</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/katelouisewells?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kate Wells" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Kate Wells</a>, host/reporter/producer, Michigan Radio</p><h3><strong>When did you first start reporting on USA Gymnastics or Larry Nassar—and what was the impetus behind that decision?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>After Marisa came back from Georgia with about 1,000 pages of court documents, I was asked to get involved. Tim Evans joined us soon after that.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> One of the metro editors at the <em>Detroit News</em> thought we needed to do a story about the Larry Nassar case in January 2017, when it became clear that his sexual abuse extended beyond USA Gymnastics. Another colleague, Frank Donnelly, and I wrote the first few stories and I continued to follow it after that.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>In March of 2016, I was investigating failures to report sexual abuse in schools when a source suggested I look into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints. The source pointed me toward a lawsuit in Georgia. As I gathered more information, I was told a judge was about to seal important records in the case. My bosses allowed me to fly to Georgia later that day. I picked up nearly 1,000 pages of court records. As soon as I returned to Indianapolis, Mark Alesia, Tim Evans and I began our investigation into the organization.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> My reporting on Nassar began the day the <em>IndyStar </em>story was published. <em>Indy</em> and the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> are part of the USA Today Network so I knew something was coming in the days before their story, but my reporting the local side of it began that day. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Our newsroom actually started covering this from the sports angle, after the IndyStar 2016 report came out. We didn’t recognize the scale at that time—it seemed to us, in our limited perspective, like it was an offshoot of <em>IndyStar</em>’s incredible USA Gymnastics investigations. It was one of our sports/general assignment guys, Josh Hakala, who jumped on it first in our newsroom.</p><h3><strong>When did you realize the scope and importance of this story?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>For Nassar, it was when Jessica Howard, a former national champion in rhythmic gymnastics, left a message on my work voicemail on a Sunday evening. I called back and her story of Nassar’s abuse tracked closely to what we had heard from Rachael Denhollander and the people behind a lawsuit that was about to be filed by Jamie Dantzscher, then an anonymous plaintiff. The women didn’t know each other. I thought there had to be more victim/survivors.</p><p>After publication, we started hearing from more victim/survivors (and getting nasty emails and voicemails from Nassar’s supporters). We also checked the public Michigan State University Police log daily. More and more people were reporting sexual assaults at addresses connected to Nassar. At no point, though, could I have ever imagined more than 250 victim/survivors coming forward to police.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> February 2017 was a key month, when Michigan State head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages stepped down after Larissa Boyce and another gymnast filed lawsuits that they told Klages about Nassar in 1997 but she didn’t believe them. Also in February 2017, Kyle Stephens became the first woman to publicly testify against Nassar during a preliminary exam in court. She spoke of how Nassar assaulted her for years beginning when she was six years old during family visits to his house. Other women testified about Nassar’s pattern of grooming them, earning their trust and then assaulting them. But the tipping point was just a few weeks ago when more than 150 women came forward and made statements about Nassar’s abuse in a courtroom. During those seven days, the majority of woman shed their Jane Doe identities and gave their names, allowing the world to see and hear their painful stories and how many people did not believe them or take action. Had the majority of the women remained anonymous, the cameras would have stopped rolling and the newspapers wouldn’t have been able to put so many faces behind Nassar’s crimes. But one woman’s courage empowered the next and created a milestone in women’s history in the movement to end sexual violence against women.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> We knew early in our investigation that USA Gymnastics executives had followed a policy of dismissing complaints as “hearsay” unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent. My colleagues and I spent the next few months investigating the impact of that policy on the safety of children in gymnastics. From the beginning, we knew it was an important topic. I started to understand the scope of allegations against Larry Nassar after we published our first piece about him. We received calls and emails from more than a dozen other survivors.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> Within days of the first <em>Indy</em> story, police and prosecutors were saying they had received more than a dozen new sexual assault reports against Nassar. So it was clear whatever criminal case developed would be high profile. But early on, my editor Al Wilson instilled in me that the real story, for us at the <em>State Journal</em>, was MSU. We covered every step of Nassar&#39;s criminal cases, but from the start our investigative reporting focus was squarely on the university. This felt, to us, like an important institutional story pretty early on, especially once we had the 2014 Title IX report.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Honestly, every time I think I do understand it, that’s usually a sign that the weight of this—of the experiences of the people involved in it—is just going to hit me like a freight train all over again. Going into the sentencing hearings, I’d been so consumed by this story, and then Kyle Stephens stood up there as the first to speak and taught us we don’t know s---. It’s humbling. And in those moments, your job is to shut up and let these women and girls speak for themselves. </p><h3><strong>What would you consider to be the most difficult part of your reporting and why?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia</strong>: I can think of a few things. I’m a 54-year-old man. Much younger women were telling me about deeply personal and private matters. We had to have a certain level of detail so readers wouldn’t think these were accidents or misunderstandings. They were sexual abuse. In a few instances where we needed a lot of detail—even if it wouldn’t be published—Marisa talked with the women. Also, with one exception, USA Gymnastics would only take written questions. We received written answers that invariably ignored some questions and gave partial answers to others. It was frustrating. And we found USA Gymnastics to have a secretive culture with power concentrated in a few people. People at all levels of the sport were afraid to rock the boat.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Language. Getting words like “vagina,” “anus” and “clitoris” in the paper. Publishing these words was not meant to be titillating. They involved crimes against these women. But there was more than one debate in the newsroom about how to describe the crimes accurately. For the public to understand what Nassar did to these young women, I believe we should describe what he did briefly but explicitly because not every person pays attention to every news story.</p><p>The phrase “sexual abuse under the guise of a medical treatment” is commonly used. But what will that mean years from now? Nassar had a pattern. Since “sexual abuse” can mean many things, I believe it should be clear that Nassar inserted his fingers inside women’s vaginas, and sometimes their anuses, without gloves, lubricant or consent, often while their parents were in the room. All the women testified in court what he did to them so I believe we have a responsibility to report the words they used and be part of the culture that sheds light on sexual violence so it doesn’t stay in the shadows.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>It was difficult to pin down whether USA Gymnastics had changed its policy for handling sexual abuse complaints. The organization declined our request for an in-person interview and, with one exception, required all questions to be submitted in writing. When USA Gymnastics responded, it ignored some questions and provided partial answers to others.</p><p><strong>Mencarini: </strong>This is a tough question. This story is a heavy topic. It can grind you down mentally and emotionally over the course of 16 months, or during a seven-day sentencing. Understanding the overlapping timelines, separate investigations, individual assaults, lawsuits, university responses and connections between them all is, in my opinion, the most crucial part of reporting this story. I think the most difficult part of my reporting is understanding those connections while being aware of the specific abuses and trauma suffered and not getting burned out. It pales in comparison to what the women and girls have gone through, or are going through, but as a reporter it&#39;s been the most difficult part of covering this story. I&#39;ve had ups and downs with it.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> I don’t think I’m going to have a good answer on this one for a while. It’s not done yet.</p><h3><strong>When did sources begin reaching out to you on this story?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>In summer 2016, before our first story, I had been trying to contact a longtime coach and judge in the sport. Finally, I left a letter at the door of her home. That weekend, the woman happened to be staying with a former national team gymnast, Molly Shawen-Kollmann, in Cincinnati. Molly saw the letter and sent me an email. She became an invaluable source on the culture, history and power players in the sport. Now we’re getting so many tips, we can hardly keep up.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski</strong>: Immediately after we started reporting the story, in early 2017. There was an understanding about the power of media among those who wanted Nassar behind bars. That understanding came as news is more accessible than ever. Denhollander’s report about Nassar to Michigan State was followed by her account to the <em>IndyStar</em>. There used to be a time when mostly Indiana residents might have seen that story. But that story, and so many others, reverberated beyond local markets and prompted other victims to come forward. Journalism gave voice to those who were voiceless for so long, and those voices are louder than they have ever been.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski</strong>: It was a source who first suggested I look into USA Gymnastics. As word spread about our investigation, we received calls from others.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I began hearing from sources within days of the first Indy story. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Late fall 2016? Maybe very early 2017?</p><h3><strong>Journalists are not necessarily well versed in topics like sexual assault and child predators. How did you prepare for this assignment?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I worked a lot on the Jared Fogle case, including a feature on the prosecutor and cops who specialize in child pornography cases. So, unfortunately, this was not new territory for me.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Many years ago I attended a training for journalists held by the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> I’ve spent years reporting on child abuse and neglect. In my role at <em>The Indianapolis Star</em>, I handle investigations relating to social services and welfare issues—such as child abuse and neglect, poverty, elder abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and access to mental health services. I used that experience as my colleagues and I investigated USA Gymnastics and the allegations against Larry Nassar.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I cover the criminal justice system and had reported quite a bit on sexual assault by the time <em>Indy</em> published the Nassar story. I spent good portions of 2015 and 2016 reporting on a local case that involved a pediatric dentist who had been convicted, years later, of sexually assaulting a young boy who was a patient. I profiled the victim in that case, who was in his 20s when he reported to police. I also reported on the Court of Appeals decision to overturn the former dentist&#39;s sexual assault convictions and the no-jail plea agreement on a child abuse charge that followed. In June 2016, I began working on an investigation into the way Michigan State University handled sexual assault and harassment complaints over a several year period. That story ran in Dec. 2016 and included details of Nassar&#39;s 2014 Title IX investigation and an interview with the victim. So by the time the <em>Indy</em> story was published, I had already had a lot of conversations with sexual assault advocates and experts about trauma, sexual abuse and the systems in place to respond to abuse. Those conversations have proved invaluable. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> So, fortunately or unfortunately, I’d already had a few years of reporting around how higher education handles sexual assault, including a long, MSU-specific investigation.</p><p>But child sexual abuse is a completely different field, obviously, that needed very specific tools. Rachael Denhollander was the one who pointed me to specialists like Carla Van Dam (she’s basically written the manual for understanding men like Nassar: <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Socially-Skilled-Child-Molester-Differentiating/dp/0789028069" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused</a></em>, which should be required reading) and Anna Salter. It was also helpful to talk with organizations working to educate adults, like Darkness to Light, and those who’ve handled large child sexual abuse cases from the law enforcement perspective. All those people I talked to had seen this before—so many times, really, that they were totally unsurprised about the details when I filled them in on this case, and basically could have charted this out from the beginning. Which shows you how we keep letting this happen to kids, over and over and over again, because we are so abysmal at understanding that the most effective predators are the people we trust. From the journalism perspective, the Dart Center for Journalism &#38; Trauma at the Columbia Journalism School has some great resources for reporters doing this kind of work—basically, how to not screw things up further for the people you’re talking to. It is not just have you talked them through the potential fallout from this interview? But also, what kind of support system do they have? Are you just leaving them high and dry at the end of an upsetting, emotional interview? What kind of expectations are you giving them about what will happen or come of this story?</p><h3><strong>Is there anything you would have done differently in your reporting or writing or broadcasting and why?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>Not really. I think we made the most of our resources based on what we knew at the time.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> In 2015, federal officials issued a report that Michigan State did not have the procedures and policies in place to handle Title IX complaints. The report was part of a nationwide crackdown on campus sexual assault, so MSU was not alone. Even so, if we had looked more closely and reported on some of the Title IX reports upon which this report was based, maybe the story would have emerged a year earlier while Nassar was still assaulting women.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>No.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> This is another tough question. I think I&#39;m still too close to it all to have that perspective. The MSU side of this story is still developing rapidly. I&#39;m immersed in the reporting every day. I&#39;m proud of the work I&#39;ve done and the details about MSU&#39;s involvement I&#39;ve been able to uncover. Right now I can&#39;t think of anything I would have done differently, but ask me in two years and I might have an answer. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Oh, so many things. But top two that come to mind: 1) there were editors outside of Michigan, who were telling me this was a “local story” for a long time—pretty much right up until the sentencing. While I disagreed, I didn’t fight them that hard on it. I should have. 2) I wish I had started saying something earlier about how the media and the public are approaching this differently, because it’s girls and because it’s gymnastics. The women and girls I spoke with were saying that for months and months, and every time I said “yup, I totally agree,” but I never thought “let’s do a story about that. Let’s talk about that.”</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>In her sentencing of Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said to him, &quot;I just signed your death warrant.&quot; The remark sparked some debate. What was going through your head when she said that and how did you write/broadcast about that?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I didn’t write it. My story that day was about Rachael Denhollander. I rode with Rachael and her husband to court from Kalamazoo, where they were staying with her parents.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> It was a provocative quote that became the headline over our story. But I agreed with the judge and others who thought the sentence was to serve justice for the victims. I wrote through the story with some of the victims’s quotes very high in the narrative, including one from Kyle Stephens, who said: “My monster is gone.”</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>I was working on another project at the time and did not see that portion of the sentencing hearing. Nor did I write about it. Our colleagues at the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> did a great job handling that coverage.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I&#39;ve covered enough sentencing hearings in Judge Aquilina&#39;s courtroom to know that a line like that was possible. I can&#39;t say I expected something so direct, but she doesn&#39;t hold back when addressing defendants at sentencing. We included the line high up in our story and as part of the headline online.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Honestly, it wasn’t that far out of line with things previously said during the sentencing hearing, and if you’re familiar with Judge Aquilina, you know she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind. So I wasn’t clutching my pearls or anything.</p><h3><strong>Although this case generated significant national attention during the week of sentencing, Nassar was not covered extensively by most national media until then. Why do you think this was the case?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I’ll take this answer and the one below together. The initial story, which had nothing to do with Nassar and was published on the eve of the Rio Olympics, received a lot of attention. But there wasn’t a big national hit on Nassar until three Olympic gymnasts went on <em>60 Minutes</em> in February 2017. And although Rachael Denhollander had been doing media interviews consistently, the Nassar story didn’t get national attention again until more Olympic gymnasts went public with their abuse. It took the Lansing hearing and 156 women telling their stories to shake people into paying attention.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Sexual assaults reported nationally generally involve unusual circumstances. In the Nassar case, national media reports emerged when Olympic gymnasts began going public in early 2017. But even before that, lawsuits were piling up against Nassar and he lost his job and medical license. Police also discovered 37,000 images of child pornography on external hard drives that he disposed of in his trash can. So I am not sure why the national media did not cover the Nassar case more extensively.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> Our investigation generated significant attention from national media when the first piece published in August 2016. That attention waned in the months afterward, until several high-profile gymnasts shared their experiences. National attention focused on USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar and others again in January as 156 women and girls shared their stories during Nassar’s sentencing hearing.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I&#39;ve thought about this a decent amount, but I don&#39;t think I have a great answer. In March 2017, Judge Aquilina granted a request by Nassar&#39;s attorneys to place a gag order on those connected to the criminal case, which included many of the women and girls who spoke at sentencing. A federal lawsuit was filed over that gag order. I think that played a role as many couldn&#39;t share the stories they did at sentencing until the gag order was lifted in November after Nassar pleaded guilty. This is also a complex story, with police and university investigations, lawsuits and sexual assaults disguised as medical procedures that even some victims didn&#39;t realize were abuse until decades later. I think it&#39;s a difficult story to drop in on and for a while it moved pretty fast. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> If I’m being generous, it’s that the sheer scale and power of this case was really best demonstrated by seeing those survivors tell their stories, one after another. It was powerful and riveting and I understand why that moment made such an impact. But it’s also frustrating, because the women and girls were getting up in court and saying, “I was reporting this abuse 20 years ago, where were you guys then?” Rachael Denhollander and others had been putting themselves out on a limb, publicly, for more than a year and a half. The national media’s reaction doesn’t feel all that different. I was driving back from the sentencing hearing this week, listening to a podcast that covers the media, from a network I really respect. The two hosts were asking each other why it had taken so long for the national media to cover the Nassar case, and while their general take was that the lack of coverage had been an unfortunate failure, some of their reasoning didn’t hold water.</p><p>For instance: they were saying how even sports networks don’t have a full-time gymnastics reporter, so it’s not like you’ve got somebody who can really jump on this story. Ok, sure. But you’ve got a bunch of college sports reporters, right? You’re telling me if, say, the water polo team at Ohio State started having dozens and dozens of former male players come out to say they’d been sexually abused for 20 years and no adults had listened to them, that you don’t dispatch even one guy to Columbus for a couple days? These podcast hosts also said that, until this month’s criminal sentencing, there was no “present tense” to the Nassar story, no solid “news hook” to give your editor. But new allegations have been coming out for 18 months straight, with more than 130 civil suits being filed, multiple preliminary exams in the criminal case, charges at the federal level, a police investigation, an FBI investigation, suspensions, resignations, etc. Newspapers like the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> managed to produce more than 100 stories in 18 months. There were news pegs. </p><p>None of us in this job are perfect. There are 18 million things I would like to go back and do differently about this story. And lord knows, if I was working in New York or D.C. and had started hearing about the Nassar case, I’m not saying I would have demanded my editor put me on the next plane to East Lansing. Far from it. But I am saying, let’s be honest about what happened here: these were girls. So unless it was happening in your backyard, the media didn’t care—or worse, didn’t think its audience would care, and didn’t feel like putting in the work to persuade them otherwise.</p><h3><strong>In your opinion, did gender or that the sport was gymnastics play a role in why the story did not receive national coverage compared to other sports scandals?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I do believe that gender and the sport played a role.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> I think gender played a role but some attributed it more to the sport and other factors. The Jerry Sandusky/Penn State case involved the national pastime of football and a legendary coach, besides the assaults of young boys and cover up. However, the Nassar case eclipsed the number of victims in the Sandusky scandal a long time ago. Our society seems a little more shocked when boys are assaulted than girls. Maybe this will help change that.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>My focus has been on examining failures in the system, not making comparisons to other situations.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I think it&#39;s possible. I&#39;d like to think that the national media doesn&#39;t care less about young gymnasts, young girls or women (not all were athletes) being abused than it does young boys or men being abused. But I can&#39;t rule it out. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Yes. This case has shown us just differently people react when a woman or a girl accuses a man of abuse, compared with a man or a boy making the same allegations. Over and over again, we saw dozens of women and girls say the same thing during sentencing: I thought I must be mistaken. Or: it felt wrong, but this guy was a really big deal so I must be the one with the dirty mind. That says something about the way we raise our girls, the way we teach them to be so petrified of being “difficult,” that it’s easier to just say nothing.</p><p>I know with the Jerry Sandusky case we saw coaches and administrators look the other way when male children were being abused—but not because they didn’t believe the abuse could be happening. You can argue the cover up went so high up the chain of command, because those involved knew how big the fallout would be. With the Nassar case, multiple adults just didn’t believe girls.</p><p>Even now, when the national media is finally interested, the way we cover it sometimes feels…gendered. There are those who really want us to get to the point where these women are at a place of “healing,” where they’re “so empowering.” Are they powerful? Absolutely. Have they managed to survive a living hell? Yes. But if these were boys, would we be rushing them to emotionally wrap it up, so to speak? Their strength is formidable and awe-inspiring, but I’m wary of the desire to package these survivors’ experiences into something neat and pretty, just so we can feel more comfortable with it. </p><p>To that same end, I’ve encountered a lot of pushback and limits on what we can say about the abuse itself. I understand that, especially with broadcast, your kids could be in the car and you may have missed the disturbing-content warning at the beginning of the story. But what happened to these women, matters. Their decision not to shield us from that brutality and horror, matters.</p><p>Still, some of those I work with (and not everyone, to be clear) repeatedly want to edit those parts out and sub in the vaguest terms possible: words like “digital penetration,” which frankly couldn’t be more clinical, get replaced with the vague and confusing “inappropriate touching.” If you were the one who’d experienced this abuse, how would you feel about someone deciding your story, the one you chose to tell in court for the entire world, was too indecent to accurately describe? Of course it’s indecent. It’s abuse. And if we don’t trust our audience enough to tell them the facts about what’s actually happened, then we are doing them a disservice as well as these survivors. </p><p>?</p><h3><strong>What should the public know about the resources it takes to cover these types of stories?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong><em>IndyStar</em> devoted three reporters to the story, virtually full-time, for a year. That is a very big deal for an operation of our size. We travelled all over the country. And, we hired a lawyer in Atlanta to intervene in a court case in Georgia to unseal 54 files that USA Gymnastics kept on abusive coaches. USA Gymnastics fought to keep the files secret, saying in court filings that we wanted to do a “<em>National Enquirer</em>-like article … to satisfy the economic interests of <em>Indy Star</em>’s advertisers, owners, and investors.” The process dragged on for about nine months. I don’t know how much our company paid, but the lawyer could not have been cheap. It was a big commitment by Gannett, the USA Today Network and <em>IndyStar.</em> We used the USA Today Network for help on various aspects of the reporting, especially Matt Mencarini in Lansing, Mich.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> These stories demand enormous time and energy, and involve numerous members of our staff. But telling the Nassar scandal is the reason why my colleagues and I are in journalism: To give voice to the voiceless and hold those with power accountable. In a public statement in Eaton County court on Friday, Larissa Boyce turned to the media and told us to not forget. She asked us continue to report so that other victims will come forward and the dialogue around sexual assault will result in change in the future. To Boyce, and every other woman who has been sexually assaulted: We will continue to report on this and other sexual assault stories, and demand answers from those who don’t do the right thing.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>Our bosses at <em>IndyStar</em> and Gannett invested significant time and resources toward this investigation. They supported our project from its first day. They let Mark, Tim, Steve Berta, Robert Scheer and me work on this investigation nearly full-time for a year. We flew to a dozen states. We sought public records in at least 23 states. We received help from colleagues throughout the USA TODAY Network. And the company fought a legal battle for access to court records in Georgia. If you believe in the value of journalism, please subscribe to your local newspaper.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> <em>The State Journal</em> has 13 news reporters. For much of the 16 months since the first <em>Indy</em> story, this is the only thing I did. There were stretches, especially at the end of 2016, when I did other reporting, but for the most part this story has occupied nearly all of my time. In a newsroom of our size, that&#39;s a significant investment. Time, in my opinion, is the most valuable resource for a story like this. I needed time to review each lawsuit, go to each hearing, dig through court and public records and speak with as many people connected to the case as possible. Not every newsroom could or would devote resources that significant to a single story for such a long time. I can&#39;t imagine covering this story without the time and resources my editors gave me. Local journalism and local investigative reporting are important, and the Nassar story—with the USAG and MSU sides—shows exactly why. </p><h3><strong>Feel free to add anything you wish.</strong></h3><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>Thank you to the people who trusted us to share their stories.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Sorry, I’m going on my soap box here, but I worry that, as Nassar becomes a name we put in the same category with Sandusky or Boston priests, the general public concludes these predators look like boogeymen, you know? When the reason they were able to victimize so many, is because these were seemingly kind, trustworthy, respectable people who looked like they were doing a lot of good. The most effective predator is the one who makes you think, “there’s got to be a misunderstanding here, let’s work this out” when you see a red flag. Most adults don’t get into coaching or medicine or just general education because they think, “I hope I’m part of enabling large-scale sexual predation one day.” Lots of good adults are capable of giving other nice-seeming adults the benefit of the doubt. And that’s how this continues. </p><p><em>If interested in the work of the panelists above, click below:</em></p><p>Alesia, <em><a href="https://www.indystar.com/staff/4121/mark-alesia/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Indy Star" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Indy Star</a></em><br>Kozlowski, <em><a href="https://www.detroitnews.com/staff/28115/kim-kozlowski/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Detroit News" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Detroit News</a></em><br>Kwiatkowski: <em><a href="https://www.indystar.com/staff/10048078/marisa-kwiatkowski/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Indy Star" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Indy Star</a></em><br>Mencarini: <em><a href="https://www.lansingstatejournal.com/staff/37347/matt-mencarini/%5D" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Lansing State Journal" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Lansing State Journal</a></em><br>Wells: <em><a href="http://michiganradio.org/people/kate-wells" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Michigan Radio" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Michigan Radio</a></em></p>
Inside the Reporting of Five Journalists That Helped End Larry Nassar’s Serial Sexual Abuse

The stories coming out of Lansing, Mich., over the past few weeks have been gutting. More than 150 women gave victim statements in the sentencing of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who in November pled guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with minors. Credit the Indianapolis Star, who in 2016 published a lengthy investigation into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints over decades, for triggering the reporting.

This week I impaneled a group of five reporters (including two of the IndyStar reporters involved in the investigation above) who have covered the story in full, from the role of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State to the Nassar sentencing. I wanted to get insight into their reporting and what the public should know about this kind of work. I hope you will find it as illuminating as I did.

The panel:

Mark Alesia, reporter, IndyStar

Kim Kozlowski, higher education reporter, Detroit News

Marisa Kwiatkowski, investigative reporter, IndyStar

Matt Mencarini, reporter, Lansing State Journal

Kate Wells, host/reporter/producer, Michigan Radio

When did you first start reporting on USA Gymnastics or Larry Nassar—and what was the impetus behind that decision?

Alesia: After Marisa came back from Georgia with about 1,000 pages of court documents, I was asked to get involved. Tim Evans joined us soon after that.

Kozlowski: One of the metro editors at the Detroit News thought we needed to do a story about the Larry Nassar case in January 2017, when it became clear that his sexual abuse extended beyond USA Gymnastics. Another colleague, Frank Donnelly, and I wrote the first few stories and I continued to follow it after that.

Kwiatkowski: In March of 2016, I was investigating failures to report sexual abuse in schools when a source suggested I look into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints. The source pointed me toward a lawsuit in Georgia. As I gathered more information, I was told a judge was about to seal important records in the case. My bosses allowed me to fly to Georgia later that day. I picked up nearly 1,000 pages of court records. As soon as I returned to Indianapolis, Mark Alesia, Tim Evans and I began our investigation into the organization.

Mencarini: My reporting on Nassar began the day the IndyStar story was published. Indy and the Lansing State Journal are part of the USA Today Network so I knew something was coming in the days before their story, but my reporting the local side of it began that day.

Wells: Our newsroom actually started covering this from the sports angle, after the IndyStar 2016 report came out. We didn’t recognize the scale at that time—it seemed to us, in our limited perspective, like it was an offshoot of IndyStar’s incredible USA Gymnastics investigations. It was one of our sports/general assignment guys, Josh Hakala, who jumped on it first in our newsroom.

When did you realize the scope and importance of this story?

Alesia: For Nassar, it was when Jessica Howard, a former national champion in rhythmic gymnastics, left a message on my work voicemail on a Sunday evening. I called back and her story of Nassar’s abuse tracked closely to what we had heard from Rachael Denhollander and the people behind a lawsuit that was about to be filed by Jamie Dantzscher, then an anonymous plaintiff. The women didn’t know each other. I thought there had to be more victim/survivors.

After publication, we started hearing from more victim/survivors (and getting nasty emails and voicemails from Nassar’s supporters). We also checked the public Michigan State University Police log daily. More and more people were reporting sexual assaults at addresses connected to Nassar. At no point, though, could I have ever imagined more than 250 victim/survivors coming forward to police.

Kozlowski: February 2017 was a key month, when Michigan State head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages stepped down after Larissa Boyce and another gymnast filed lawsuits that they told Klages about Nassar in 1997 but she didn’t believe them. Also in February 2017, Kyle Stephens became the first woman to publicly testify against Nassar during a preliminary exam in court. She spoke of how Nassar assaulted her for years beginning when she was six years old during family visits to his house. Other women testified about Nassar’s pattern of grooming them, earning their trust and then assaulting them. But the tipping point was just a few weeks ago when more than 150 women came forward and made statements about Nassar’s abuse in a courtroom. During those seven days, the majority of woman shed their Jane Doe identities and gave their names, allowing the world to see and hear their painful stories and how many people did not believe them or take action. Had the majority of the women remained anonymous, the cameras would have stopped rolling and the newspapers wouldn’t have been able to put so many faces behind Nassar’s crimes. But one woman’s courage empowered the next and created a milestone in women’s history in the movement to end sexual violence against women.

Kwiatkowski: We knew early in our investigation that USA Gymnastics executives had followed a policy of dismissing complaints as “hearsay” unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent. My colleagues and I spent the next few months investigating the impact of that policy on the safety of children in gymnastics. From the beginning, we knew it was an important topic. I started to understand the scope of allegations against Larry Nassar after we published our first piece about him. We received calls and emails from more than a dozen other survivors.

Mencarini: Within days of the first Indy story, police and prosecutors were saying they had received more than a dozen new sexual assault reports against Nassar. So it was clear whatever criminal case developed would be high profile. But early on, my editor Al Wilson instilled in me that the real story, for us at the State Journal, was MSU. We covered every step of Nassar's criminal cases, but from the start our investigative reporting focus was squarely on the university. This felt, to us, like an important institutional story pretty early on, especially once we had the 2014 Title IX report.

Wells: Honestly, every time I think I do understand it, that’s usually a sign that the weight of this—of the experiences of the people involved in it—is just going to hit me like a freight train all over again. Going into the sentencing hearings, I’d been so consumed by this story, and then Kyle Stephens stood up there as the first to speak and taught us we don’t know s---. It’s humbling. And in those moments, your job is to shut up and let these women and girls speak for themselves.

What would you consider to be the most difficult part of your reporting and why?

Alesia: I can think of a few things. I’m a 54-year-old man. Much younger women were telling me about deeply personal and private matters. We had to have a certain level of detail so readers wouldn’t think these were accidents or misunderstandings. They were sexual abuse. In a few instances where we needed a lot of detail—even if it wouldn’t be published—Marisa talked with the women. Also, with one exception, USA Gymnastics would only take written questions. We received written answers that invariably ignored some questions and gave partial answers to others. It was frustrating. And we found USA Gymnastics to have a secretive culture with power concentrated in a few people. People at all levels of the sport were afraid to rock the boat.

Kozlowski: Language. Getting words like “vagina,” “anus” and “clitoris” in the paper. Publishing these words was not meant to be titillating. They involved crimes against these women. But there was more than one debate in the newsroom about how to describe the crimes accurately. For the public to understand what Nassar did to these young women, I believe we should describe what he did briefly but explicitly because not every person pays attention to every news story.

The phrase “sexual abuse under the guise of a medical treatment” is commonly used. But what will that mean years from now? Nassar had a pattern. Since “sexual abuse” can mean many things, I believe it should be clear that Nassar inserted his fingers inside women’s vaginas, and sometimes their anuses, without gloves, lubricant or consent, often while their parents were in the room. All the women testified in court what he did to them so I believe we have a responsibility to report the words they used and be part of the culture that sheds light on sexual violence so it doesn’t stay in the shadows.

Kwiatkowski: It was difficult to pin down whether USA Gymnastics had changed its policy for handling sexual abuse complaints. The organization declined our request for an in-person interview and, with one exception, required all questions to be submitted in writing. When USA Gymnastics responded, it ignored some questions and provided partial answers to others.

Mencarini: This is a tough question. This story is a heavy topic. It can grind you down mentally and emotionally over the course of 16 months, or during a seven-day sentencing. Understanding the overlapping timelines, separate investigations, individual assaults, lawsuits, university responses and connections between them all is, in my opinion, the most crucial part of reporting this story. I think the most difficult part of my reporting is understanding those connections while being aware of the specific abuses and trauma suffered and not getting burned out. It pales in comparison to what the women and girls have gone through, or are going through, but as a reporter it's been the most difficult part of covering this story. I've had ups and downs with it.

Wells: I don’t think I’m going to have a good answer on this one for a while. It’s not done yet.

When did sources begin reaching out to you on this story?

Alesia: In summer 2016, before our first story, I had been trying to contact a longtime coach and judge in the sport. Finally, I left a letter at the door of her home. That weekend, the woman happened to be staying with a former national team gymnast, Molly Shawen-Kollmann, in Cincinnati. Molly saw the letter and sent me an email. She became an invaluable source on the culture, history and power players in the sport. Now we’re getting so many tips, we can hardly keep up.

Kozlowski: Immediately after we started reporting the story, in early 2017. There was an understanding about the power of media among those who wanted Nassar behind bars. That understanding came as news is more accessible than ever. Denhollander’s report about Nassar to Michigan State was followed by her account to the IndyStar. There used to be a time when mostly Indiana residents might have seen that story. But that story, and so many others, reverberated beyond local markets and prompted other victims to come forward. Journalism gave voice to those who were voiceless for so long, and those voices are louder than they have ever been.

Kwiatkowski: It was a source who first suggested I look into USA Gymnastics. As word spread about our investigation, we received calls from others.

Mencarini: I began hearing from sources within days of the first Indy story.

Wells: Late fall 2016? Maybe very early 2017?

Journalists are not necessarily well versed in topics like sexual assault and child predators. How did you prepare for this assignment?

Alesia: I worked a lot on the Jared Fogle case, including a feature on the prosecutor and cops who specialize in child pornography cases. So, unfortunately, this was not new territory for me.

Kozlowski: Many years ago I attended a training for journalists held by the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Kwiatkowski: I’ve spent years reporting on child abuse and neglect. In my role at The Indianapolis Star, I handle investigations relating to social services and welfare issues—such as child abuse and neglect, poverty, elder abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and access to mental health services. I used that experience as my colleagues and I investigated USA Gymnastics and the allegations against Larry Nassar.

Mencarini: I cover the criminal justice system and had reported quite a bit on sexual assault by the time Indy published the Nassar story. I spent good portions of 2015 and 2016 reporting on a local case that involved a pediatric dentist who had been convicted, years later, of sexually assaulting a young boy who was a patient. I profiled the victim in that case, who was in his 20s when he reported to police. I also reported on the Court of Appeals decision to overturn the former dentist's sexual assault convictions and the no-jail plea agreement on a child abuse charge that followed. In June 2016, I began working on an investigation into the way Michigan State University handled sexual assault and harassment complaints over a several year period. That story ran in Dec. 2016 and included details of Nassar's 2014 Title IX investigation and an interview with the victim. So by the time the Indy story was published, I had already had a lot of conversations with sexual assault advocates and experts about trauma, sexual abuse and the systems in place to respond to abuse. Those conversations have proved invaluable.

Wells: So, fortunately or unfortunately, I’d already had a few years of reporting around how higher education handles sexual assault, including a long, MSU-specific investigation.

But child sexual abuse is a completely different field, obviously, that needed very specific tools. Rachael Denhollander was the one who pointed me to specialists like Carla Van Dam (she’s basically written the manual for understanding men like Nassar: The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused, which should be required reading) and Anna Salter. It was also helpful to talk with organizations working to educate adults, like Darkness to Light, and those who’ve handled large child sexual abuse cases from the law enforcement perspective. All those people I talked to had seen this before—so many times, really, that they were totally unsurprised about the details when I filled them in on this case, and basically could have charted this out from the beginning. Which shows you how we keep letting this happen to kids, over and over and over again, because we are so abysmal at understanding that the most effective predators are the people we trust. From the journalism perspective, the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma at the Columbia Journalism School has some great resources for reporters doing this kind of work—basically, how to not screw things up further for the people you’re talking to. It is not just have you talked them through the potential fallout from this interview? But also, what kind of support system do they have? Are you just leaving them high and dry at the end of an upsetting, emotional interview? What kind of expectations are you giving them about what will happen or come of this story?

Is there anything you would have done differently in your reporting or writing or broadcasting and why?

Alesia: Not really. I think we made the most of our resources based on what we knew at the time.

Kozlowski: In 2015, federal officials issued a report that Michigan State did not have the procedures and policies in place to handle Title IX complaints. The report was part of a nationwide crackdown on campus sexual assault, so MSU was not alone. Even so, if we had looked more closely and reported on some of the Title IX reports upon which this report was based, maybe the story would have emerged a year earlier while Nassar was still assaulting women.

Kwiatkowski: No.

Mencarini: This is another tough question. I think I'm still too close to it all to have that perspective. The MSU side of this story is still developing rapidly. I'm immersed in the reporting every day. I'm proud of the work I've done and the details about MSU's involvement I've been able to uncover. Right now I can't think of anything I would have done differently, but ask me in two years and I might have an answer.

Wells: Oh, so many things. But top two that come to mind: 1) there were editors outside of Michigan, who were telling me this was a “local story” for a long time—pretty much right up until the sentencing. While I disagreed, I didn’t fight them that hard on it. I should have. 2) I wish I had started saying something earlier about how the media and the public are approaching this differently, because it’s girls and because it’s gymnastics. The women and girls I spoke with were saying that for months and months, and every time I said “yup, I totally agree,” but I never thought “let’s do a story about that. Let’s talk about that.”

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In her sentencing of Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said to him, "I just signed your death warrant." The remark sparked some debate. What was going through your head when she said that and how did you write/broadcast about that?

Alesia: I didn’t write it. My story that day was about Rachael Denhollander. I rode with Rachael and her husband to court from Kalamazoo, where they were staying with her parents.

Kozlowski: It was a provocative quote that became the headline over our story. But I agreed with the judge and others who thought the sentence was to serve justice for the victims. I wrote through the story with some of the victims’s quotes very high in the narrative, including one from Kyle Stephens, who said: “My monster is gone.”

Kwiatkowski: I was working on another project at the time and did not see that portion of the sentencing hearing. Nor did I write about it. Our colleagues at the Lansing State Journal did a great job handling that coverage.

Mencarini: I've covered enough sentencing hearings in Judge Aquilina's courtroom to know that a line like that was possible. I can't say I expected something so direct, but she doesn't hold back when addressing defendants at sentencing. We included the line high up in our story and as part of the headline online.

Wells: Honestly, it wasn’t that far out of line with things previously said during the sentencing hearing, and if you’re familiar with Judge Aquilina, you know she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind. So I wasn’t clutching my pearls or anything.

Although this case generated significant national attention during the week of sentencing, Nassar was not covered extensively by most national media until then. Why do you think this was the case?

Alesia: I’ll take this answer and the one below together. The initial story, which had nothing to do with Nassar and was published on the eve of the Rio Olympics, received a lot of attention. But there wasn’t a big national hit on Nassar until three Olympic gymnasts went on 60 Minutes in February 2017. And although Rachael Denhollander had been doing media interviews consistently, the Nassar story didn’t get national attention again until more Olympic gymnasts went public with their abuse. It took the Lansing hearing and 156 women telling their stories to shake people into paying attention.

Kozlowski: Sexual assaults reported nationally generally involve unusual circumstances. In the Nassar case, national media reports emerged when Olympic gymnasts began going public in early 2017. But even before that, lawsuits were piling up against Nassar and he lost his job and medical license. Police also discovered 37,000 images of child pornography on external hard drives that he disposed of in his trash can. So I am not sure why the national media did not cover the Nassar case more extensively.

Kwiatkowski: Our investigation generated significant attention from national media when the first piece published in August 2016. That attention waned in the months afterward, until several high-profile gymnasts shared their experiences. National attention focused on USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar and others again in January as 156 women and girls shared their stories during Nassar’s sentencing hearing.

Mencarini: I've thought about this a decent amount, but I don't think I have a great answer. In March 2017, Judge Aquilina granted a request by Nassar's attorneys to place a gag order on those connected to the criminal case, which included many of the women and girls who spoke at sentencing. A federal lawsuit was filed over that gag order. I think that played a role as many couldn't share the stories they did at sentencing until the gag order was lifted in November after Nassar pleaded guilty. This is also a complex story, with police and university investigations, lawsuits and sexual assaults disguised as medical procedures that even some victims didn't realize were abuse until decades later. I think it's a difficult story to drop in on and for a while it moved pretty fast.

Wells: If I’m being generous, it’s that the sheer scale and power of this case was really best demonstrated by seeing those survivors tell their stories, one after another. It was powerful and riveting and I understand why that moment made such an impact. But it’s also frustrating, because the women and girls were getting up in court and saying, “I was reporting this abuse 20 years ago, where were you guys then?” Rachael Denhollander and others had been putting themselves out on a limb, publicly, for more than a year and a half. The national media’s reaction doesn’t feel all that different. I was driving back from the sentencing hearing this week, listening to a podcast that covers the media, from a network I really respect. The two hosts were asking each other why it had taken so long for the national media to cover the Nassar case, and while their general take was that the lack of coverage had been an unfortunate failure, some of their reasoning didn’t hold water.

For instance: they were saying how even sports networks don’t have a full-time gymnastics reporter, so it’s not like you’ve got somebody who can really jump on this story. Ok, sure. But you’ve got a bunch of college sports reporters, right? You’re telling me if, say, the water polo team at Ohio State started having dozens and dozens of former male players come out to say they’d been sexually abused for 20 years and no adults had listened to them, that you don’t dispatch even one guy to Columbus for a couple days? These podcast hosts also said that, until this month’s criminal sentencing, there was no “present tense” to the Nassar story, no solid “news hook” to give your editor. But new allegations have been coming out for 18 months straight, with more than 130 civil suits being filed, multiple preliminary exams in the criminal case, charges at the federal level, a police investigation, an FBI investigation, suspensions, resignations, etc. Newspapers like the Lansing State Journal managed to produce more than 100 stories in 18 months. There were news pegs.

None of us in this job are perfect. There are 18 million things I would like to go back and do differently about this story. And lord knows, if I was working in New York or D.C. and had started hearing about the Nassar case, I’m not saying I would have demanded my editor put me on the next plane to East Lansing. Far from it. But I am saying, let’s be honest about what happened here: these were girls. So unless it was happening in your backyard, the media didn’t care—or worse, didn’t think its audience would care, and didn’t feel like putting in the work to persuade them otherwise.

In your opinion, did gender or that the sport was gymnastics play a role in why the story did not receive national coverage compared to other sports scandals?

Alesia: I do believe that gender and the sport played a role.

Kozlowski: I think gender played a role but some attributed it more to the sport and other factors. The Jerry Sandusky/Penn State case involved the national pastime of football and a legendary coach, besides the assaults of young boys and cover up. However, the Nassar case eclipsed the number of victims in the Sandusky scandal a long time ago. Our society seems a little more shocked when boys are assaulted than girls. Maybe this will help change that.

Kwiatkowski: My focus has been on examining failures in the system, not making comparisons to other situations.

Mencarini: I think it's possible. I'd like to think that the national media doesn't care less about young gymnasts, young girls or women (not all were athletes) being abused than it does young boys or men being abused. But I can't rule it out.

Wells: Yes. This case has shown us just differently people react when a woman or a girl accuses a man of abuse, compared with a man or a boy making the same allegations. Over and over again, we saw dozens of women and girls say the same thing during sentencing: I thought I must be mistaken. Or: it felt wrong, but this guy was a really big deal so I must be the one with the dirty mind. That says something about the way we raise our girls, the way we teach them to be so petrified of being “difficult,” that it’s easier to just say nothing.

I know with the Jerry Sandusky case we saw coaches and administrators look the other way when male children were being abused—but not because they didn’t believe the abuse could be happening. You can argue the cover up went so high up the chain of command, because those involved knew how big the fallout would be. With the Nassar case, multiple adults just didn’t believe girls.

Even now, when the national media is finally interested, the way we cover it sometimes feels…gendered. There are those who really want us to get to the point where these women are at a place of “healing,” where they’re “so empowering.” Are they powerful? Absolutely. Have they managed to survive a living hell? Yes. But if these were boys, would we be rushing them to emotionally wrap it up, so to speak? Their strength is formidable and awe-inspiring, but I’m wary of the desire to package these survivors’ experiences into something neat and pretty, just so we can feel more comfortable with it.

To that same end, I’ve encountered a lot of pushback and limits on what we can say about the abuse itself. I understand that, especially with broadcast, your kids could be in the car and you may have missed the disturbing-content warning at the beginning of the story. But what happened to these women, matters. Their decision not to shield us from that brutality and horror, matters.

Still, some of those I work with (and not everyone, to be clear) repeatedly want to edit those parts out and sub in the vaguest terms possible: words like “digital penetration,” which frankly couldn’t be more clinical, get replaced with the vague and confusing “inappropriate touching.” If you were the one who’d experienced this abuse, how would you feel about someone deciding your story, the one you chose to tell in court for the entire world, was too indecent to accurately describe? Of course it’s indecent. It’s abuse. And if we don’t trust our audience enough to tell them the facts about what’s actually happened, then we are doing them a disservice as well as these survivors.

?

What should the public know about the resources it takes to cover these types of stories?

Alesia: IndyStar devoted three reporters to the story, virtually full-time, for a year. That is a very big deal for an operation of our size. We travelled all over the country. And, we hired a lawyer in Atlanta to intervene in a court case in Georgia to unseal 54 files that USA Gymnastics kept on abusive coaches. USA Gymnastics fought to keep the files secret, saying in court filings that we wanted to do a “National Enquirer-like article … to satisfy the economic interests of Indy Star’s advertisers, owners, and investors.” The process dragged on for about nine months. I don’t know how much our company paid, but the lawyer could not have been cheap. It was a big commitment by Gannett, the USA Today Network and IndyStar. We used the USA Today Network for help on various aspects of the reporting, especially Matt Mencarini in Lansing, Mich.

Kozlowski: These stories demand enormous time and energy, and involve numerous members of our staff. But telling the Nassar scandal is the reason why my colleagues and I are in journalism: To give voice to the voiceless and hold those with power accountable. In a public statement in Eaton County court on Friday, Larissa Boyce turned to the media and told us to not forget. She asked us continue to report so that other victims will come forward and the dialogue around sexual assault will result in change in the future. To Boyce, and every other woman who has been sexually assaulted: We will continue to report on this and other sexual assault stories, and demand answers from those who don’t do the right thing.

Kwiatkowski: Our bosses at IndyStar and Gannett invested significant time and resources toward this investigation. They supported our project from its first day. They let Mark, Tim, Steve Berta, Robert Scheer and me work on this investigation nearly full-time for a year. We flew to a dozen states. We sought public records in at least 23 states. We received help from colleagues throughout the USA TODAY Network. And the company fought a legal battle for access to court records in Georgia. If you believe in the value of journalism, please subscribe to your local newspaper.

Mencarini: The State Journal has 13 news reporters. For much of the 16 months since the first Indy story, this is the only thing I did. There were stretches, especially at the end of 2016, when I did other reporting, but for the most part this story has occupied nearly all of my time. In a newsroom of our size, that's a significant investment. Time, in my opinion, is the most valuable resource for a story like this. I needed time to review each lawsuit, go to each hearing, dig through court and public records and speak with as many people connected to the case as possible. Not every newsroom could or would devote resources that significant to a single story for such a long time. I can't imagine covering this story without the time and resources my editors gave me. Local journalism and local investigative reporting are important, and the Nassar story—with the USAG and MSU sides—shows exactly why.

Feel free to add anything you wish.

Kwiatkowski: Thank you to the people who trusted us to share their stories.

Wells: Sorry, I’m going on my soap box here, but I worry that, as Nassar becomes a name we put in the same category with Sandusky or Boston priests, the general public concludes these predators look like boogeymen, you know? When the reason they were able to victimize so many, is because these were seemingly kind, trustworthy, respectable people who looked like they were doing a lot of good. The most effective predator is the one who makes you think, “there’s got to be a misunderstanding here, let’s work this out” when you see a red flag. Most adults don’t get into coaching or medicine or just general education because they think, “I hope I’m part of enabling large-scale sexual predation one day.” Lots of good adults are capable of giving other nice-seeming adults the benefit of the doubt. And that’s how this continues.

If interested in the work of the panelists above, click below:

Alesia, Indy Star
Kozlowski, Detroit News
Kwiatkowski: Indy Star
Mencarini: The Lansing State Journal
Wells: Michigan Radio

<p>The stories coming out of Lansing, Mich., over the past few weeks have been gutting. <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/01/24/larry-nassar-sentencing-usa-gymnastics-abuse-victims-michigan-state" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:More than 150 women" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">More than 150 women</a> gave victim statements in the <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2018/01/31/how-long-larry-nassar-spend-behind-bars/1083275001/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:sentencing" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">sentencing</a> of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who in November pled guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with minors. Credit the <em>Indianapolis Star</em>, who in 2016 published <a href="http://interactives.indystar.com/news/standing/OutOfBalanceSeries/index2.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a lengthy investigation" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a lengthy investigation</a> into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints over decades, for triggering the reporting.</p><p>This week I impaneled a group of five reporters (including two of the <em>IndyStar </em>reporters involved in the investigation above) who have covered the story in full, from the role of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State to the Nassar sentencing. I wanted to get insight into their reporting and what the public should know about this kind of work. I hope you will find it as illuminating as I did.</p><p><strong>The panel:</strong></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/markalesia" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Mark Alesia" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Mark Alesia</a>, reporter, <em>IndyStar</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/kimberkoz?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kim Kozlowski" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Kim Kozlowski</a>, higher education reporter, <em>Detroit News</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/IndyMarisaK?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Marisa Kwiatkowski" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Marisa Kwiatkowski</a>, investigative reporter, <em>IndyStar</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/MattMencarini?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Matt Mencarini" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Matt Mencarini</a>, reporter, <em>Lansing State Journal</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/katelouisewells?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kate Wells" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Kate Wells</a>, host/reporter/producer, Michigan Radio</p><h3><strong>When did you first start reporting on USA Gymnastics or Larry Nassar—and what was the impetus behind that decision?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>After Marisa came back from Georgia with about 1,000 pages of court documents, I was asked to get involved. Tim Evans joined us soon after that.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> One of the metro editors at the <em>Detroit News</em> thought we needed to do a story about the Larry Nassar case in January 2017, when it became clear that his sexual abuse extended beyond USA Gymnastics. Another colleague, Frank Donnelly, and I wrote the first few stories and I continued to follow it after that.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>In March of 2016, I was investigating failures to report sexual abuse in schools when a source suggested I look into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints. The source pointed me toward a lawsuit in Georgia. As I gathered more information, I was told a judge was about to seal important records in the case. My bosses allowed me to fly to Georgia later that day. I picked up nearly 1,000 pages of court records. As soon as I returned to Indianapolis, Mark Alesia, Tim Evans and I began our investigation into the organization.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> My reporting on Nassar began the day the <em>IndyStar </em>story was published. <em>Indy</em> and the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> are part of the USA Today Network so I knew something was coming in the days before their story, but my reporting the local side of it began that day. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Our newsroom actually started covering this from the sports angle, after the IndyStar 2016 report came out. We didn’t recognize the scale at that time—it seemed to us, in our limited perspective, like it was an offshoot of <em>IndyStar</em>’s incredible USA Gymnastics investigations. It was one of our sports/general assignment guys, Josh Hakala, who jumped on it first in our newsroom.</p><h3><strong>When did you realize the scope and importance of this story?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>For Nassar, it was when Jessica Howard, a former national champion in rhythmic gymnastics, left a message on my work voicemail on a Sunday evening. I called back and her story of Nassar’s abuse tracked closely to what we had heard from Rachael Denhollander and the people behind a lawsuit that was about to be filed by Jamie Dantzscher, then an anonymous plaintiff. The women didn’t know each other. I thought there had to be more victim/survivors.</p><p>After publication, we started hearing from more victim/survivors (and getting nasty emails and voicemails from Nassar’s supporters). We also checked the public Michigan State University Police log daily. More and more people were reporting sexual assaults at addresses connected to Nassar. At no point, though, could I have ever imagined more than 250 victim/survivors coming forward to police.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> February 2017 was a key month, when Michigan State head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages stepped down after Larissa Boyce and another gymnast filed lawsuits that they told Klages about Nassar in 1997 but she didn’t believe them. Also in February 2017, Kyle Stephens became the first woman to publicly testify against Nassar during a preliminary exam in court. She spoke of how Nassar assaulted her for years beginning when she was six years old during family visits to his house. Other women testified about Nassar’s pattern of grooming them, earning their trust and then assaulting them. But the tipping point was just a few weeks ago when more than 150 women came forward and made statements about Nassar’s abuse in a courtroom. During those seven days, the majority of woman shed their Jane Doe identities and gave their names, allowing the world to see and hear their painful stories and how many people did not believe them or take action. Had the majority of the women remained anonymous, the cameras would have stopped rolling and the newspapers wouldn’t have been able to put so many faces behind Nassar’s crimes. But one woman’s courage empowered the next and created a milestone in women’s history in the movement to end sexual violence against women.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> We knew early in our investigation that USA Gymnastics executives had followed a policy of dismissing complaints as “hearsay” unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent. My colleagues and I spent the next few months investigating the impact of that policy on the safety of children in gymnastics. From the beginning, we knew it was an important topic. I started to understand the scope of allegations against Larry Nassar after we published our first piece about him. We received calls and emails from more than a dozen other survivors.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> Within days of the first <em>Indy</em> story, police and prosecutors were saying they had received more than a dozen new sexual assault reports against Nassar. So it was clear whatever criminal case developed would be high profile. But early on, my editor Al Wilson instilled in me that the real story, for us at the <em>State Journal</em>, was MSU. We covered every step of Nassar&#39;s criminal cases, but from the start our investigative reporting focus was squarely on the university. This felt, to us, like an important institutional story pretty early on, especially once we had the 2014 Title IX report.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Honestly, every time I think I do understand it, that’s usually a sign that the weight of this—of the experiences of the people involved in it—is just going to hit me like a freight train all over again. Going into the sentencing hearings, I’d been so consumed by this story, and then Kyle Stephens stood up there as the first to speak and taught us we don’t know s---. It’s humbling. And in those moments, your job is to shut up and let these women and girls speak for themselves. </p><h3><strong>What would you consider to be the most difficult part of your reporting and why?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia</strong>: I can think of a few things. I’m a 54-year-old man. Much younger women were telling me about deeply personal and private matters. We had to have a certain level of detail so readers wouldn’t think these were accidents or misunderstandings. They were sexual abuse. In a few instances where we needed a lot of detail—even if it wouldn’t be published—Marisa talked with the women. Also, with one exception, USA Gymnastics would only take written questions. We received written answers that invariably ignored some questions and gave partial answers to others. It was frustrating. And we found USA Gymnastics to have a secretive culture with power concentrated in a few people. People at all levels of the sport were afraid to rock the boat.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Language. Getting words like “vagina,” “anus” and “clitoris” in the paper. Publishing these words was not meant to be titillating. They involved crimes against these women. But there was more than one debate in the newsroom about how to describe the crimes accurately. For the public to understand what Nassar did to these young women, I believe we should describe what he did briefly but explicitly because not every person pays attention to every news story.</p><p>The phrase “sexual abuse under the guise of a medical treatment” is commonly used. But what will that mean years from now? Nassar had a pattern. Since “sexual abuse” can mean many things, I believe it should be clear that Nassar inserted his fingers inside women’s vaginas, and sometimes their anuses, without gloves, lubricant or consent, often while their parents were in the room. All the women testified in court what he did to them so I believe we have a responsibility to report the words they used and be part of the culture that sheds light on sexual violence so it doesn’t stay in the shadows.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>It was difficult to pin down whether USA Gymnastics had changed its policy for handling sexual abuse complaints. The organization declined our request for an in-person interview and, with one exception, required all questions to be submitted in writing. When USA Gymnastics responded, it ignored some questions and provided partial answers to others.</p><p><strong>Mencarini: </strong>This is a tough question. This story is a heavy topic. It can grind you down mentally and emotionally over the course of 16 months, or during a seven-day sentencing. Understanding the overlapping timelines, separate investigations, individual assaults, lawsuits, university responses and connections between them all is, in my opinion, the most crucial part of reporting this story. I think the most difficult part of my reporting is understanding those connections while being aware of the specific abuses and trauma suffered and not getting burned out. It pales in comparison to what the women and girls have gone through, or are going through, but as a reporter it&#39;s been the most difficult part of covering this story. I&#39;ve had ups and downs with it.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> I don’t think I’m going to have a good answer on this one for a while. It’s not done yet.</p><h3><strong>When did sources begin reaching out to you on this story?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>In summer 2016, before our first story, I had been trying to contact a longtime coach and judge in the sport. Finally, I left a letter at the door of her home. That weekend, the woman happened to be staying with a former national team gymnast, Molly Shawen-Kollmann, in Cincinnati. Molly saw the letter and sent me an email. She became an invaluable source on the culture, history and power players in the sport. Now we’re getting so many tips, we can hardly keep up.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski</strong>: Immediately after we started reporting the story, in early 2017. There was an understanding about the power of media among those who wanted Nassar behind bars. That understanding came as news is more accessible than ever. Denhollander’s report about Nassar to Michigan State was followed by her account to the <em>IndyStar</em>. There used to be a time when mostly Indiana residents might have seen that story. But that story, and so many others, reverberated beyond local markets and prompted other victims to come forward. Journalism gave voice to those who were voiceless for so long, and those voices are louder than they have ever been.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski</strong>: It was a source who first suggested I look into USA Gymnastics. As word spread about our investigation, we received calls from others.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I began hearing from sources within days of the first Indy story. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Late fall 2016? Maybe very early 2017?</p><h3><strong>Journalists are not necessarily well versed in topics like sexual assault and child predators. How did you prepare for this assignment?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I worked a lot on the Jared Fogle case, including a feature on the prosecutor and cops who specialize in child pornography cases. So, unfortunately, this was not new territory for me.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Many years ago I attended a training for journalists held by the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> I’ve spent years reporting on child abuse and neglect. In my role at <em>The Indianapolis Star</em>, I handle investigations relating to social services and welfare issues—such as child abuse and neglect, poverty, elder abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and access to mental health services. I used that experience as my colleagues and I investigated USA Gymnastics and the allegations against Larry Nassar.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I cover the criminal justice system and had reported quite a bit on sexual assault by the time <em>Indy</em> published the Nassar story. I spent good portions of 2015 and 2016 reporting on a local case that involved a pediatric dentist who had been convicted, years later, of sexually assaulting a young boy who was a patient. I profiled the victim in that case, who was in his 20s when he reported to police. I also reported on the Court of Appeals decision to overturn the former dentist&#39;s sexual assault convictions and the no-jail plea agreement on a child abuse charge that followed. In June 2016, I began working on an investigation into the way Michigan State University handled sexual assault and harassment complaints over a several year period. That story ran in Dec. 2016 and included details of Nassar&#39;s 2014 Title IX investigation and an interview with the victim. So by the time the <em>Indy</em> story was published, I had already had a lot of conversations with sexual assault advocates and experts about trauma, sexual abuse and the systems in place to respond to abuse. Those conversations have proved invaluable. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> So, fortunately or unfortunately, I’d already had a few years of reporting around how higher education handles sexual assault, including a long, MSU-specific investigation.</p><p>But child sexual abuse is a completely different field, obviously, that needed very specific tools. Rachael Denhollander was the one who pointed me to specialists like Carla Van Dam (she’s basically written the manual for understanding men like Nassar: <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Socially-Skilled-Child-Molester-Differentiating/dp/0789028069" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused</a></em>, which should be required reading) and Anna Salter. It was also helpful to talk with organizations working to educate adults, like Darkness to Light, and those who’ve handled large child sexual abuse cases from the law enforcement perspective. All those people I talked to had seen this before—so many times, really, that they were totally unsurprised about the details when I filled them in on this case, and basically could have charted this out from the beginning. Which shows you how we keep letting this happen to kids, over and over and over again, because we are so abysmal at understanding that the most effective predators are the people we trust. From the journalism perspective, the Dart Center for Journalism &#38; Trauma at the Columbia Journalism School has some great resources for reporters doing this kind of work—basically, how to not screw things up further for the people you’re talking to. It is not just have you talked them through the potential fallout from this interview? But also, what kind of support system do they have? Are you just leaving them high and dry at the end of an upsetting, emotional interview? What kind of expectations are you giving them about what will happen or come of this story?</p><h3><strong>Is there anything you would have done differently in your reporting or writing or broadcasting and why?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>Not really. I think we made the most of our resources based on what we knew at the time.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> In 2015, federal officials issued a report that Michigan State did not have the procedures and policies in place to handle Title IX complaints. The report was part of a nationwide crackdown on campus sexual assault, so MSU was not alone. Even so, if we had looked more closely and reported on some of the Title IX reports upon which this report was based, maybe the story would have emerged a year earlier while Nassar was still assaulting women.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>No.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> This is another tough question. I think I&#39;m still too close to it all to have that perspective. The MSU side of this story is still developing rapidly. I&#39;m immersed in the reporting every day. I&#39;m proud of the work I&#39;ve done and the details about MSU&#39;s involvement I&#39;ve been able to uncover. Right now I can&#39;t think of anything I would have done differently, but ask me in two years and I might have an answer. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Oh, so many things. But top two that come to mind: 1) there were editors outside of Michigan, who were telling me this was a “local story” for a long time—pretty much right up until the sentencing. While I disagreed, I didn’t fight them that hard on it. I should have. 2) I wish I had started saying something earlier about how the media and the public are approaching this differently, because it’s girls and because it’s gymnastics. The women and girls I spoke with were saying that for months and months, and every time I said “yup, I totally agree,” but I never thought “let’s do a story about that. Let’s talk about that.”</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>In her sentencing of Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said to him, &quot;I just signed your death warrant.&quot; The remark sparked some debate. What was going through your head when she said that and how did you write/broadcast about that?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I didn’t write it. My story that day was about Rachael Denhollander. I rode with Rachael and her husband to court from Kalamazoo, where they were staying with her parents.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> It was a provocative quote that became the headline over our story. But I agreed with the judge and others who thought the sentence was to serve justice for the victims. I wrote through the story with some of the victims’s quotes very high in the narrative, including one from Kyle Stephens, who said: “My monster is gone.”</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>I was working on another project at the time and did not see that portion of the sentencing hearing. Nor did I write about it. Our colleagues at the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> did a great job handling that coverage.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I&#39;ve covered enough sentencing hearings in Judge Aquilina&#39;s courtroom to know that a line like that was possible. I can&#39;t say I expected something so direct, but she doesn&#39;t hold back when addressing defendants at sentencing. We included the line high up in our story and as part of the headline online.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Honestly, it wasn’t that far out of line with things previously said during the sentencing hearing, and if you’re familiar with Judge Aquilina, you know she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind. So I wasn’t clutching my pearls or anything.</p><h3><strong>Although this case generated significant national attention during the week of sentencing, Nassar was not covered extensively by most national media until then. Why do you think this was the case?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I’ll take this answer and the one below together. The initial story, which had nothing to do with Nassar and was published on the eve of the Rio Olympics, received a lot of attention. But there wasn’t a big national hit on Nassar until three Olympic gymnasts went on <em>60 Minutes</em> in February 2017. And although Rachael Denhollander had been doing media interviews consistently, the Nassar story didn’t get national attention again until more Olympic gymnasts went public with their abuse. It took the Lansing hearing and 156 women telling their stories to shake people into paying attention.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Sexual assaults reported nationally generally involve unusual circumstances. In the Nassar case, national media reports emerged when Olympic gymnasts began going public in early 2017. But even before that, lawsuits were piling up against Nassar and he lost his job and medical license. Police also discovered 37,000 images of child pornography on external hard drives that he disposed of in his trash can. So I am not sure why the national media did not cover the Nassar case more extensively.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> Our investigation generated significant attention from national media when the first piece published in August 2016. That attention waned in the months afterward, until several high-profile gymnasts shared their experiences. National attention focused on USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar and others again in January as 156 women and girls shared their stories during Nassar’s sentencing hearing.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I&#39;ve thought about this a decent amount, but I don&#39;t think I have a great answer. In March 2017, Judge Aquilina granted a request by Nassar&#39;s attorneys to place a gag order on those connected to the criminal case, which included many of the women and girls who spoke at sentencing. A federal lawsuit was filed over that gag order. I think that played a role as many couldn&#39;t share the stories they did at sentencing until the gag order was lifted in November after Nassar pleaded guilty. This is also a complex story, with police and university investigations, lawsuits and sexual assaults disguised as medical procedures that even some victims didn&#39;t realize were abuse until decades later. I think it&#39;s a difficult story to drop in on and for a while it moved pretty fast. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> If I’m being generous, it’s that the sheer scale and power of this case was really best demonstrated by seeing those survivors tell their stories, one after another. It was powerful and riveting and I understand why that moment made such an impact. But it’s also frustrating, because the women and girls were getting up in court and saying, “I was reporting this abuse 20 years ago, where were you guys then?” Rachael Denhollander and others had been putting themselves out on a limb, publicly, for more than a year and a half. The national media’s reaction doesn’t feel all that different. I was driving back from the sentencing hearing this week, listening to a podcast that covers the media, from a network I really respect. The two hosts were asking each other why it had taken so long for the national media to cover the Nassar case, and while their general take was that the lack of coverage had been an unfortunate failure, some of their reasoning didn’t hold water.</p><p>For instance: they were saying how even sports networks don’t have a full-time gymnastics reporter, so it’s not like you’ve got somebody who can really jump on this story. Ok, sure. But you’ve got a bunch of college sports reporters, right? You’re telling me if, say, the water polo team at Ohio State started having dozens and dozens of former male players come out to say they’d been sexually abused for 20 years and no adults had listened to them, that you don’t dispatch even one guy to Columbus for a couple days? These podcast hosts also said that, until this month’s criminal sentencing, there was no “present tense” to the Nassar story, no solid “news hook” to give your editor. But new allegations have been coming out for 18 months straight, with more than 130 civil suits being filed, multiple preliminary exams in the criminal case, charges at the federal level, a police investigation, an FBI investigation, suspensions, resignations, etc. Newspapers like the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> managed to produce more than 100 stories in 18 months. There were news pegs. </p><p>None of us in this job are perfect. There are 18 million things I would like to go back and do differently about this story. And lord knows, if I was working in New York or D.C. and had started hearing about the Nassar case, I’m not saying I would have demanded my editor put me on the next plane to East Lansing. Far from it. But I am saying, let’s be honest about what happened here: these were girls. So unless it was happening in your backyard, the media didn’t care—or worse, didn’t think its audience would care, and didn’t feel like putting in the work to persuade them otherwise.</p><h3><strong>In your opinion, did gender or that the sport was gymnastics play a role in why the story did not receive national coverage compared to other sports scandals?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I do believe that gender and the sport played a role.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> I think gender played a role but some attributed it more to the sport and other factors. The Jerry Sandusky/Penn State case involved the national pastime of football and a legendary coach, besides the assaults of young boys and cover up. However, the Nassar case eclipsed the number of victims in the Sandusky scandal a long time ago. Our society seems a little more shocked when boys are assaulted than girls. Maybe this will help change that.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>My focus has been on examining failures in the system, not making comparisons to other situations.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I think it&#39;s possible. I&#39;d like to think that the national media doesn&#39;t care less about young gymnasts, young girls or women (not all were athletes) being abused than it does young boys or men being abused. But I can&#39;t rule it out. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Yes. This case has shown us just differently people react when a woman or a girl accuses a man of abuse, compared with a man or a boy making the same allegations. Over and over again, we saw dozens of women and girls say the same thing during sentencing: I thought I must be mistaken. Or: it felt wrong, but this guy was a really big deal so I must be the one with the dirty mind. That says something about the way we raise our girls, the way we teach them to be so petrified of being “difficult,” that it’s easier to just say nothing.</p><p>I know with the Jerry Sandusky case we saw coaches and administrators look the other way when male children were being abused—but not because they didn’t believe the abuse could be happening. You can argue the cover up went so high up the chain of command, because those involved knew how big the fallout would be. With the Nassar case, multiple adults just didn’t believe girls.</p><p>Even now, when the national media is finally interested, the way we cover it sometimes feels…gendered. There are those who really want us to get to the point where these women are at a place of “healing,” where they’re “so empowering.” Are they powerful? Absolutely. Have they managed to survive a living hell? Yes. But if these were boys, would we be rushing them to emotionally wrap it up, so to speak? Their strength is formidable and awe-inspiring, but I’m wary of the desire to package these survivors’ experiences into something neat and pretty, just so we can feel more comfortable with it. </p><p>To that same end, I’ve encountered a lot of pushback and limits on what we can say about the abuse itself. I understand that, especially with broadcast, your kids could be in the car and you may have missed the disturbing-content warning at the beginning of the story. But what happened to these women, matters. Their decision not to shield us from that brutality and horror, matters.</p><p>Still, some of those I work with (and not everyone, to be clear) repeatedly want to edit those parts out and sub in the vaguest terms possible: words like “digital penetration,” which frankly couldn’t be more clinical, get replaced with the vague and confusing “inappropriate touching.” If you were the one who’d experienced this abuse, how would you feel about someone deciding your story, the one you chose to tell in court for the entire world, was too indecent to accurately describe? Of course it’s indecent. It’s abuse. And if we don’t trust our audience enough to tell them the facts about what’s actually happened, then we are doing them a disservice as well as these survivors. </p><p>?</p><h3><strong>What should the public know about the resources it takes to cover these types of stories?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong><em>IndyStar</em> devoted three reporters to the story, virtually full-time, for a year. That is a very big deal for an operation of our size. We travelled all over the country. And, we hired a lawyer in Atlanta to intervene in a court case in Georgia to unseal 54 files that USA Gymnastics kept on abusive coaches. USA Gymnastics fought to keep the files secret, saying in court filings that we wanted to do a “<em>National Enquirer</em>-like article … to satisfy the economic interests of <em>Indy Star</em>’s advertisers, owners, and investors.” The process dragged on for about nine months. I don’t know how much our company paid, but the lawyer could not have been cheap. It was a big commitment by Gannett, the USA Today Network and <em>IndyStar.</em> We used the USA Today Network for help on various aspects of the reporting, especially Matt Mencarini in Lansing, Mich.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> These stories demand enormous time and energy, and involve numerous members of our staff. But telling the Nassar scandal is the reason why my colleagues and I are in journalism: To give voice to the voiceless and hold those with power accountable. In a public statement in Eaton County court on Friday, Larissa Boyce turned to the media and told us to not forget. She asked us continue to report so that other victims will come forward and the dialogue around sexual assault will result in change in the future. To Boyce, and every other woman who has been sexually assaulted: We will continue to report on this and other sexual assault stories, and demand answers from those who don’t do the right thing.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>Our bosses at <em>IndyStar</em> and Gannett invested significant time and resources toward this investigation. They supported our project from its first day. They let Mark, Tim, Steve Berta, Robert Scheer and me work on this investigation nearly full-time for a year. We flew to a dozen states. We sought public records in at least 23 states. We received help from colleagues throughout the USA TODAY Network. And the company fought a legal battle for access to court records in Georgia. If you believe in the value of journalism, please subscribe to your local newspaper.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> <em>The State Journal</em> has 13 news reporters. For much of the 16 months since the first <em>Indy</em> story, this is the only thing I did. There were stretches, especially at the end of 2016, when I did other reporting, but for the most part this story has occupied nearly all of my time. In a newsroom of our size, that&#39;s a significant investment. Time, in my opinion, is the most valuable resource for a story like this. I needed time to review each lawsuit, go to each hearing, dig through court and public records and speak with as many people connected to the case as possible. Not every newsroom could or would devote resources that significant to a single story for such a long time. I can&#39;t imagine covering this story without the time and resources my editors gave me. Local journalism and local investigative reporting are important, and the Nassar story—with the USAG and MSU sides—shows exactly why. </p><h3><strong>Feel free to add anything you wish.</strong></h3><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>Thank you to the people who trusted us to share their stories.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Sorry, I’m going on my soap box here, but I worry that, as Nassar becomes a name we put in the same category with Sandusky or Boston priests, the general public concludes these predators look like boogeymen, you know? When the reason they were able to victimize so many, is because these were seemingly kind, trustworthy, respectable people who looked like they were doing a lot of good. The most effective predator is the one who makes you think, “there’s got to be a misunderstanding here, let’s work this out” when you see a red flag. Most adults don’t get into coaching or medicine or just general education because they think, “I hope I’m part of enabling large-scale sexual predation one day.” Lots of good adults are capable of giving other nice-seeming adults the benefit of the doubt. And that’s how this continues. </p><p><em>If interested in the work of the panelists above, click below:</em></p><p>Alesia, <em><a href="https://www.indystar.com/staff/4121/mark-alesia/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Indy Star" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Indy Star</a></em><br>Kozlowski, <em><a href="https://www.detroitnews.com/staff/28115/kim-kozlowski/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Detroit News" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Detroit News</a></em><br>Kwiatkowski: <em><a href="https://www.indystar.com/staff/10048078/marisa-kwiatkowski/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Indy Star" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Indy Star</a></em><br>Mencarini: <em><a href="https://www.lansingstatejournal.com/staff/37347/matt-mencarini/%5D" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Lansing State Journal" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Lansing State Journal</a></em><br>Wells: <em><a href="http://michiganradio.org/people/kate-wells" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Michigan Radio" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Michigan Radio</a></em></p>
Inside the Reporting of Five Journalists That Helped End Larry Nassar’s Serial Sexual Abuse

The stories coming out of Lansing, Mich., over the past few weeks have been gutting. More than 150 women gave victim statements in the sentencing of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who in November pled guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with minors. Credit the Indianapolis Star, who in 2016 published a lengthy investigation into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints over decades, for triggering the reporting.

This week I impaneled a group of five reporters (including two of the IndyStar reporters involved in the investigation above) who have covered the story in full, from the role of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State to the Nassar sentencing. I wanted to get insight into their reporting and what the public should know about this kind of work. I hope you will find it as illuminating as I did.

The panel:

Mark Alesia, reporter, IndyStar

Kim Kozlowski, higher education reporter, Detroit News

Marisa Kwiatkowski, investigative reporter, IndyStar

Matt Mencarini, reporter, Lansing State Journal

Kate Wells, host/reporter/producer, Michigan Radio

When did you first start reporting on USA Gymnastics or Larry Nassar—and what was the impetus behind that decision?

Alesia: After Marisa came back from Georgia with about 1,000 pages of court documents, I was asked to get involved. Tim Evans joined us soon after that.

Kozlowski: One of the metro editors at the Detroit News thought we needed to do a story about the Larry Nassar case in January 2017, when it became clear that his sexual abuse extended beyond USA Gymnastics. Another colleague, Frank Donnelly, and I wrote the first few stories and I continued to follow it after that.

Kwiatkowski: In March of 2016, I was investigating failures to report sexual abuse in schools when a source suggested I look into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints. The source pointed me toward a lawsuit in Georgia. As I gathered more information, I was told a judge was about to seal important records in the case. My bosses allowed me to fly to Georgia later that day. I picked up nearly 1,000 pages of court records. As soon as I returned to Indianapolis, Mark Alesia, Tim Evans and I began our investigation into the organization.

Mencarini: My reporting on Nassar began the day the IndyStar story was published. Indy and the Lansing State Journal are part of the USA Today Network so I knew something was coming in the days before their story, but my reporting the local side of it began that day.

Wells: Our newsroom actually started covering this from the sports angle, after the IndyStar 2016 report came out. We didn’t recognize the scale at that time—it seemed to us, in our limited perspective, like it was an offshoot of IndyStar’s incredible USA Gymnastics investigations. It was one of our sports/general assignment guys, Josh Hakala, who jumped on it first in our newsroom.

When did you realize the scope and importance of this story?

Alesia: For Nassar, it was when Jessica Howard, a former national champion in rhythmic gymnastics, left a message on my work voicemail on a Sunday evening. I called back and her story of Nassar’s abuse tracked closely to what we had heard from Rachael Denhollander and the people behind a lawsuit that was about to be filed by Jamie Dantzscher, then an anonymous plaintiff. The women didn’t know each other. I thought there had to be more victim/survivors.

After publication, we started hearing from more victim/survivors (and getting nasty emails and voicemails from Nassar’s supporters). We also checked the public Michigan State University Police log daily. More and more people were reporting sexual assaults at addresses connected to Nassar. At no point, though, could I have ever imagined more than 250 victim/survivors coming forward to police.

Kozlowski: February 2017 was a key month, when Michigan State head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages stepped down after Larissa Boyce and another gymnast filed lawsuits that they told Klages about Nassar in 1997 but she didn’t believe them. Also in February 2017, Kyle Stephens became the first woman to publicly testify against Nassar during a preliminary exam in court. She spoke of how Nassar assaulted her for years beginning when she was six years old during family visits to his house. Other women testified about Nassar’s pattern of grooming them, earning their trust and then assaulting them. But the tipping point was just a few weeks ago when more than 150 women came forward and made statements about Nassar’s abuse in a courtroom. During those seven days, the majority of woman shed their Jane Doe identities and gave their names, allowing the world to see and hear their painful stories and how many people did not believe them or take action. Had the majority of the women remained anonymous, the cameras would have stopped rolling and the newspapers wouldn’t have been able to put so many faces behind Nassar’s crimes. But one woman’s courage empowered the next and created a milestone in women’s history in the movement to end sexual violence against women.

Kwiatkowski: We knew early in our investigation that USA Gymnastics executives had followed a policy of dismissing complaints as “hearsay” unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent. My colleagues and I spent the next few months investigating the impact of that policy on the safety of children in gymnastics. From the beginning, we knew it was an important topic. I started to understand the scope of allegations against Larry Nassar after we published our first piece about him. We received calls and emails from more than a dozen other survivors.

Mencarini: Within days of the first Indy story, police and prosecutors were saying they had received more than a dozen new sexual assault reports against Nassar. So it was clear whatever criminal case developed would be high profile. But early on, my editor Al Wilson instilled in me that the real story, for us at the State Journal, was MSU. We covered every step of Nassar's criminal cases, but from the start our investigative reporting focus was squarely on the university. This felt, to us, like an important institutional story pretty early on, especially once we had the 2014 Title IX report.

Wells: Honestly, every time I think I do understand it, that’s usually a sign that the weight of this—of the experiences of the people involved in it—is just going to hit me like a freight train all over again. Going into the sentencing hearings, I’d been so consumed by this story, and then Kyle Stephens stood up there as the first to speak and taught us we don’t know s---. It’s humbling. And in those moments, your job is to shut up and let these women and girls speak for themselves.

What would you consider to be the most difficult part of your reporting and why?

Alesia: I can think of a few things. I’m a 54-year-old man. Much younger women were telling me about deeply personal and private matters. We had to have a certain level of detail so readers wouldn’t think these were accidents or misunderstandings. They were sexual abuse. In a few instances where we needed a lot of detail—even if it wouldn’t be published—Marisa talked with the women. Also, with one exception, USA Gymnastics would only take written questions. We received written answers that invariably ignored some questions and gave partial answers to others. It was frustrating. And we found USA Gymnastics to have a secretive culture with power concentrated in a few people. People at all levels of the sport were afraid to rock the boat.

Kozlowski: Language. Getting words like “vagina,” “anus” and “clitoris” in the paper. Publishing these words was not meant to be titillating. They involved crimes against these women. But there was more than one debate in the newsroom about how to describe the crimes accurately. For the public to understand what Nassar did to these young women, I believe we should describe what he did briefly but explicitly because not every person pays attention to every news story.

The phrase “sexual abuse under the guise of a medical treatment” is commonly used. But what will that mean years from now? Nassar had a pattern. Since “sexual abuse” can mean many things, I believe it should be clear that Nassar inserted his fingers inside women’s vaginas, and sometimes their anuses, without gloves, lubricant or consent, often while their parents were in the room. All the women testified in court what he did to them so I believe we have a responsibility to report the words they used and be part of the culture that sheds light on sexual violence so it doesn’t stay in the shadows.

Kwiatkowski: It was difficult to pin down whether USA Gymnastics had changed its policy for handling sexual abuse complaints. The organization declined our request for an in-person interview and, with one exception, required all questions to be submitted in writing. When USA Gymnastics responded, it ignored some questions and provided partial answers to others.

Mencarini: This is a tough question. This story is a heavy topic. It can grind you down mentally and emotionally over the course of 16 months, or during a seven-day sentencing. Understanding the overlapping timelines, separate investigations, individual assaults, lawsuits, university responses and connections between them all is, in my opinion, the most crucial part of reporting this story. I think the most difficult part of my reporting is understanding those connections while being aware of the specific abuses and trauma suffered and not getting burned out. It pales in comparison to what the women and girls have gone through, or are going through, but as a reporter it's been the most difficult part of covering this story. I've had ups and downs with it.

Wells: I don’t think I’m going to have a good answer on this one for a while. It’s not done yet.

When did sources begin reaching out to you on this story?

Alesia: In summer 2016, before our first story, I had been trying to contact a longtime coach and judge in the sport. Finally, I left a letter at the door of her home. That weekend, the woman happened to be staying with a former national team gymnast, Molly Shawen-Kollmann, in Cincinnati. Molly saw the letter and sent me an email. She became an invaluable source on the culture, history and power players in the sport. Now we’re getting so many tips, we can hardly keep up.

Kozlowski: Immediately after we started reporting the story, in early 2017. There was an understanding about the power of media among those who wanted Nassar behind bars. That understanding came as news is more accessible than ever. Denhollander’s report about Nassar to Michigan State was followed by her account to the IndyStar. There used to be a time when mostly Indiana residents might have seen that story. But that story, and so many others, reverberated beyond local markets and prompted other victims to come forward. Journalism gave voice to those who were voiceless for so long, and those voices are louder than they have ever been.

Kwiatkowski: It was a source who first suggested I look into USA Gymnastics. As word spread about our investigation, we received calls from others.

Mencarini: I began hearing from sources within days of the first Indy story.

Wells: Late fall 2016? Maybe very early 2017?

Journalists are not necessarily well versed in topics like sexual assault and child predators. How did you prepare for this assignment?

Alesia: I worked a lot on the Jared Fogle case, including a feature on the prosecutor and cops who specialize in child pornography cases. So, unfortunately, this was not new territory for me.

Kozlowski: Many years ago I attended a training for journalists held by the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Kwiatkowski: I’ve spent years reporting on child abuse and neglect. In my role at The Indianapolis Star, I handle investigations relating to social services and welfare issues—such as child abuse and neglect, poverty, elder abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and access to mental health services. I used that experience as my colleagues and I investigated USA Gymnastics and the allegations against Larry Nassar.

Mencarini: I cover the criminal justice system and had reported quite a bit on sexual assault by the time Indy published the Nassar story. I spent good portions of 2015 and 2016 reporting on a local case that involved a pediatric dentist who had been convicted, years later, of sexually assaulting a young boy who was a patient. I profiled the victim in that case, who was in his 20s when he reported to police. I also reported on the Court of Appeals decision to overturn the former dentist's sexual assault convictions and the no-jail plea agreement on a child abuse charge that followed. In June 2016, I began working on an investigation into the way Michigan State University handled sexual assault and harassment complaints over a several year period. That story ran in Dec. 2016 and included details of Nassar's 2014 Title IX investigation and an interview with the victim. So by the time the Indy story was published, I had already had a lot of conversations with sexual assault advocates and experts about trauma, sexual abuse and the systems in place to respond to abuse. Those conversations have proved invaluable.

Wells: So, fortunately or unfortunately, I’d already had a few years of reporting around how higher education handles sexual assault, including a long, MSU-specific investigation.

But child sexual abuse is a completely different field, obviously, that needed very specific tools. Rachael Denhollander was the one who pointed me to specialists like Carla Van Dam (she’s basically written the manual for understanding men like Nassar: The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused, which should be required reading) and Anna Salter. It was also helpful to talk with organizations working to educate adults, like Darkness to Light, and those who’ve handled large child sexual abuse cases from the law enforcement perspective. All those people I talked to had seen this before—so many times, really, that they were totally unsurprised about the details when I filled them in on this case, and basically could have charted this out from the beginning. Which shows you how we keep letting this happen to kids, over and over and over again, because we are so abysmal at understanding that the most effective predators are the people we trust. From the journalism perspective, the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma at the Columbia Journalism School has some great resources for reporters doing this kind of work—basically, how to not screw things up further for the people you’re talking to. It is not just have you talked them through the potential fallout from this interview? But also, what kind of support system do they have? Are you just leaving them high and dry at the end of an upsetting, emotional interview? What kind of expectations are you giving them about what will happen or come of this story?

Is there anything you would have done differently in your reporting or writing or broadcasting and why?

Alesia: Not really. I think we made the most of our resources based on what we knew at the time.

Kozlowski: In 2015, federal officials issued a report that Michigan State did not have the procedures and policies in place to handle Title IX complaints. The report was part of a nationwide crackdown on campus sexual assault, so MSU was not alone. Even so, if we had looked more closely and reported on some of the Title IX reports upon which this report was based, maybe the story would have emerged a year earlier while Nassar was still assaulting women.

Kwiatkowski: No.

Mencarini: This is another tough question. I think I'm still too close to it all to have that perspective. The MSU side of this story is still developing rapidly. I'm immersed in the reporting every day. I'm proud of the work I've done and the details about MSU's involvement I've been able to uncover. Right now I can't think of anything I would have done differently, but ask me in two years and I might have an answer.

Wells: Oh, so many things. But top two that come to mind: 1) there were editors outside of Michigan, who were telling me this was a “local story” for a long time—pretty much right up until the sentencing. While I disagreed, I didn’t fight them that hard on it. I should have. 2) I wish I had started saying something earlier about how the media and the public are approaching this differently, because it’s girls and because it’s gymnastics. The women and girls I spoke with were saying that for months and months, and every time I said “yup, I totally agree,” but I never thought “let’s do a story about that. Let’s talk about that.”

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In her sentencing of Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said to him, "I just signed your death warrant." The remark sparked some debate. What was going through your head when she said that and how did you write/broadcast about that?

Alesia: I didn’t write it. My story that day was about Rachael Denhollander. I rode with Rachael and her husband to court from Kalamazoo, where they were staying with her parents.

Kozlowski: It was a provocative quote that became the headline over our story. But I agreed with the judge and others who thought the sentence was to serve justice for the victims. I wrote through the story with some of the victims’s quotes very high in the narrative, including one from Kyle Stephens, who said: “My monster is gone.”

Kwiatkowski: I was working on another project at the time and did not see that portion of the sentencing hearing. Nor did I write about it. Our colleagues at the Lansing State Journal did a great job handling that coverage.

Mencarini: I've covered enough sentencing hearings in Judge Aquilina's courtroom to know that a line like that was possible. I can't say I expected something so direct, but she doesn't hold back when addressing defendants at sentencing. We included the line high up in our story and as part of the headline online.

Wells: Honestly, it wasn’t that far out of line with things previously said during the sentencing hearing, and if you’re familiar with Judge Aquilina, you know she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind. So I wasn’t clutching my pearls or anything.

Although this case generated significant national attention during the week of sentencing, Nassar was not covered extensively by most national media until then. Why do you think this was the case?

Alesia: I’ll take this answer and the one below together. The initial story, which had nothing to do with Nassar and was published on the eve of the Rio Olympics, received a lot of attention. But there wasn’t a big national hit on Nassar until three Olympic gymnasts went on 60 Minutes in February 2017. And although Rachael Denhollander had been doing media interviews consistently, the Nassar story didn’t get national attention again until more Olympic gymnasts went public with their abuse. It took the Lansing hearing and 156 women telling their stories to shake people into paying attention.

Kozlowski: Sexual assaults reported nationally generally involve unusual circumstances. In the Nassar case, national media reports emerged when Olympic gymnasts began going public in early 2017. But even before that, lawsuits were piling up against Nassar and he lost his job and medical license. Police also discovered 37,000 images of child pornography on external hard drives that he disposed of in his trash can. So I am not sure why the national media did not cover the Nassar case more extensively.

Kwiatkowski: Our investigation generated significant attention from national media when the first piece published in August 2016. That attention waned in the months afterward, until several high-profile gymnasts shared their experiences. National attention focused on USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar and others again in January as 156 women and girls shared their stories during Nassar’s sentencing hearing.

Mencarini: I've thought about this a decent amount, but I don't think I have a great answer. In March 2017, Judge Aquilina granted a request by Nassar's attorneys to place a gag order on those connected to the criminal case, which included many of the women and girls who spoke at sentencing. A federal lawsuit was filed over that gag order. I think that played a role as many couldn't share the stories they did at sentencing until the gag order was lifted in November after Nassar pleaded guilty. This is also a complex story, with police and university investigations, lawsuits and sexual assaults disguised as medical procedures that even some victims didn't realize were abuse until decades later. I think it's a difficult story to drop in on and for a while it moved pretty fast.

Wells: If I’m being generous, it’s that the sheer scale and power of this case was really best demonstrated by seeing those survivors tell their stories, one after another. It was powerful and riveting and I understand why that moment made such an impact. But it’s also frustrating, because the women and girls were getting up in court and saying, “I was reporting this abuse 20 years ago, where were you guys then?” Rachael Denhollander and others had been putting themselves out on a limb, publicly, for more than a year and a half. The national media’s reaction doesn’t feel all that different. I was driving back from the sentencing hearing this week, listening to a podcast that covers the media, from a network I really respect. The two hosts were asking each other why it had taken so long for the national media to cover the Nassar case, and while their general take was that the lack of coverage had been an unfortunate failure, some of their reasoning didn’t hold water.

For instance: they were saying how even sports networks don’t have a full-time gymnastics reporter, so it’s not like you’ve got somebody who can really jump on this story. Ok, sure. But you’ve got a bunch of college sports reporters, right? You’re telling me if, say, the water polo team at Ohio State started having dozens and dozens of former male players come out to say they’d been sexually abused for 20 years and no adults had listened to them, that you don’t dispatch even one guy to Columbus for a couple days? These podcast hosts also said that, until this month’s criminal sentencing, there was no “present tense” to the Nassar story, no solid “news hook” to give your editor. But new allegations have been coming out for 18 months straight, with more than 130 civil suits being filed, multiple preliminary exams in the criminal case, charges at the federal level, a police investigation, an FBI investigation, suspensions, resignations, etc. Newspapers like the Lansing State Journal managed to produce more than 100 stories in 18 months. There were news pegs.

None of us in this job are perfect. There are 18 million things I would like to go back and do differently about this story. And lord knows, if I was working in New York or D.C. and had started hearing about the Nassar case, I’m not saying I would have demanded my editor put me on the next plane to East Lansing. Far from it. But I am saying, let’s be honest about what happened here: these were girls. So unless it was happening in your backyard, the media didn’t care—or worse, didn’t think its audience would care, and didn’t feel like putting in the work to persuade them otherwise.

In your opinion, did gender or that the sport was gymnastics play a role in why the story did not receive national coverage compared to other sports scandals?

Alesia: I do believe that gender and the sport played a role.

Kozlowski: I think gender played a role but some attributed it more to the sport and other factors. The Jerry Sandusky/Penn State case involved the national pastime of football and a legendary coach, besides the assaults of young boys and cover up. However, the Nassar case eclipsed the number of victims in the Sandusky scandal a long time ago. Our society seems a little more shocked when boys are assaulted than girls. Maybe this will help change that.

Kwiatkowski: My focus has been on examining failures in the system, not making comparisons to other situations.

Mencarini: I think it's possible. I'd like to think that the national media doesn't care less about young gymnasts, young girls or women (not all were athletes) being abused than it does young boys or men being abused. But I can't rule it out.

Wells: Yes. This case has shown us just differently people react when a woman or a girl accuses a man of abuse, compared with a man or a boy making the same allegations. Over and over again, we saw dozens of women and girls say the same thing during sentencing: I thought I must be mistaken. Or: it felt wrong, but this guy was a really big deal so I must be the one with the dirty mind. That says something about the way we raise our girls, the way we teach them to be so petrified of being “difficult,” that it’s easier to just say nothing.

I know with the Jerry Sandusky case we saw coaches and administrators look the other way when male children were being abused—but not because they didn’t believe the abuse could be happening. You can argue the cover up went so high up the chain of command, because those involved knew how big the fallout would be. With the Nassar case, multiple adults just didn’t believe girls.

Even now, when the national media is finally interested, the way we cover it sometimes feels…gendered. There are those who really want us to get to the point where these women are at a place of “healing,” where they’re “so empowering.” Are they powerful? Absolutely. Have they managed to survive a living hell? Yes. But if these were boys, would we be rushing them to emotionally wrap it up, so to speak? Their strength is formidable and awe-inspiring, but I’m wary of the desire to package these survivors’ experiences into something neat and pretty, just so we can feel more comfortable with it.

To that same end, I’ve encountered a lot of pushback and limits on what we can say about the abuse itself. I understand that, especially with broadcast, your kids could be in the car and you may have missed the disturbing-content warning at the beginning of the story. But what happened to these women, matters. Their decision not to shield us from that brutality and horror, matters.

Still, some of those I work with (and not everyone, to be clear) repeatedly want to edit those parts out and sub in the vaguest terms possible: words like “digital penetration,” which frankly couldn’t be more clinical, get replaced with the vague and confusing “inappropriate touching.” If you were the one who’d experienced this abuse, how would you feel about someone deciding your story, the one you chose to tell in court for the entire world, was too indecent to accurately describe? Of course it’s indecent. It’s abuse. And if we don’t trust our audience enough to tell them the facts about what’s actually happened, then we are doing them a disservice as well as these survivors.

?

What should the public know about the resources it takes to cover these types of stories?

Alesia: IndyStar devoted three reporters to the story, virtually full-time, for a year. That is a very big deal for an operation of our size. We travelled all over the country. And, we hired a lawyer in Atlanta to intervene in a court case in Georgia to unseal 54 files that USA Gymnastics kept on abusive coaches. USA Gymnastics fought to keep the files secret, saying in court filings that we wanted to do a “National Enquirer-like article … to satisfy the economic interests of Indy Star’s advertisers, owners, and investors.” The process dragged on for about nine months. I don’t know how much our company paid, but the lawyer could not have been cheap. It was a big commitment by Gannett, the USA Today Network and IndyStar. We used the USA Today Network for help on various aspects of the reporting, especially Matt Mencarini in Lansing, Mich.

Kozlowski: These stories demand enormous time and energy, and involve numerous members of our staff. But telling the Nassar scandal is the reason why my colleagues and I are in journalism: To give voice to the voiceless and hold those with power accountable. In a public statement in Eaton County court on Friday, Larissa Boyce turned to the media and told us to not forget. She asked us continue to report so that other victims will come forward and the dialogue around sexual assault will result in change in the future. To Boyce, and every other woman who has been sexually assaulted: We will continue to report on this and other sexual assault stories, and demand answers from those who don’t do the right thing.

Kwiatkowski: Our bosses at IndyStar and Gannett invested significant time and resources toward this investigation. They supported our project from its first day. They let Mark, Tim, Steve Berta, Robert Scheer and me work on this investigation nearly full-time for a year. We flew to a dozen states. We sought public records in at least 23 states. We received help from colleagues throughout the USA TODAY Network. And the company fought a legal battle for access to court records in Georgia. If you believe in the value of journalism, please subscribe to your local newspaper.

Mencarini: The State Journal has 13 news reporters. For much of the 16 months since the first Indy story, this is the only thing I did. There were stretches, especially at the end of 2016, when I did other reporting, but for the most part this story has occupied nearly all of my time. In a newsroom of our size, that's a significant investment. Time, in my opinion, is the most valuable resource for a story like this. I needed time to review each lawsuit, go to each hearing, dig through court and public records and speak with as many people connected to the case as possible. Not every newsroom could or would devote resources that significant to a single story for such a long time. I can't imagine covering this story without the time and resources my editors gave me. Local journalism and local investigative reporting are important, and the Nassar story—with the USAG and MSU sides—shows exactly why.

Feel free to add anything you wish.

Kwiatkowski: Thank you to the people who trusted us to share their stories.

Wells: Sorry, I’m going on my soap box here, but I worry that, as Nassar becomes a name we put in the same category with Sandusky or Boston priests, the general public concludes these predators look like boogeymen, you know? When the reason they were able to victimize so many, is because these were seemingly kind, trustworthy, respectable people who looked like they were doing a lot of good. The most effective predator is the one who makes you think, “there’s got to be a misunderstanding here, let’s work this out” when you see a red flag. Most adults don’t get into coaching or medicine or just general education because they think, “I hope I’m part of enabling large-scale sexual predation one day.” Lots of good adults are capable of giving other nice-seeming adults the benefit of the doubt. And that’s how this continues.

If interested in the work of the panelists above, click below:

Alesia, Indy Star
Kozlowski, Detroit News
Kwiatkowski: Indy Star
Mencarini: The Lansing State Journal
Wells: Michigan Radio

<p>The stories coming out of Lansing, Mich., over the past few weeks have been gutting. <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/01/24/larry-nassar-sentencing-usa-gymnastics-abuse-victims-michigan-state" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:More than 150 women" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">More than 150 women</a> gave victim statements in the <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2018/01/31/how-long-larry-nassar-spend-behind-bars/1083275001/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:sentencing" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">sentencing</a> of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who in November pled guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with minors. Credit the <em>Indianapolis Star</em>, who in 2016 published <a href="http://interactives.indystar.com/news/standing/OutOfBalanceSeries/index2.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a lengthy investigation" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a lengthy investigation</a> into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints over decades, for triggering the reporting.</p><p>This week I impaneled a group of five reporters (including two of the <em>IndyStar </em>reporters involved in the investigation above) who have covered the story in full, from the role of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State to the Nassar sentencing. I wanted to get insight into their reporting and what the public should know about this kind of work. I hope you will find it as illuminating as I did.</p><p><strong>The panel:</strong></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/markalesia" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Mark Alesia" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Mark Alesia</a>, reporter, <em>IndyStar</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/kimberkoz?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kim Kozlowski" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Kim Kozlowski</a>, higher education reporter, <em>Detroit News</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/IndyMarisaK?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Marisa Kwiatkowski" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Marisa Kwiatkowski</a>, investigative reporter, <em>IndyStar</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/MattMencarini?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Matt Mencarini" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Matt Mencarini</a>, reporter, <em>Lansing State Journal</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/katelouisewells?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kate Wells" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Kate Wells</a>, host/reporter/producer, Michigan Radio</p><h3><strong>When did you first start reporting on USA Gymnastics or Larry Nassar—and what was the impetus behind that decision?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>After Marisa came back from Georgia with about 1,000 pages of court documents, I was asked to get involved. Tim Evans joined us soon after that.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> One of the metro editors at the <em>Detroit News</em> thought we needed to do a story about the Larry Nassar case in January 2017, when it became clear that his sexual abuse extended beyond USA Gymnastics. Another colleague, Frank Donnelly, and I wrote the first few stories and I continued to follow it after that.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>In March of 2016, I was investigating failures to report sexual abuse in schools when a source suggested I look into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints. The source pointed me toward a lawsuit in Georgia. As I gathered more information, I was told a judge was about to seal important records in the case. My bosses allowed me to fly to Georgia later that day. I picked up nearly 1,000 pages of court records. As soon as I returned to Indianapolis, Mark Alesia, Tim Evans and I began our investigation into the organization.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> My reporting on Nassar began the day the <em>IndyStar </em>story was published. <em>Indy</em> and the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> are part of the USA Today Network so I knew something was coming in the days before their story, but my reporting the local side of it began that day. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Our newsroom actually started covering this from the sports angle, after the IndyStar 2016 report came out. We didn’t recognize the scale at that time—it seemed to us, in our limited perspective, like it was an offshoot of <em>IndyStar</em>’s incredible USA Gymnastics investigations. It was one of our sports/general assignment guys, Josh Hakala, who jumped on it first in our newsroom.</p><h3><strong>When did you realize the scope and importance of this story?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>For Nassar, it was when Jessica Howard, a former national champion in rhythmic gymnastics, left a message on my work voicemail on a Sunday evening. I called back and her story of Nassar’s abuse tracked closely to what we had heard from Rachael Denhollander and the people behind a lawsuit that was about to be filed by Jamie Dantzscher, then an anonymous plaintiff. The women didn’t know each other. I thought there had to be more victim/survivors.</p><p>After publication, we started hearing from more victim/survivors (and getting nasty emails and voicemails from Nassar’s supporters). We also checked the public Michigan State University Police log daily. More and more people were reporting sexual assaults at addresses connected to Nassar. At no point, though, could I have ever imagined more than 250 victim/survivors coming forward to police.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> February 2017 was a key month, when Michigan State head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages stepped down after Larissa Boyce and another gymnast filed lawsuits that they told Klages about Nassar in 1997 but she didn’t believe them. Also in February 2017, Kyle Stephens became the first woman to publicly testify against Nassar during a preliminary exam in court. She spoke of how Nassar assaulted her for years beginning when she was six years old during family visits to his house. Other women testified about Nassar’s pattern of grooming them, earning their trust and then assaulting them. But the tipping point was just a few weeks ago when more than 150 women came forward and made statements about Nassar’s abuse in a courtroom. During those seven days, the majority of woman shed their Jane Doe identities and gave their names, allowing the world to see and hear their painful stories and how many people did not believe them or take action. Had the majority of the women remained anonymous, the cameras would have stopped rolling and the newspapers wouldn’t have been able to put so many faces behind Nassar’s crimes. But one woman’s courage empowered the next and created a milestone in women’s history in the movement to end sexual violence against women.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> We knew early in our investigation that USA Gymnastics executives had followed a policy of dismissing complaints as “hearsay” unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent. My colleagues and I spent the next few months investigating the impact of that policy on the safety of children in gymnastics. From the beginning, we knew it was an important topic. I started to understand the scope of allegations against Larry Nassar after we published our first piece about him. We received calls and emails from more than a dozen other survivors.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> Within days of the first <em>Indy</em> story, police and prosecutors were saying they had received more than a dozen new sexual assault reports against Nassar. So it was clear whatever criminal case developed would be high profile. But early on, my editor Al Wilson instilled in me that the real story, for us at the <em>State Journal</em>, was MSU. We covered every step of Nassar&#39;s criminal cases, but from the start our investigative reporting focus was squarely on the university. This felt, to us, like an important institutional story pretty early on, especially once we had the 2014 Title IX report.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Honestly, every time I think I do understand it, that’s usually a sign that the weight of this—of the experiences of the people involved in it—is just going to hit me like a freight train all over again. Going into the sentencing hearings, I’d been so consumed by this story, and then Kyle Stephens stood up there as the first to speak and taught us we don’t know s---. It’s humbling. And in those moments, your job is to shut up and let these women and girls speak for themselves. </p><h3><strong>What would you consider to be the most difficult part of your reporting and why?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia</strong>: I can think of a few things. I’m a 54-year-old man. Much younger women were telling me about deeply personal and private matters. We had to have a certain level of detail so readers wouldn’t think these were accidents or misunderstandings. They were sexual abuse. In a few instances where we needed a lot of detail—even if it wouldn’t be published—Marisa talked with the women. Also, with one exception, USA Gymnastics would only take written questions. We received written answers that invariably ignored some questions and gave partial answers to others. It was frustrating. And we found USA Gymnastics to have a secretive culture with power concentrated in a few people. People at all levels of the sport were afraid to rock the boat.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Language. Getting words like “vagina,” “anus” and “clitoris” in the paper. Publishing these words was not meant to be titillating. They involved crimes against these women. But there was more than one debate in the newsroom about how to describe the crimes accurately. For the public to understand what Nassar did to these young women, I believe we should describe what he did briefly but explicitly because not every person pays attention to every news story.</p><p>The phrase “sexual abuse under the guise of a medical treatment” is commonly used. But what will that mean years from now? Nassar had a pattern. Since “sexual abuse” can mean many things, I believe it should be clear that Nassar inserted his fingers inside women’s vaginas, and sometimes their anuses, without gloves, lubricant or consent, often while their parents were in the room. All the women testified in court what he did to them so I believe we have a responsibility to report the words they used and be part of the culture that sheds light on sexual violence so it doesn’t stay in the shadows.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>It was difficult to pin down whether USA Gymnastics had changed its policy for handling sexual abuse complaints. The organization declined our request for an in-person interview and, with one exception, required all questions to be submitted in writing. When USA Gymnastics responded, it ignored some questions and provided partial answers to others.</p><p><strong>Mencarini: </strong>This is a tough question. This story is a heavy topic. It can grind you down mentally and emotionally over the course of 16 months, or during a seven-day sentencing. Understanding the overlapping timelines, separate investigations, individual assaults, lawsuits, university responses and connections between them all is, in my opinion, the most crucial part of reporting this story. I think the most difficult part of my reporting is understanding those connections while being aware of the specific abuses and trauma suffered and not getting burned out. It pales in comparison to what the women and girls have gone through, or are going through, but as a reporter it&#39;s been the most difficult part of covering this story. I&#39;ve had ups and downs with it.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> I don’t think I’m going to have a good answer on this one for a while. It’s not done yet.</p><h3><strong>When did sources begin reaching out to you on this story?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>In summer 2016, before our first story, I had been trying to contact a longtime coach and judge in the sport. Finally, I left a letter at the door of her home. That weekend, the woman happened to be staying with a former national team gymnast, Molly Shawen-Kollmann, in Cincinnati. Molly saw the letter and sent me an email. She became an invaluable source on the culture, history and power players in the sport. Now we’re getting so many tips, we can hardly keep up.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski</strong>: Immediately after we started reporting the story, in early 2017. There was an understanding about the power of media among those who wanted Nassar behind bars. That understanding came as news is more accessible than ever. Denhollander’s report about Nassar to Michigan State was followed by her account to the <em>IndyStar</em>. There used to be a time when mostly Indiana residents might have seen that story. But that story, and so many others, reverberated beyond local markets and prompted other victims to come forward. Journalism gave voice to those who were voiceless for so long, and those voices are louder than they have ever been.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski</strong>: It was a source who first suggested I look into USA Gymnastics. As word spread about our investigation, we received calls from others.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I began hearing from sources within days of the first Indy story. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Late fall 2016? Maybe very early 2017?</p><h3><strong>Journalists are not necessarily well versed in topics like sexual assault and child predators. How did you prepare for this assignment?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I worked a lot on the Jared Fogle case, including a feature on the prosecutor and cops who specialize in child pornography cases. So, unfortunately, this was not new territory for me.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Many years ago I attended a training for journalists held by the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> I’ve spent years reporting on child abuse and neglect. In my role at <em>The Indianapolis Star</em>, I handle investigations relating to social services and welfare issues—such as child abuse and neglect, poverty, elder abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and access to mental health services. I used that experience as my colleagues and I investigated USA Gymnastics and the allegations against Larry Nassar.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I cover the criminal justice system and had reported quite a bit on sexual assault by the time <em>Indy</em> published the Nassar story. I spent good portions of 2015 and 2016 reporting on a local case that involved a pediatric dentist who had been convicted, years later, of sexually assaulting a young boy who was a patient. I profiled the victim in that case, who was in his 20s when he reported to police. I also reported on the Court of Appeals decision to overturn the former dentist&#39;s sexual assault convictions and the no-jail plea agreement on a child abuse charge that followed. In June 2016, I began working on an investigation into the way Michigan State University handled sexual assault and harassment complaints over a several year period. That story ran in Dec. 2016 and included details of Nassar&#39;s 2014 Title IX investigation and an interview with the victim. So by the time the <em>Indy</em> story was published, I had already had a lot of conversations with sexual assault advocates and experts about trauma, sexual abuse and the systems in place to respond to abuse. Those conversations have proved invaluable. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> So, fortunately or unfortunately, I’d already had a few years of reporting around how higher education handles sexual assault, including a long, MSU-specific investigation.</p><p>But child sexual abuse is a completely different field, obviously, that needed very specific tools. Rachael Denhollander was the one who pointed me to specialists like Carla Van Dam (she’s basically written the manual for understanding men like Nassar: <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Socially-Skilled-Child-Molester-Differentiating/dp/0789028069" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused</a></em>, which should be required reading) and Anna Salter. It was also helpful to talk with organizations working to educate adults, like Darkness to Light, and those who’ve handled large child sexual abuse cases from the law enforcement perspective. All those people I talked to had seen this before—so many times, really, that they were totally unsurprised about the details when I filled them in on this case, and basically could have charted this out from the beginning. Which shows you how we keep letting this happen to kids, over and over and over again, because we are so abysmal at understanding that the most effective predators are the people we trust. From the journalism perspective, the Dart Center for Journalism &#38; Trauma at the Columbia Journalism School has some great resources for reporters doing this kind of work—basically, how to not screw things up further for the people you’re talking to. It is not just have you talked them through the potential fallout from this interview? But also, what kind of support system do they have? Are you just leaving them high and dry at the end of an upsetting, emotional interview? What kind of expectations are you giving them about what will happen or come of this story?</p><h3><strong>Is there anything you would have done differently in your reporting or writing or broadcasting and why?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>Not really. I think we made the most of our resources based on what we knew at the time.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> In 2015, federal officials issued a report that Michigan State did not have the procedures and policies in place to handle Title IX complaints. The report was part of a nationwide crackdown on campus sexual assault, so MSU was not alone. Even so, if we had looked more closely and reported on some of the Title IX reports upon which this report was based, maybe the story would have emerged a year earlier while Nassar was still assaulting women.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>No.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> This is another tough question. I think I&#39;m still too close to it all to have that perspective. The MSU side of this story is still developing rapidly. I&#39;m immersed in the reporting every day. I&#39;m proud of the work I&#39;ve done and the details about MSU&#39;s involvement I&#39;ve been able to uncover. Right now I can&#39;t think of anything I would have done differently, but ask me in two years and I might have an answer. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Oh, so many things. But top two that come to mind: 1) there were editors outside of Michigan, who were telling me this was a “local story” for a long time—pretty much right up until the sentencing. While I disagreed, I didn’t fight them that hard on it. I should have. 2) I wish I had started saying something earlier about how the media and the public are approaching this differently, because it’s girls and because it’s gymnastics. The women and girls I spoke with were saying that for months and months, and every time I said “yup, I totally agree,” but I never thought “let’s do a story about that. Let’s talk about that.”</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>In her sentencing of Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said to him, &quot;I just signed your death warrant.&quot; The remark sparked some debate. What was going through your head when she said that and how did you write/broadcast about that?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I didn’t write it. My story that day was about Rachael Denhollander. I rode with Rachael and her husband to court from Kalamazoo, where they were staying with her parents.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> It was a provocative quote that became the headline over our story. But I agreed with the judge and others who thought the sentence was to serve justice for the victims. I wrote through the story with some of the victims’s quotes very high in the narrative, including one from Kyle Stephens, who said: “My monster is gone.”</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>I was working on another project at the time and did not see that portion of the sentencing hearing. Nor did I write about it. Our colleagues at the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> did a great job handling that coverage.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I&#39;ve covered enough sentencing hearings in Judge Aquilina&#39;s courtroom to know that a line like that was possible. I can&#39;t say I expected something so direct, but she doesn&#39;t hold back when addressing defendants at sentencing. We included the line high up in our story and as part of the headline online.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Honestly, it wasn’t that far out of line with things previously said during the sentencing hearing, and if you’re familiar with Judge Aquilina, you know she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind. So I wasn’t clutching my pearls or anything.</p><h3><strong>Although this case generated significant national attention during the week of sentencing, Nassar was not covered extensively by most national media until then. Why do you think this was the case?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I’ll take this answer and the one below together. The initial story, which had nothing to do with Nassar and was published on the eve of the Rio Olympics, received a lot of attention. But there wasn’t a big national hit on Nassar until three Olympic gymnasts went on <em>60 Minutes</em> in February 2017. And although Rachael Denhollander had been doing media interviews consistently, the Nassar story didn’t get national attention again until more Olympic gymnasts went public with their abuse. It took the Lansing hearing and 156 women telling their stories to shake people into paying attention.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Sexual assaults reported nationally generally involve unusual circumstances. In the Nassar case, national media reports emerged when Olympic gymnasts began going public in early 2017. But even before that, lawsuits were piling up against Nassar and he lost his job and medical license. Police also discovered 37,000 images of child pornography on external hard drives that he disposed of in his trash can. So I am not sure why the national media did not cover the Nassar case more extensively.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> Our investigation generated significant attention from national media when the first piece published in August 2016. That attention waned in the months afterward, until several high-profile gymnasts shared their experiences. National attention focused on USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar and others again in January as 156 women and girls shared their stories during Nassar’s sentencing hearing.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I&#39;ve thought about this a decent amount, but I don&#39;t think I have a great answer. In March 2017, Judge Aquilina granted a request by Nassar&#39;s attorneys to place a gag order on those connected to the criminal case, which included many of the women and girls who spoke at sentencing. A federal lawsuit was filed over that gag order. I think that played a role as many couldn&#39;t share the stories they did at sentencing until the gag order was lifted in November after Nassar pleaded guilty. This is also a complex story, with police and university investigations, lawsuits and sexual assaults disguised as medical procedures that even some victims didn&#39;t realize were abuse until decades later. I think it&#39;s a difficult story to drop in on and for a while it moved pretty fast. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> If I’m being generous, it’s that the sheer scale and power of this case was really best demonstrated by seeing those survivors tell their stories, one after another. It was powerful and riveting and I understand why that moment made such an impact. But it’s also frustrating, because the women and girls were getting up in court and saying, “I was reporting this abuse 20 years ago, where were you guys then?” Rachael Denhollander and others had been putting themselves out on a limb, publicly, for more than a year and a half. The national media’s reaction doesn’t feel all that different. I was driving back from the sentencing hearing this week, listening to a podcast that covers the media, from a network I really respect. The two hosts were asking each other why it had taken so long for the national media to cover the Nassar case, and while their general take was that the lack of coverage had been an unfortunate failure, some of their reasoning didn’t hold water.</p><p>For instance: they were saying how even sports networks don’t have a full-time gymnastics reporter, so it’s not like you’ve got somebody who can really jump on this story. Ok, sure. But you’ve got a bunch of college sports reporters, right? You’re telling me if, say, the water polo team at Ohio State started having dozens and dozens of former male players come out to say they’d been sexually abused for 20 years and no adults had listened to them, that you don’t dispatch even one guy to Columbus for a couple days? These podcast hosts also said that, until this month’s criminal sentencing, there was no “present tense” to the Nassar story, no solid “news hook” to give your editor. But new allegations have been coming out for 18 months straight, with more than 130 civil suits being filed, multiple preliminary exams in the criminal case, charges at the federal level, a police investigation, an FBI investigation, suspensions, resignations, etc. Newspapers like the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> managed to produce more than 100 stories in 18 months. There were news pegs. </p><p>None of us in this job are perfect. There are 18 million things I would like to go back and do differently about this story. And lord knows, if I was working in New York or D.C. and had started hearing about the Nassar case, I’m not saying I would have demanded my editor put me on the next plane to East Lansing. Far from it. But I am saying, let’s be honest about what happened here: these were girls. So unless it was happening in your backyard, the media didn’t care—or worse, didn’t think its audience would care, and didn’t feel like putting in the work to persuade them otherwise.</p><h3><strong>In your opinion, did gender or that the sport was gymnastics play a role in why the story did not receive national coverage compared to other sports scandals?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I do believe that gender and the sport played a role.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> I think gender played a role but some attributed it more to the sport and other factors. The Jerry Sandusky/Penn State case involved the national pastime of football and a legendary coach, besides the assaults of young boys and cover up. However, the Nassar case eclipsed the number of victims in the Sandusky scandal a long time ago. Our society seems a little more shocked when boys are assaulted than girls. Maybe this will help change that.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>My focus has been on examining failures in the system, not making comparisons to other situations.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I think it&#39;s possible. I&#39;d like to think that the national media doesn&#39;t care less about young gymnasts, young girls or women (not all were athletes) being abused than it does young boys or men being abused. But I can&#39;t rule it out. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Yes. This case has shown us just differently people react when a woman or a girl accuses a man of abuse, compared with a man or a boy making the same allegations. Over and over again, we saw dozens of women and girls say the same thing during sentencing: I thought I must be mistaken. Or: it felt wrong, but this guy was a really big deal so I must be the one with the dirty mind. That says something about the way we raise our girls, the way we teach them to be so petrified of being “difficult,” that it’s easier to just say nothing.</p><p>I know with the Jerry Sandusky case we saw coaches and administrators look the other way when male children were being abused—but not because they didn’t believe the abuse could be happening. You can argue the cover up went so high up the chain of command, because those involved knew how big the fallout would be. With the Nassar case, multiple adults just didn’t believe girls.</p><p>Even now, when the national media is finally interested, the way we cover it sometimes feels…gendered. There are those who really want us to get to the point where these women are at a place of “healing,” where they’re “so empowering.” Are they powerful? Absolutely. Have they managed to survive a living hell? Yes. But if these were boys, would we be rushing them to emotionally wrap it up, so to speak? Their strength is formidable and awe-inspiring, but I’m wary of the desire to package these survivors’ experiences into something neat and pretty, just so we can feel more comfortable with it. </p><p>To that same end, I’ve encountered a lot of pushback and limits on what we can say about the abuse itself. I understand that, especially with broadcast, your kids could be in the car and you may have missed the disturbing-content warning at the beginning of the story. But what happened to these women, matters. Their decision not to shield us from that brutality and horror, matters.</p><p>Still, some of those I work with (and not everyone, to be clear) repeatedly want to edit those parts out and sub in the vaguest terms possible: words like “digital penetration,” which frankly couldn’t be more clinical, get replaced with the vague and confusing “inappropriate touching.” If you were the one who’d experienced this abuse, how would you feel about someone deciding your story, the one you chose to tell in court for the entire world, was too indecent to accurately describe? Of course it’s indecent. It’s abuse. And if we don’t trust our audience enough to tell them the facts about what’s actually happened, then we are doing them a disservice as well as these survivors. </p><p>?</p><h3><strong>What should the public know about the resources it takes to cover these types of stories?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong><em>IndyStar</em> devoted three reporters to the story, virtually full-time, for a year. That is a very big deal for an operation of our size. We travelled all over the country. And, we hired a lawyer in Atlanta to intervene in a court case in Georgia to unseal 54 files that USA Gymnastics kept on abusive coaches. USA Gymnastics fought to keep the files secret, saying in court filings that we wanted to do a “<em>National Enquirer</em>-like article … to satisfy the economic interests of <em>Indy Star</em>’s advertisers, owners, and investors.” The process dragged on for about nine months. I don’t know how much our company paid, but the lawyer could not have been cheap. It was a big commitment by Gannett, the USA Today Network and <em>IndyStar.</em> We used the USA Today Network for help on various aspects of the reporting, especially Matt Mencarini in Lansing, Mich.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> These stories demand enormous time and energy, and involve numerous members of our staff. But telling the Nassar scandal is the reason why my colleagues and I are in journalism: To give voice to the voiceless and hold those with power accountable. In a public statement in Eaton County court on Friday, Larissa Boyce turned to the media and told us to not forget. She asked us continue to report so that other victims will come forward and the dialogue around sexual assault will result in change in the future. To Boyce, and every other woman who has been sexually assaulted: We will continue to report on this and other sexual assault stories, and demand answers from those who don’t do the right thing.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>Our bosses at <em>IndyStar</em> and Gannett invested significant time and resources toward this investigation. They supported our project from its first day. They let Mark, Tim, Steve Berta, Robert Scheer and me work on this investigation nearly full-time for a year. We flew to a dozen states. We sought public records in at least 23 states. We received help from colleagues throughout the USA TODAY Network. And the company fought a legal battle for access to court records in Georgia. If you believe in the value of journalism, please subscribe to your local newspaper.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> <em>The State Journal</em> has 13 news reporters. For much of the 16 months since the first <em>Indy</em> story, this is the only thing I did. There were stretches, especially at the end of 2016, when I did other reporting, but for the most part this story has occupied nearly all of my time. In a newsroom of our size, that&#39;s a significant investment. Time, in my opinion, is the most valuable resource for a story like this. I needed time to review each lawsuit, go to each hearing, dig through court and public records and speak with as many people connected to the case as possible. Not every newsroom could or would devote resources that significant to a single story for such a long time. I can&#39;t imagine covering this story without the time and resources my editors gave me. Local journalism and local investigative reporting are important, and the Nassar story—with the USAG and MSU sides—shows exactly why. </p><h3><strong>Feel free to add anything you wish.</strong></h3><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>Thank you to the people who trusted us to share their stories.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Sorry, I’m going on my soap box here, but I worry that, as Nassar becomes a name we put in the same category with Sandusky or Boston priests, the general public concludes these predators look like boogeymen, you know? When the reason they were able to victimize so many, is because these were seemingly kind, trustworthy, respectable people who looked like they were doing a lot of good. The most effective predator is the one who makes you think, “there’s got to be a misunderstanding here, let’s work this out” when you see a red flag. Most adults don’t get into coaching or medicine or just general education because they think, “I hope I’m part of enabling large-scale sexual predation one day.” Lots of good adults are capable of giving other nice-seeming adults the benefit of the doubt. And that’s how this continues. </p><p><em>If interested in the work of the panelists above, click below:</em></p><p>Alesia, <em><a href="https://www.indystar.com/staff/4121/mark-alesia/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Indy Star" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Indy Star</a></em><br>Kozlowski, <em><a href="https://www.detroitnews.com/staff/28115/kim-kozlowski/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Detroit News" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Detroit News</a></em><br>Kwiatkowski: <em><a href="https://www.indystar.com/staff/10048078/marisa-kwiatkowski/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Indy Star" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Indy Star</a></em><br>Mencarini: <em><a href="https://www.lansingstatejournal.com/staff/37347/matt-mencarini/%5D" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Lansing State Journal" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Lansing State Journal</a></em><br>Wells: <em><a href="http://michiganradio.org/people/kate-wells" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Michigan Radio" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Michigan Radio</a></em></p>
Inside the Reporting of Five Journalists That Helped End Larry Nassar’s Serial Sexual Abuse

The stories coming out of Lansing, Mich., over the past few weeks have been gutting. More than 150 women gave victim statements in the sentencing of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who in November pled guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with minors. Credit the Indianapolis Star, who in 2016 published a lengthy investigation into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints over decades, for triggering the reporting.

This week I impaneled a group of five reporters (including two of the IndyStar reporters involved in the investigation above) who have covered the story in full, from the role of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State to the Nassar sentencing. I wanted to get insight into their reporting and what the public should know about this kind of work. I hope you will find it as illuminating as I did.

The panel:

Mark Alesia, reporter, IndyStar

Kim Kozlowski, higher education reporter, Detroit News

Marisa Kwiatkowski, investigative reporter, IndyStar

Matt Mencarini, reporter, Lansing State Journal

Kate Wells, host/reporter/producer, Michigan Radio

When did you first start reporting on USA Gymnastics or Larry Nassar—and what was the impetus behind that decision?

Alesia: After Marisa came back from Georgia with about 1,000 pages of court documents, I was asked to get involved. Tim Evans joined us soon after that.

Kozlowski: One of the metro editors at the Detroit News thought we needed to do a story about the Larry Nassar case in January 2017, when it became clear that his sexual abuse extended beyond USA Gymnastics. Another colleague, Frank Donnelly, and I wrote the first few stories and I continued to follow it after that.

Kwiatkowski: In March of 2016, I was investigating failures to report sexual abuse in schools when a source suggested I look into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints. The source pointed me toward a lawsuit in Georgia. As I gathered more information, I was told a judge was about to seal important records in the case. My bosses allowed me to fly to Georgia later that day. I picked up nearly 1,000 pages of court records. As soon as I returned to Indianapolis, Mark Alesia, Tim Evans and I began our investigation into the organization.

Mencarini: My reporting on Nassar began the day the IndyStar story was published. Indy and the Lansing State Journal are part of the USA Today Network so I knew something was coming in the days before their story, but my reporting the local side of it began that day.

Wells: Our newsroom actually started covering this from the sports angle, after the IndyStar 2016 report came out. We didn’t recognize the scale at that time—it seemed to us, in our limited perspective, like it was an offshoot of IndyStar’s incredible USA Gymnastics investigations. It was one of our sports/general assignment guys, Josh Hakala, who jumped on it first in our newsroom.

When did you realize the scope and importance of this story?

Alesia: For Nassar, it was when Jessica Howard, a former national champion in rhythmic gymnastics, left a message on my work voicemail on a Sunday evening. I called back and her story of Nassar’s abuse tracked closely to what we had heard from Rachael Denhollander and the people behind a lawsuit that was about to be filed by Jamie Dantzscher, then an anonymous plaintiff. The women didn’t know each other. I thought there had to be more victim/survivors.

After publication, we started hearing from more victim/survivors (and getting nasty emails and voicemails from Nassar’s supporters). We also checked the public Michigan State University Police log daily. More and more people were reporting sexual assaults at addresses connected to Nassar. At no point, though, could I have ever imagined more than 250 victim/survivors coming forward to police.

Kozlowski: February 2017 was a key month, when Michigan State head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages stepped down after Larissa Boyce and another gymnast filed lawsuits that they told Klages about Nassar in 1997 but she didn’t believe them. Also in February 2017, Kyle Stephens became the first woman to publicly testify against Nassar during a preliminary exam in court. She spoke of how Nassar assaulted her for years beginning when she was six years old during family visits to his house. Other women testified about Nassar’s pattern of grooming them, earning their trust and then assaulting them. But the tipping point was just a few weeks ago when more than 150 women came forward and made statements about Nassar’s abuse in a courtroom. During those seven days, the majority of woman shed their Jane Doe identities and gave their names, allowing the world to see and hear their painful stories and how many people did not believe them or take action. Had the majority of the women remained anonymous, the cameras would have stopped rolling and the newspapers wouldn’t have been able to put so many faces behind Nassar’s crimes. But one woman’s courage empowered the next and created a milestone in women’s history in the movement to end sexual violence against women.

Kwiatkowski: We knew early in our investigation that USA Gymnastics executives had followed a policy of dismissing complaints as “hearsay” unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent. My colleagues and I spent the next few months investigating the impact of that policy on the safety of children in gymnastics. From the beginning, we knew it was an important topic. I started to understand the scope of allegations against Larry Nassar after we published our first piece about him. We received calls and emails from more than a dozen other survivors.

Mencarini: Within days of the first Indy story, police and prosecutors were saying they had received more than a dozen new sexual assault reports against Nassar. So it was clear whatever criminal case developed would be high profile. But early on, my editor Al Wilson instilled in me that the real story, for us at the State Journal, was MSU. We covered every step of Nassar's criminal cases, but from the start our investigative reporting focus was squarely on the university. This felt, to us, like an important institutional story pretty early on, especially once we had the 2014 Title IX report.

Wells: Honestly, every time I think I do understand it, that’s usually a sign that the weight of this—of the experiences of the people involved in it—is just going to hit me like a freight train all over again. Going into the sentencing hearings, I’d been so consumed by this story, and then Kyle Stephens stood up there as the first to speak and taught us we don’t know s---. It’s humbling. And in those moments, your job is to shut up and let these women and girls speak for themselves.

What would you consider to be the most difficult part of your reporting and why?

Alesia: I can think of a few things. I’m a 54-year-old man. Much younger women were telling me about deeply personal and private matters. We had to have a certain level of detail so readers wouldn’t think these were accidents or misunderstandings. They were sexual abuse. In a few instances where we needed a lot of detail—even if it wouldn’t be published—Marisa talked with the women. Also, with one exception, USA Gymnastics would only take written questions. We received written answers that invariably ignored some questions and gave partial answers to others. It was frustrating. And we found USA Gymnastics to have a secretive culture with power concentrated in a few people. People at all levels of the sport were afraid to rock the boat.

Kozlowski: Language. Getting words like “vagina,” “anus” and “clitoris” in the paper. Publishing these words was not meant to be titillating. They involved crimes against these women. But there was more than one debate in the newsroom about how to describe the crimes accurately. For the public to understand what Nassar did to these young women, I believe we should describe what he did briefly but explicitly because not every person pays attention to every news story.

The phrase “sexual abuse under the guise of a medical treatment” is commonly used. But what will that mean years from now? Nassar had a pattern. Since “sexual abuse” can mean many things, I believe it should be clear that Nassar inserted his fingers inside women’s vaginas, and sometimes their anuses, without gloves, lubricant or consent, often while their parents were in the room. All the women testified in court what he did to them so I believe we have a responsibility to report the words they used and be part of the culture that sheds light on sexual violence so it doesn’t stay in the shadows.

Kwiatkowski: It was difficult to pin down whether USA Gymnastics had changed its policy for handling sexual abuse complaints. The organization declined our request for an in-person interview and, with one exception, required all questions to be submitted in writing. When USA Gymnastics responded, it ignored some questions and provided partial answers to others.

Mencarini: This is a tough question. This story is a heavy topic. It can grind you down mentally and emotionally over the course of 16 months, or during a seven-day sentencing. Understanding the overlapping timelines, separate investigations, individual assaults, lawsuits, university responses and connections between them all is, in my opinion, the most crucial part of reporting this story. I think the most difficult part of my reporting is understanding those connections while being aware of the specific abuses and trauma suffered and not getting burned out. It pales in comparison to what the women and girls have gone through, or are going through, but as a reporter it's been the most difficult part of covering this story. I've had ups and downs with it.

Wells: I don’t think I’m going to have a good answer on this one for a while. It’s not done yet.

When did sources begin reaching out to you on this story?

Alesia: In summer 2016, before our first story, I had been trying to contact a longtime coach and judge in the sport. Finally, I left a letter at the door of her home. That weekend, the woman happened to be staying with a former national team gymnast, Molly Shawen-Kollmann, in Cincinnati. Molly saw the letter and sent me an email. She became an invaluable source on the culture, history and power players in the sport. Now we’re getting so many tips, we can hardly keep up.

Kozlowski: Immediately after we started reporting the story, in early 2017. There was an understanding about the power of media among those who wanted Nassar behind bars. That understanding came as news is more accessible than ever. Denhollander’s report about Nassar to Michigan State was followed by her account to the IndyStar. There used to be a time when mostly Indiana residents might have seen that story. But that story, and so many others, reverberated beyond local markets and prompted other victims to come forward. Journalism gave voice to those who were voiceless for so long, and those voices are louder than they have ever been.

Kwiatkowski: It was a source who first suggested I look into USA Gymnastics. As word spread about our investigation, we received calls from others.

Mencarini: I began hearing from sources within days of the first Indy story.

Wells: Late fall 2016? Maybe very early 2017?

Journalists are not necessarily well versed in topics like sexual assault and child predators. How did you prepare for this assignment?

Alesia: I worked a lot on the Jared Fogle case, including a feature on the prosecutor and cops who specialize in child pornography cases. So, unfortunately, this was not new territory for me.

Kozlowski: Many years ago I attended a training for journalists held by the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Kwiatkowski: I’ve spent years reporting on child abuse and neglect. In my role at The Indianapolis Star, I handle investigations relating to social services and welfare issues—such as child abuse and neglect, poverty, elder abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and access to mental health services. I used that experience as my colleagues and I investigated USA Gymnastics and the allegations against Larry Nassar.

Mencarini: I cover the criminal justice system and had reported quite a bit on sexual assault by the time Indy published the Nassar story. I spent good portions of 2015 and 2016 reporting on a local case that involved a pediatric dentist who had been convicted, years later, of sexually assaulting a young boy who was a patient. I profiled the victim in that case, who was in his 20s when he reported to police. I also reported on the Court of Appeals decision to overturn the former dentist's sexual assault convictions and the no-jail plea agreement on a child abuse charge that followed. In June 2016, I began working on an investigation into the way Michigan State University handled sexual assault and harassment complaints over a several year period. That story ran in Dec. 2016 and included details of Nassar's 2014 Title IX investigation and an interview with the victim. So by the time the Indy story was published, I had already had a lot of conversations with sexual assault advocates and experts about trauma, sexual abuse and the systems in place to respond to abuse. Those conversations have proved invaluable.

Wells: So, fortunately or unfortunately, I’d already had a few years of reporting around how higher education handles sexual assault, including a long, MSU-specific investigation.

But child sexual abuse is a completely different field, obviously, that needed very specific tools. Rachael Denhollander was the one who pointed me to specialists like Carla Van Dam (she’s basically written the manual for understanding men like Nassar: The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused, which should be required reading) and Anna Salter. It was also helpful to talk with organizations working to educate adults, like Darkness to Light, and those who’ve handled large child sexual abuse cases from the law enforcement perspective. All those people I talked to had seen this before—so many times, really, that they were totally unsurprised about the details when I filled them in on this case, and basically could have charted this out from the beginning. Which shows you how we keep letting this happen to kids, over and over and over again, because we are so abysmal at understanding that the most effective predators are the people we trust. From the journalism perspective, the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma at the Columbia Journalism School has some great resources for reporters doing this kind of work—basically, how to not screw things up further for the people you’re talking to. It is not just have you talked them through the potential fallout from this interview? But also, what kind of support system do they have? Are you just leaving them high and dry at the end of an upsetting, emotional interview? What kind of expectations are you giving them about what will happen or come of this story?

Is there anything you would have done differently in your reporting or writing or broadcasting and why?

Alesia: Not really. I think we made the most of our resources based on what we knew at the time.

Kozlowski: In 2015, federal officials issued a report that Michigan State did not have the procedures and policies in place to handle Title IX complaints. The report was part of a nationwide crackdown on campus sexual assault, so MSU was not alone. Even so, if we had looked more closely and reported on some of the Title IX reports upon which this report was based, maybe the story would have emerged a year earlier while Nassar was still assaulting women.

Kwiatkowski: No.

Mencarini: This is another tough question. I think I'm still too close to it all to have that perspective. The MSU side of this story is still developing rapidly. I'm immersed in the reporting every day. I'm proud of the work I've done and the details about MSU's involvement I've been able to uncover. Right now I can't think of anything I would have done differently, but ask me in two years and I might have an answer.

Wells: Oh, so many things. But top two that come to mind: 1) there were editors outside of Michigan, who were telling me this was a “local story” for a long time—pretty much right up until the sentencing. While I disagreed, I didn’t fight them that hard on it. I should have. 2) I wish I had started saying something earlier about how the media and the public are approaching this differently, because it’s girls and because it’s gymnastics. The women and girls I spoke with were saying that for months and months, and every time I said “yup, I totally agree,” but I never thought “let’s do a story about that. Let’s talk about that.”

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In her sentencing of Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said to him, "I just signed your death warrant." The remark sparked some debate. What was going through your head when she said that and how did you write/broadcast about that?

Alesia: I didn’t write it. My story that day was about Rachael Denhollander. I rode with Rachael and her husband to court from Kalamazoo, where they were staying with her parents.

Kozlowski: It was a provocative quote that became the headline over our story. But I agreed with the judge and others who thought the sentence was to serve justice for the victims. I wrote through the story with some of the victims’s quotes very high in the narrative, including one from Kyle Stephens, who said: “My monster is gone.”

Kwiatkowski: I was working on another project at the time and did not see that portion of the sentencing hearing. Nor did I write about it. Our colleagues at the Lansing State Journal did a great job handling that coverage.

Mencarini: I've covered enough sentencing hearings in Judge Aquilina's courtroom to know that a line like that was possible. I can't say I expected something so direct, but she doesn't hold back when addressing defendants at sentencing. We included the line high up in our story and as part of the headline online.

Wells: Honestly, it wasn’t that far out of line with things previously said during the sentencing hearing, and if you’re familiar with Judge Aquilina, you know she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind. So I wasn’t clutching my pearls or anything.

Although this case generated significant national attention during the week of sentencing, Nassar was not covered extensively by most national media until then. Why do you think this was the case?

Alesia: I’ll take this answer and the one below together. The initial story, which had nothing to do with Nassar and was published on the eve of the Rio Olympics, received a lot of attention. But there wasn’t a big national hit on Nassar until three Olympic gymnasts went on 60 Minutes in February 2017. And although Rachael Denhollander had been doing media interviews consistently, the Nassar story didn’t get national attention again until more Olympic gymnasts went public with their abuse. It took the Lansing hearing and 156 women telling their stories to shake people into paying attention.

Kozlowski: Sexual assaults reported nationally generally involve unusual circumstances. In the Nassar case, national media reports emerged when Olympic gymnasts began going public in early 2017. But even before that, lawsuits were piling up against Nassar and he lost his job and medical license. Police also discovered 37,000 images of child pornography on external hard drives that he disposed of in his trash can. So I am not sure why the national media did not cover the Nassar case more extensively.

Kwiatkowski: Our investigation generated significant attention from national media when the first piece published in August 2016. That attention waned in the months afterward, until several high-profile gymnasts shared their experiences. National attention focused on USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar and others again in January as 156 women and girls shared their stories during Nassar’s sentencing hearing.

Mencarini: I've thought about this a decent amount, but I don't think I have a great answer. In March 2017, Judge Aquilina granted a request by Nassar's attorneys to place a gag order on those connected to the criminal case, which included many of the women and girls who spoke at sentencing. A federal lawsuit was filed over that gag order. I think that played a role as many couldn't share the stories they did at sentencing until the gag order was lifted in November after Nassar pleaded guilty. This is also a complex story, with police and university investigations, lawsuits and sexual assaults disguised as medical procedures that even some victims didn't realize were abuse until decades later. I think it's a difficult story to drop in on and for a while it moved pretty fast.

Wells: If I’m being generous, it’s that the sheer scale and power of this case was really best demonstrated by seeing those survivors tell their stories, one after another. It was powerful and riveting and I understand why that moment made such an impact. But it’s also frustrating, because the women and girls were getting up in court and saying, “I was reporting this abuse 20 years ago, where were you guys then?” Rachael Denhollander and others had been putting themselves out on a limb, publicly, for more than a year and a half. The national media’s reaction doesn’t feel all that different. I was driving back from the sentencing hearing this week, listening to a podcast that covers the media, from a network I really respect. The two hosts were asking each other why it had taken so long for the national media to cover the Nassar case, and while their general take was that the lack of coverage had been an unfortunate failure, some of their reasoning didn’t hold water.

For instance: they were saying how even sports networks don’t have a full-time gymnastics reporter, so it’s not like you’ve got somebody who can really jump on this story. Ok, sure. But you’ve got a bunch of college sports reporters, right? You’re telling me if, say, the water polo team at Ohio State started having dozens and dozens of former male players come out to say they’d been sexually abused for 20 years and no adults had listened to them, that you don’t dispatch even one guy to Columbus for a couple days? These podcast hosts also said that, until this month’s criminal sentencing, there was no “present tense” to the Nassar story, no solid “news hook” to give your editor. But new allegations have been coming out for 18 months straight, with more than 130 civil suits being filed, multiple preliminary exams in the criminal case, charges at the federal level, a police investigation, an FBI investigation, suspensions, resignations, etc. Newspapers like the Lansing State Journal managed to produce more than 100 stories in 18 months. There were news pegs.

None of us in this job are perfect. There are 18 million things I would like to go back and do differently about this story. And lord knows, if I was working in New York or D.C. and had started hearing about the Nassar case, I’m not saying I would have demanded my editor put me on the next plane to East Lansing. Far from it. But I am saying, let’s be honest about what happened here: these were girls. So unless it was happening in your backyard, the media didn’t care—or worse, didn’t think its audience would care, and didn’t feel like putting in the work to persuade them otherwise.

In your opinion, did gender or that the sport was gymnastics play a role in why the story did not receive national coverage compared to other sports scandals?

Alesia: I do believe that gender and the sport played a role.

Kozlowski: I think gender played a role but some attributed it more to the sport and other factors. The Jerry Sandusky/Penn State case involved the national pastime of football and a legendary coach, besides the assaults of young boys and cover up. However, the Nassar case eclipsed the number of victims in the Sandusky scandal a long time ago. Our society seems a little more shocked when boys are assaulted than girls. Maybe this will help change that.

Kwiatkowski: My focus has been on examining failures in the system, not making comparisons to other situations.

Mencarini: I think it's possible. I'd like to think that the national media doesn't care less about young gymnasts, young girls or women (not all were athletes) being abused than it does young boys or men being abused. But I can't rule it out.

Wells: Yes. This case has shown us just differently people react when a woman or a girl accuses a man of abuse, compared with a man or a boy making the same allegations. Over and over again, we saw dozens of women and girls say the same thing during sentencing: I thought I must be mistaken. Or: it felt wrong, but this guy was a really big deal so I must be the one with the dirty mind. That says something about the way we raise our girls, the way we teach them to be so petrified of being “difficult,” that it’s easier to just say nothing.

I know with the Jerry Sandusky case we saw coaches and administrators look the other way when male children were being abused—but not because they didn’t believe the abuse could be happening. You can argue the cover up went so high up the chain of command, because those involved knew how big the fallout would be. With the Nassar case, multiple adults just didn’t believe girls.

Even now, when the national media is finally interested, the way we cover it sometimes feels…gendered. There are those who really want us to get to the point where these women are at a place of “healing,” where they’re “so empowering.” Are they powerful? Absolutely. Have they managed to survive a living hell? Yes. But if these were boys, would we be rushing them to emotionally wrap it up, so to speak? Their strength is formidable and awe-inspiring, but I’m wary of the desire to package these survivors’ experiences into something neat and pretty, just so we can feel more comfortable with it.

To that same end, I’ve encountered a lot of pushback and limits on what we can say about the abuse itself. I understand that, especially with broadcast, your kids could be in the car and you may have missed the disturbing-content warning at the beginning of the story. But what happened to these women, matters. Their decision not to shield us from that brutality and horror, matters.

Still, some of those I work with (and not everyone, to be clear) repeatedly want to edit those parts out and sub in the vaguest terms possible: words like “digital penetration,” which frankly couldn’t be more clinical, get replaced with the vague and confusing “inappropriate touching.” If you were the one who’d experienced this abuse, how would you feel about someone deciding your story, the one you chose to tell in court for the entire world, was too indecent to accurately describe? Of course it’s indecent. It’s abuse. And if we don’t trust our audience enough to tell them the facts about what’s actually happened, then we are doing them a disservice as well as these survivors.

?

What should the public know about the resources it takes to cover these types of stories?

Alesia: IndyStar devoted three reporters to the story, virtually full-time, for a year. That is a very big deal for an operation of our size. We travelled all over the country. And, we hired a lawyer in Atlanta to intervene in a court case in Georgia to unseal 54 files that USA Gymnastics kept on abusive coaches. USA Gymnastics fought to keep the files secret, saying in court filings that we wanted to do a “National Enquirer-like article … to satisfy the economic interests of Indy Star’s advertisers, owners, and investors.” The process dragged on for about nine months. I don’t know how much our company paid, but the lawyer could not have been cheap. It was a big commitment by Gannett, the USA Today Network and IndyStar. We used the USA Today Network for help on various aspects of the reporting, especially Matt Mencarini in Lansing, Mich.

Kozlowski: These stories demand enormous time and energy, and involve numerous members of our staff. But telling the Nassar scandal is the reason why my colleagues and I are in journalism: To give voice to the voiceless and hold those with power accountable. In a public statement in Eaton County court on Friday, Larissa Boyce turned to the media and told us to not forget. She asked us continue to report so that other victims will come forward and the dialogue around sexual assault will result in change in the future. To Boyce, and every other woman who has been sexually assaulted: We will continue to report on this and other sexual assault stories, and demand answers from those who don’t do the right thing.

Kwiatkowski: Our bosses at IndyStar and Gannett invested significant time and resources toward this investigation. They supported our project from its first day. They let Mark, Tim, Steve Berta, Robert Scheer and me work on this investigation nearly full-time for a year. We flew to a dozen states. We sought public records in at least 23 states. We received help from colleagues throughout the USA TODAY Network. And the company fought a legal battle for access to court records in Georgia. If you believe in the value of journalism, please subscribe to your local newspaper.

Mencarini: The State Journal has 13 news reporters. For much of the 16 months since the first Indy story, this is the only thing I did. There were stretches, especially at the end of 2016, when I did other reporting, but for the most part this story has occupied nearly all of my time. In a newsroom of our size, that's a significant investment. Time, in my opinion, is the most valuable resource for a story like this. I needed time to review each lawsuit, go to each hearing, dig through court and public records and speak with as many people connected to the case as possible. Not every newsroom could or would devote resources that significant to a single story for such a long time. I can't imagine covering this story without the time and resources my editors gave me. Local journalism and local investigative reporting are important, and the Nassar story—with the USAG and MSU sides—shows exactly why.

Feel free to add anything you wish.

Kwiatkowski: Thank you to the people who trusted us to share their stories.

Wells: Sorry, I’m going on my soap box here, but I worry that, as Nassar becomes a name we put in the same category with Sandusky or Boston priests, the general public concludes these predators look like boogeymen, you know? When the reason they were able to victimize so many, is because these were seemingly kind, trustworthy, respectable people who looked like they were doing a lot of good. The most effective predator is the one who makes you think, “there’s got to be a misunderstanding here, let’s work this out” when you see a red flag. Most adults don’t get into coaching or medicine or just general education because they think, “I hope I’m part of enabling large-scale sexual predation one day.” Lots of good adults are capable of giving other nice-seeming adults the benefit of the doubt. And that’s how this continues.

If interested in the work of the panelists above, click below:

Alesia, Indy Star
Kozlowski, Detroit News
Kwiatkowski: Indy Star
Mencarini: The Lansing State Journal
Wells: Michigan Radio

<p>The stories coming out of Lansing, Mich., over the past few weeks have been gutting. <a href="https://www.si.com/olympics/2018/01/24/larry-nassar-sentencing-usa-gymnastics-abuse-victims-michigan-state" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:More than 150 women" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">More than 150 women</a> gave victim statements in the <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2018/01/31/how-long-larry-nassar-spend-behind-bars/1083275001/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:sentencing" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">sentencing</a> of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who in November pled guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with minors. Credit the <em>Indianapolis Star</em>, who in 2016 published <a href="http://interactives.indystar.com/news/standing/OutOfBalanceSeries/index2.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a lengthy investigation" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a lengthy investigation</a> into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints over decades, for triggering the reporting.</p><p>This week I impaneled a group of five reporters (including two of the <em>IndyStar </em>reporters involved in the investigation above) who have covered the story in full, from the role of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State to the Nassar sentencing. I wanted to get insight into their reporting and what the public should know about this kind of work. I hope you will find it as illuminating as I did.</p><p><strong>The panel:</strong></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/markalesia" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Mark Alesia" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Mark Alesia</a>, reporter, <em>IndyStar</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/kimberkoz?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kim Kozlowski" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Kim Kozlowski</a>, higher education reporter, <em>Detroit News</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/IndyMarisaK?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Marisa Kwiatkowski" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Marisa Kwiatkowski</a>, investigative reporter, <em>IndyStar</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/MattMencarini?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Matt Mencarini" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Matt Mencarini</a>, reporter, <em>Lansing State Journal</em></p><p>• <a href="https://twitter.com/katelouisewells?lang=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kate Wells" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Kate Wells</a>, host/reporter/producer, Michigan Radio</p><h3><strong>When did you first start reporting on USA Gymnastics or Larry Nassar—and what was the impetus behind that decision?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>After Marisa came back from Georgia with about 1,000 pages of court documents, I was asked to get involved. Tim Evans joined us soon after that.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> One of the metro editors at the <em>Detroit News</em> thought we needed to do a story about the Larry Nassar case in January 2017, when it became clear that his sexual abuse extended beyond USA Gymnastics. Another colleague, Frank Donnelly, and I wrote the first few stories and I continued to follow it after that.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>In March of 2016, I was investigating failures to report sexual abuse in schools when a source suggested I look into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints. The source pointed me toward a lawsuit in Georgia. As I gathered more information, I was told a judge was about to seal important records in the case. My bosses allowed me to fly to Georgia later that day. I picked up nearly 1,000 pages of court records. As soon as I returned to Indianapolis, Mark Alesia, Tim Evans and I began our investigation into the organization.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> My reporting on Nassar began the day the <em>IndyStar </em>story was published. <em>Indy</em> and the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> are part of the USA Today Network so I knew something was coming in the days before their story, but my reporting the local side of it began that day. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Our newsroom actually started covering this from the sports angle, after the IndyStar 2016 report came out. We didn’t recognize the scale at that time—it seemed to us, in our limited perspective, like it was an offshoot of <em>IndyStar</em>’s incredible USA Gymnastics investigations. It was one of our sports/general assignment guys, Josh Hakala, who jumped on it first in our newsroom.</p><h3><strong>When did you realize the scope and importance of this story?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>For Nassar, it was when Jessica Howard, a former national champion in rhythmic gymnastics, left a message on my work voicemail on a Sunday evening. I called back and her story of Nassar’s abuse tracked closely to what we had heard from Rachael Denhollander and the people behind a lawsuit that was about to be filed by Jamie Dantzscher, then an anonymous plaintiff. The women didn’t know each other. I thought there had to be more victim/survivors.</p><p>After publication, we started hearing from more victim/survivors (and getting nasty emails and voicemails from Nassar’s supporters). We also checked the public Michigan State University Police log daily. More and more people were reporting sexual assaults at addresses connected to Nassar. At no point, though, could I have ever imagined more than 250 victim/survivors coming forward to police.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> February 2017 was a key month, when Michigan State head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages stepped down after Larissa Boyce and another gymnast filed lawsuits that they told Klages about Nassar in 1997 but she didn’t believe them. Also in February 2017, Kyle Stephens became the first woman to publicly testify against Nassar during a preliminary exam in court. She spoke of how Nassar assaulted her for years beginning when she was six years old during family visits to his house. Other women testified about Nassar’s pattern of grooming them, earning their trust and then assaulting them. But the tipping point was just a few weeks ago when more than 150 women came forward and made statements about Nassar’s abuse in a courtroom. During those seven days, the majority of woman shed their Jane Doe identities and gave their names, allowing the world to see and hear their painful stories and how many people did not believe them or take action. Had the majority of the women remained anonymous, the cameras would have stopped rolling and the newspapers wouldn’t have been able to put so many faces behind Nassar’s crimes. But one woman’s courage empowered the next and created a milestone in women’s history in the movement to end sexual violence against women.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> We knew early in our investigation that USA Gymnastics executives had followed a policy of dismissing complaints as “hearsay” unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent. My colleagues and I spent the next few months investigating the impact of that policy on the safety of children in gymnastics. From the beginning, we knew it was an important topic. I started to understand the scope of allegations against Larry Nassar after we published our first piece about him. We received calls and emails from more than a dozen other survivors.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> Within days of the first <em>Indy</em> story, police and prosecutors were saying they had received more than a dozen new sexual assault reports against Nassar. So it was clear whatever criminal case developed would be high profile. But early on, my editor Al Wilson instilled in me that the real story, for us at the <em>State Journal</em>, was MSU. We covered every step of Nassar&#39;s criminal cases, but from the start our investigative reporting focus was squarely on the university. This felt, to us, like an important institutional story pretty early on, especially once we had the 2014 Title IX report.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Honestly, every time I think I do understand it, that’s usually a sign that the weight of this—of the experiences of the people involved in it—is just going to hit me like a freight train all over again. Going into the sentencing hearings, I’d been so consumed by this story, and then Kyle Stephens stood up there as the first to speak and taught us we don’t know s---. It’s humbling. And in those moments, your job is to shut up and let these women and girls speak for themselves. </p><h3><strong>What would you consider to be the most difficult part of your reporting and why?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia</strong>: I can think of a few things. I’m a 54-year-old man. Much younger women were telling me about deeply personal and private matters. We had to have a certain level of detail so readers wouldn’t think these were accidents or misunderstandings. They were sexual abuse. In a few instances where we needed a lot of detail—even if it wouldn’t be published—Marisa talked with the women. Also, with one exception, USA Gymnastics would only take written questions. We received written answers that invariably ignored some questions and gave partial answers to others. It was frustrating. And we found USA Gymnastics to have a secretive culture with power concentrated in a few people. People at all levels of the sport were afraid to rock the boat.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Language. Getting words like “vagina,” “anus” and “clitoris” in the paper. Publishing these words was not meant to be titillating. They involved crimes against these women. But there was more than one debate in the newsroom about how to describe the crimes accurately. For the public to understand what Nassar did to these young women, I believe we should describe what he did briefly but explicitly because not every person pays attention to every news story.</p><p>The phrase “sexual abuse under the guise of a medical treatment” is commonly used. But what will that mean years from now? Nassar had a pattern. Since “sexual abuse” can mean many things, I believe it should be clear that Nassar inserted his fingers inside women’s vaginas, and sometimes their anuses, without gloves, lubricant or consent, often while their parents were in the room. All the women testified in court what he did to them so I believe we have a responsibility to report the words they used and be part of the culture that sheds light on sexual violence so it doesn’t stay in the shadows.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>It was difficult to pin down whether USA Gymnastics had changed its policy for handling sexual abuse complaints. The organization declined our request for an in-person interview and, with one exception, required all questions to be submitted in writing. When USA Gymnastics responded, it ignored some questions and provided partial answers to others.</p><p><strong>Mencarini: </strong>This is a tough question. This story is a heavy topic. It can grind you down mentally and emotionally over the course of 16 months, or during a seven-day sentencing. Understanding the overlapping timelines, separate investigations, individual assaults, lawsuits, university responses and connections between them all is, in my opinion, the most crucial part of reporting this story. I think the most difficult part of my reporting is understanding those connections while being aware of the specific abuses and trauma suffered and not getting burned out. It pales in comparison to what the women and girls have gone through, or are going through, but as a reporter it&#39;s been the most difficult part of covering this story. I&#39;ve had ups and downs with it.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> I don’t think I’m going to have a good answer on this one for a while. It’s not done yet.</p><h3><strong>When did sources begin reaching out to you on this story?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>In summer 2016, before our first story, I had been trying to contact a longtime coach and judge in the sport. Finally, I left a letter at the door of her home. That weekend, the woman happened to be staying with a former national team gymnast, Molly Shawen-Kollmann, in Cincinnati. Molly saw the letter and sent me an email. She became an invaluable source on the culture, history and power players in the sport. Now we’re getting so many tips, we can hardly keep up.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski</strong>: Immediately after we started reporting the story, in early 2017. There was an understanding about the power of media among those who wanted Nassar behind bars. That understanding came as news is more accessible than ever. Denhollander’s report about Nassar to Michigan State was followed by her account to the <em>IndyStar</em>. There used to be a time when mostly Indiana residents might have seen that story. But that story, and so many others, reverberated beyond local markets and prompted other victims to come forward. Journalism gave voice to those who were voiceless for so long, and those voices are louder than they have ever been.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski</strong>: It was a source who first suggested I look into USA Gymnastics. As word spread about our investigation, we received calls from others.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I began hearing from sources within days of the first Indy story. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Late fall 2016? Maybe very early 2017?</p><h3><strong>Journalists are not necessarily well versed in topics like sexual assault and child predators. How did you prepare for this assignment?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I worked a lot on the Jared Fogle case, including a feature on the prosecutor and cops who specialize in child pornography cases. So, unfortunately, this was not new territory for me.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Many years ago I attended a training for journalists held by the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> I’ve spent years reporting on child abuse and neglect. In my role at <em>The Indianapolis Star</em>, I handle investigations relating to social services and welfare issues—such as child abuse and neglect, poverty, elder abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and access to mental health services. I used that experience as my colleagues and I investigated USA Gymnastics and the allegations against Larry Nassar.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I cover the criminal justice system and had reported quite a bit on sexual assault by the time <em>Indy</em> published the Nassar story. I spent good portions of 2015 and 2016 reporting on a local case that involved a pediatric dentist who had been convicted, years later, of sexually assaulting a young boy who was a patient. I profiled the victim in that case, who was in his 20s when he reported to police. I also reported on the Court of Appeals decision to overturn the former dentist&#39;s sexual assault convictions and the no-jail plea agreement on a child abuse charge that followed. In June 2016, I began working on an investigation into the way Michigan State University handled sexual assault and harassment complaints over a several year period. That story ran in Dec. 2016 and included details of Nassar&#39;s 2014 Title IX investigation and an interview with the victim. So by the time the <em>Indy</em> story was published, I had already had a lot of conversations with sexual assault advocates and experts about trauma, sexual abuse and the systems in place to respond to abuse. Those conversations have proved invaluable. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> So, fortunately or unfortunately, I’d already had a few years of reporting around how higher education handles sexual assault, including a long, MSU-specific investigation.</p><p>But child sexual abuse is a completely different field, obviously, that needed very specific tools. Rachael Denhollander was the one who pointed me to specialists like Carla Van Dam (she’s basically written the manual for understanding men like Nassar: <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Socially-Skilled-Child-Molester-Differentiating/dp/0789028069" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused</a></em>, which should be required reading) and Anna Salter. It was also helpful to talk with organizations working to educate adults, like Darkness to Light, and those who’ve handled large child sexual abuse cases from the law enforcement perspective. All those people I talked to had seen this before—so many times, really, that they were totally unsurprised about the details when I filled them in on this case, and basically could have charted this out from the beginning. Which shows you how we keep letting this happen to kids, over and over and over again, because we are so abysmal at understanding that the most effective predators are the people we trust. From the journalism perspective, the Dart Center for Journalism &#38; Trauma at the Columbia Journalism School has some great resources for reporters doing this kind of work—basically, how to not screw things up further for the people you’re talking to. It is not just have you talked them through the potential fallout from this interview? But also, what kind of support system do they have? Are you just leaving them high and dry at the end of an upsetting, emotional interview? What kind of expectations are you giving them about what will happen or come of this story?</p><h3><strong>Is there anything you would have done differently in your reporting or writing or broadcasting and why?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>Not really. I think we made the most of our resources based on what we knew at the time.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> In 2015, federal officials issued a report that Michigan State did not have the procedures and policies in place to handle Title IX complaints. The report was part of a nationwide crackdown on campus sexual assault, so MSU was not alone. Even so, if we had looked more closely and reported on some of the Title IX reports upon which this report was based, maybe the story would have emerged a year earlier while Nassar was still assaulting women.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>No.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> This is another tough question. I think I&#39;m still too close to it all to have that perspective. The MSU side of this story is still developing rapidly. I&#39;m immersed in the reporting every day. I&#39;m proud of the work I&#39;ve done and the details about MSU&#39;s involvement I&#39;ve been able to uncover. Right now I can&#39;t think of anything I would have done differently, but ask me in two years and I might have an answer. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Oh, so many things. But top two that come to mind: 1) there were editors outside of Michigan, who were telling me this was a “local story” for a long time—pretty much right up until the sentencing. While I disagreed, I didn’t fight them that hard on it. I should have. 2) I wish I had started saying something earlier about how the media and the public are approaching this differently, because it’s girls and because it’s gymnastics. The women and girls I spoke with were saying that for months and months, and every time I said “yup, I totally agree,” but I never thought “let’s do a story about that. Let’s talk about that.”</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>In her sentencing of Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said to him, &quot;I just signed your death warrant.&quot; The remark sparked some debate. What was going through your head when she said that and how did you write/broadcast about that?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I didn’t write it. My story that day was about Rachael Denhollander. I rode with Rachael and her husband to court from Kalamazoo, where they were staying with her parents.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> It was a provocative quote that became the headline over our story. But I agreed with the judge and others who thought the sentence was to serve justice for the victims. I wrote through the story with some of the victims’s quotes very high in the narrative, including one from Kyle Stephens, who said: “My monster is gone.”</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>I was working on another project at the time and did not see that portion of the sentencing hearing. Nor did I write about it. Our colleagues at the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> did a great job handling that coverage.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I&#39;ve covered enough sentencing hearings in Judge Aquilina&#39;s courtroom to know that a line like that was possible. I can&#39;t say I expected something so direct, but she doesn&#39;t hold back when addressing defendants at sentencing. We included the line high up in our story and as part of the headline online.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Honestly, it wasn’t that far out of line with things previously said during the sentencing hearing, and if you’re familiar with Judge Aquilina, you know she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind. So I wasn’t clutching my pearls or anything.</p><h3><strong>Although this case generated significant national attention during the week of sentencing, Nassar was not covered extensively by most national media until then. Why do you think this was the case?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I’ll take this answer and the one below together. The initial story, which had nothing to do with Nassar and was published on the eve of the Rio Olympics, received a lot of attention. But there wasn’t a big national hit on Nassar until three Olympic gymnasts went on <em>60 Minutes</em> in February 2017. And although Rachael Denhollander had been doing media interviews consistently, the Nassar story didn’t get national attention again until more Olympic gymnasts went public with their abuse. It took the Lansing hearing and 156 women telling their stories to shake people into paying attention.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> Sexual assaults reported nationally generally involve unusual circumstances. In the Nassar case, national media reports emerged when Olympic gymnasts began going public in early 2017. But even before that, lawsuits were piling up against Nassar and he lost his job and medical license. Police also discovered 37,000 images of child pornography on external hard drives that he disposed of in his trash can. So I am not sure why the national media did not cover the Nassar case more extensively.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski:</strong> Our investigation generated significant attention from national media when the first piece published in August 2016. That attention waned in the months afterward, until several high-profile gymnasts shared their experiences. National attention focused on USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar and others again in January as 156 women and girls shared their stories during Nassar’s sentencing hearing.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I&#39;ve thought about this a decent amount, but I don&#39;t think I have a great answer. In March 2017, Judge Aquilina granted a request by Nassar&#39;s attorneys to place a gag order on those connected to the criminal case, which included many of the women and girls who spoke at sentencing. A federal lawsuit was filed over that gag order. I think that played a role as many couldn&#39;t share the stories they did at sentencing until the gag order was lifted in November after Nassar pleaded guilty. This is also a complex story, with police and university investigations, lawsuits and sexual assaults disguised as medical procedures that even some victims didn&#39;t realize were abuse until decades later. I think it&#39;s a difficult story to drop in on and for a while it moved pretty fast. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> If I’m being generous, it’s that the sheer scale and power of this case was really best demonstrated by seeing those survivors tell their stories, one after another. It was powerful and riveting and I understand why that moment made such an impact. But it’s also frustrating, because the women and girls were getting up in court and saying, “I was reporting this abuse 20 years ago, where were you guys then?” Rachael Denhollander and others had been putting themselves out on a limb, publicly, for more than a year and a half. The national media’s reaction doesn’t feel all that different. I was driving back from the sentencing hearing this week, listening to a podcast that covers the media, from a network I really respect. The two hosts were asking each other why it had taken so long for the national media to cover the Nassar case, and while their general take was that the lack of coverage had been an unfortunate failure, some of their reasoning didn’t hold water.</p><p>For instance: they were saying how even sports networks don’t have a full-time gymnastics reporter, so it’s not like you’ve got somebody who can really jump on this story. Ok, sure. But you’ve got a bunch of college sports reporters, right? You’re telling me if, say, the water polo team at Ohio State started having dozens and dozens of former male players come out to say they’d been sexually abused for 20 years and no adults had listened to them, that you don’t dispatch even one guy to Columbus for a couple days? These podcast hosts also said that, until this month’s criminal sentencing, there was no “present tense” to the Nassar story, no solid “news hook” to give your editor. But new allegations have been coming out for 18 months straight, with more than 130 civil suits being filed, multiple preliminary exams in the criminal case, charges at the federal level, a police investigation, an FBI investigation, suspensions, resignations, etc. Newspapers like the <em>Lansing State Journal</em> managed to produce more than 100 stories in 18 months. There were news pegs. </p><p>None of us in this job are perfect. There are 18 million things I would like to go back and do differently about this story. And lord knows, if I was working in New York or D.C. and had started hearing about the Nassar case, I’m not saying I would have demanded my editor put me on the next plane to East Lansing. Far from it. But I am saying, let’s be honest about what happened here: these were girls. So unless it was happening in your backyard, the media didn’t care—or worse, didn’t think its audience would care, and didn’t feel like putting in the work to persuade them otherwise.</p><h3><strong>In your opinion, did gender or that the sport was gymnastics play a role in why the story did not receive national coverage compared to other sports scandals?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong>I do believe that gender and the sport played a role.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> I think gender played a role but some attributed it more to the sport and other factors. The Jerry Sandusky/Penn State case involved the national pastime of football and a legendary coach, besides the assaults of young boys and cover up. However, the Nassar case eclipsed the number of victims in the Sandusky scandal a long time ago. Our society seems a little more shocked when boys are assaulted than girls. Maybe this will help change that.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>My focus has been on examining failures in the system, not making comparisons to other situations.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> I think it&#39;s possible. I&#39;d like to think that the national media doesn&#39;t care less about young gymnasts, young girls or women (not all were athletes) being abused than it does young boys or men being abused. But I can&#39;t rule it out. </p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Yes. This case has shown us just differently people react when a woman or a girl accuses a man of abuse, compared with a man or a boy making the same allegations. Over and over again, we saw dozens of women and girls say the same thing during sentencing: I thought I must be mistaken. Or: it felt wrong, but this guy was a really big deal so I must be the one with the dirty mind. That says something about the way we raise our girls, the way we teach them to be so petrified of being “difficult,” that it’s easier to just say nothing.</p><p>I know with the Jerry Sandusky case we saw coaches and administrators look the other way when male children were being abused—but not because they didn’t believe the abuse could be happening. You can argue the cover up went so high up the chain of command, because those involved knew how big the fallout would be. With the Nassar case, multiple adults just didn’t believe girls.</p><p>Even now, when the national media is finally interested, the way we cover it sometimes feels…gendered. There are those who really want us to get to the point where these women are at a place of “healing,” where they’re “so empowering.” Are they powerful? Absolutely. Have they managed to survive a living hell? Yes. But if these were boys, would we be rushing them to emotionally wrap it up, so to speak? Their strength is formidable and awe-inspiring, but I’m wary of the desire to package these survivors’ experiences into something neat and pretty, just so we can feel more comfortable with it. </p><p>To that same end, I’ve encountered a lot of pushback and limits on what we can say about the abuse itself. I understand that, especially with broadcast, your kids could be in the car and you may have missed the disturbing-content warning at the beginning of the story. But what happened to these women, matters. Their decision not to shield us from that brutality and horror, matters.</p><p>Still, some of those I work with (and not everyone, to be clear) repeatedly want to edit those parts out and sub in the vaguest terms possible: words like “digital penetration,” which frankly couldn’t be more clinical, get replaced with the vague and confusing “inappropriate touching.” If you were the one who’d experienced this abuse, how would you feel about someone deciding your story, the one you chose to tell in court for the entire world, was too indecent to accurately describe? Of course it’s indecent. It’s abuse. And if we don’t trust our audience enough to tell them the facts about what’s actually happened, then we are doing them a disservice as well as these survivors. </p><p>?</p><h3><strong>What should the public know about the resources it takes to cover these types of stories?</strong></h3><p><strong>Alesia: </strong><em>IndyStar</em> devoted three reporters to the story, virtually full-time, for a year. That is a very big deal for an operation of our size. We travelled all over the country. And, we hired a lawyer in Atlanta to intervene in a court case in Georgia to unseal 54 files that USA Gymnastics kept on abusive coaches. USA Gymnastics fought to keep the files secret, saying in court filings that we wanted to do a “<em>National Enquirer</em>-like article … to satisfy the economic interests of <em>Indy Star</em>’s advertisers, owners, and investors.” The process dragged on for about nine months. I don’t know how much our company paid, but the lawyer could not have been cheap. It was a big commitment by Gannett, the USA Today Network and <em>IndyStar.</em> We used the USA Today Network for help on various aspects of the reporting, especially Matt Mencarini in Lansing, Mich.</p><p><strong>Kozlowski:</strong> These stories demand enormous time and energy, and involve numerous members of our staff. But telling the Nassar scandal is the reason why my colleagues and I are in journalism: To give voice to the voiceless and hold those with power accountable. In a public statement in Eaton County court on Friday, Larissa Boyce turned to the media and told us to not forget. She asked us continue to report so that other victims will come forward and the dialogue around sexual assault will result in change in the future. To Boyce, and every other woman who has been sexually assaulted: We will continue to report on this and other sexual assault stories, and demand answers from those who don’t do the right thing.</p><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>Our bosses at <em>IndyStar</em> and Gannett invested significant time and resources toward this investigation. They supported our project from its first day. They let Mark, Tim, Steve Berta, Robert Scheer and me work on this investigation nearly full-time for a year. We flew to a dozen states. We sought public records in at least 23 states. We received help from colleagues throughout the USA TODAY Network. And the company fought a legal battle for access to court records in Georgia. If you believe in the value of journalism, please subscribe to your local newspaper.</p><p><strong>Mencarini:</strong> <em>The State Journal</em> has 13 news reporters. For much of the 16 months since the first <em>Indy</em> story, this is the only thing I did. There were stretches, especially at the end of 2016, when I did other reporting, but for the most part this story has occupied nearly all of my time. In a newsroom of our size, that&#39;s a significant investment. Time, in my opinion, is the most valuable resource for a story like this. I needed time to review each lawsuit, go to each hearing, dig through court and public records and speak with as many people connected to the case as possible. Not every newsroom could or would devote resources that significant to a single story for such a long time. I can&#39;t imagine covering this story without the time and resources my editors gave me. Local journalism and local investigative reporting are important, and the Nassar story—with the USAG and MSU sides—shows exactly why. </p><h3><strong>Feel free to add anything you wish.</strong></h3><p><strong>Kwiatkowski: </strong>Thank you to the people who trusted us to share their stories.</p><p><strong>Wells:</strong> Sorry, I’m going on my soap box here, but I worry that, as Nassar becomes a name we put in the same category with Sandusky or Boston priests, the general public concludes these predators look like boogeymen, you know? When the reason they were able to victimize so many, is because these were seemingly kind, trustworthy, respectable people who looked like they were doing a lot of good. The most effective predator is the one who makes you think, “there’s got to be a misunderstanding here, let’s work this out” when you see a red flag. Most adults don’t get into coaching or medicine or just general education because they think, “I hope I’m part of enabling large-scale sexual predation one day.” Lots of good adults are capable of giving other nice-seeming adults the benefit of the doubt. And that’s how this continues. </p><p><em>If interested in the work of the panelists above, click below:</em></p><p>Alesia, <em><a href="https://www.indystar.com/staff/4121/mark-alesia/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Indy Star" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Indy Star</a></em><br>Kozlowski, <em><a href="https://www.detroitnews.com/staff/28115/kim-kozlowski/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Detroit News" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Detroit News</a></em><br>Kwiatkowski: <em><a href="https://www.indystar.com/staff/10048078/marisa-kwiatkowski/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Indy Star" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Indy Star</a></em><br>Mencarini: <em><a href="https://www.lansingstatejournal.com/staff/37347/matt-mencarini/%5D" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Lansing State Journal" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Lansing State Journal</a></em><br>Wells: <em><a href="http://michiganradio.org/people/kate-wells" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Michigan Radio" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Michigan Radio</a></em></p>
Inside the Reporting of Five Journalists That Helped End Larry Nassar’s Serial Sexual Abuse

The stories coming out of Lansing, Mich., over the past few weeks have been gutting. More than 150 women gave victim statements in the sentencing of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who in November pled guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with minors. Credit the Indianapolis Star, who in 2016 published a lengthy investigation into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints over decades, for triggering the reporting.

This week I impaneled a group of five reporters (including two of the IndyStar reporters involved in the investigation above) who have covered the story in full, from the role of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State to the Nassar sentencing. I wanted to get insight into their reporting and what the public should know about this kind of work. I hope you will find it as illuminating as I did.

The panel:

Mark Alesia, reporter, IndyStar

Kim Kozlowski, higher education reporter, Detroit News

Marisa Kwiatkowski, investigative reporter, IndyStar

Matt Mencarini, reporter, Lansing State Journal

Kate Wells, host/reporter/producer, Michigan Radio

When did you first start reporting on USA Gymnastics or Larry Nassar—and what was the impetus behind that decision?

Alesia: After Marisa came back from Georgia with about 1,000 pages of court documents, I was asked to get involved. Tim Evans joined us soon after that.

Kozlowski: One of the metro editors at the Detroit News thought we needed to do a story about the Larry Nassar case in January 2017, when it became clear that his sexual abuse extended beyond USA Gymnastics. Another colleague, Frank Donnelly, and I wrote the first few stories and I continued to follow it after that.

Kwiatkowski: In March of 2016, I was investigating failures to report sexual abuse in schools when a source suggested I look into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints. The source pointed me toward a lawsuit in Georgia. As I gathered more information, I was told a judge was about to seal important records in the case. My bosses allowed me to fly to Georgia later that day. I picked up nearly 1,000 pages of court records. As soon as I returned to Indianapolis, Mark Alesia, Tim Evans and I began our investigation into the organization.

Mencarini: My reporting on Nassar began the day the IndyStar story was published. Indy and the Lansing State Journal are part of the USA Today Network so I knew something was coming in the days before their story, but my reporting the local side of it began that day.

Wells: Our newsroom actually started covering this from the sports angle, after the IndyStar 2016 report came out. We didn’t recognize the scale at that time—it seemed to us, in our limited perspective, like it was an offshoot of IndyStar’s incredible USA Gymnastics investigations. It was one of our sports/general assignment guys, Josh Hakala, who jumped on it first in our newsroom.

When did you realize the scope and importance of this story?

Alesia: For Nassar, it was when Jessica Howard, a former national champion in rhythmic gymnastics, left a message on my work voicemail on a Sunday evening. I called back and her story of Nassar’s abuse tracked closely to what we had heard from Rachael Denhollander and the people behind a lawsuit that was about to be filed by Jamie Dantzscher, then an anonymous plaintiff. The women didn’t know each other. I thought there had to be more victim/survivors.

After publication, we started hearing from more victim/survivors (and getting nasty emails and voicemails from Nassar’s supporters). We also checked the public Michigan State University Police log daily. More and more people were reporting sexual assaults at addresses connected to Nassar. At no point, though, could I have ever imagined more than 250 victim/survivors coming forward to police.

Kozlowski: February 2017 was a key month, when Michigan State head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages stepped down after Larissa Boyce and another gymnast filed lawsuits that they told Klages about Nassar in 1997 but she didn’t believe them. Also in February 2017, Kyle Stephens became the first woman to publicly testify against Nassar during a preliminary exam in court. She spoke of how Nassar assaulted her for years beginning when she was six years old during family visits to his house. Other women testified about Nassar’s pattern of grooming them, earning their trust and then assaulting them. But the tipping point was just a few weeks ago when more than 150 women came forward and made statements about Nassar’s abuse in a courtroom. During those seven days, the majority of woman shed their Jane Doe identities and gave their names, allowing the world to see and hear their painful stories and how many people did not believe them or take action. Had the majority of the women remained anonymous, the cameras would have stopped rolling and the newspapers wouldn’t have been able to put so many faces behind Nassar’s crimes. But one woman’s courage empowered the next and created a milestone in women’s history in the movement to end sexual violence against women.

Kwiatkowski: We knew early in our investigation that USA Gymnastics executives had followed a policy of dismissing complaints as “hearsay” unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent. My colleagues and I spent the next few months investigating the impact of that policy on the safety of children in gymnastics. From the beginning, we knew it was an important topic. I started to understand the scope of allegations against Larry Nassar after we published our first piece about him. We received calls and emails from more than a dozen other survivors.

Mencarini: Within days of the first Indy story, police and prosecutors were saying they had received more than a dozen new sexual assault reports against Nassar. So it was clear whatever criminal case developed would be high profile. But early on, my editor Al Wilson instilled in me that the real story, for us at the State Journal, was MSU. We covered every step of Nassar's criminal cases, but from the start our investigative reporting focus was squarely on the university. This felt, to us, like an important institutional story pretty early on, especially once we had the 2014 Title IX report.

Wells: Honestly, every time I think I do understand it, that’s usually a sign that the weight of this—of the experiences of the people involved in it—is just going to hit me like a freight train all over again. Going into the sentencing hearings, I’d been so consumed by this story, and then Kyle Stephens stood up there as the first to speak and taught us we don’t know s---. It’s humbling. And in those moments, your job is to shut up and let these women and girls speak for themselves.

What would you consider to be the most difficult part of your reporting and why?

Alesia: I can think of a few things. I’m a 54-year-old man. Much younger women were telling me about deeply personal and private matters. We had to have a certain level of detail so readers wouldn’t think these were accidents or misunderstandings. They were sexual abuse. In a few instances where we needed a lot of detail—even if it wouldn’t be published—Marisa talked with the women. Also, with one exception, USA Gymnastics would only take written questions. We received written answers that invariably ignored some questions and gave partial answers to others. It was frustrating. And we found USA Gymnastics to have a secretive culture with power concentrated in a few people. People at all levels of the sport were afraid to rock the boat.

Kozlowski: Language. Getting words like “vagina,” “anus” and “clitoris” in the paper. Publishing these words was not meant to be titillating. They involved crimes against these women. But there was more than one debate in the newsroom about how to describe the crimes accurately. For the public to understand what Nassar did to these young women, I believe we should describe what he did briefly but explicitly because not every person pays attention to every news story.

The phrase “sexual abuse under the guise of a medical treatment” is commonly used. But what will that mean years from now? Nassar had a pattern. Since “sexual abuse” can mean many things, I believe it should be clear that Nassar inserted his fingers inside women’s vaginas, and sometimes their anuses, without gloves, lubricant or consent, often while their parents were in the room. All the women testified in court what he did to them so I believe we have a responsibility to report the words they used and be part of the culture that sheds light on sexual violence so it doesn’t stay in the shadows.

Kwiatkowski: It was difficult to pin down whether USA Gymnastics had changed its policy for handling sexual abuse complaints. The organization declined our request for an in-person interview and, with one exception, required all questions to be submitted in writing. When USA Gymnastics responded, it ignored some questions and provided partial answers to others.

Mencarini: This is a tough question. This story is a heavy topic. It can grind you down mentally and emotionally over the course of 16 months, or during a seven-day sentencing. Understanding the overlapping timelines, separate investigations, individual assaults, lawsuits, university responses and connections between them all is, in my opinion, the most crucial part of reporting this story. I think the most difficult part of my reporting is understanding those connections while being aware of the specific abuses and trauma suffered and not getting burned out. It pales in comparison to what the women and girls have gone through, or are going through, but as a reporter it's been the most difficult part of covering this story. I've had ups and downs with it.

Wells: I don’t think I’m going to have a good answer on this one for a while. It’s not done yet.

When did sources begin reaching out to you on this story?

Alesia: In summer 2016, before our first story, I had been trying to contact a longtime coach and judge in the sport. Finally, I left a letter at the door of her home. That weekend, the woman happened to be staying with a former national team gymnast, Molly Shawen-Kollmann, in Cincinnati. Molly saw the letter and sent me an email. She became an invaluable source on the culture, history and power players in the sport. Now we’re getting so many tips, we can hardly keep up.

Kozlowski: Immediately after we started reporting the story, in early 2017. There was an understanding about the power of media among those who wanted Nassar behind bars. That understanding came as news is more accessible than ever. Denhollander’s report about Nassar to Michigan State was followed by her account to the IndyStar. There used to be a time when mostly Indiana residents might have seen that story. But that story, and so many others, reverberated beyond local markets and prompted other victims to come forward. Journalism gave voice to those who were voiceless for so long, and those voices are louder than they have ever been.

Kwiatkowski: It was a source who first suggested I look into USA Gymnastics. As word spread about our investigation, we received calls from others.

Mencarini: I began hearing from sources within days of the first Indy story.

Wells: Late fall 2016? Maybe very early 2017?

Journalists are not necessarily well versed in topics like sexual assault and child predators. How did you prepare for this assignment?

Alesia: I worked a lot on the Jared Fogle case, including a feature on the prosecutor and cops who specialize in child pornography cases. So, unfortunately, this was not new territory for me.

Kozlowski: Many years ago I attended a training for journalists held by the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Kwiatkowski: I’ve spent years reporting on child abuse and neglect. In my role at The Indianapolis Star, I handle investigations relating to social services and welfare issues—such as child abuse and neglect, poverty, elder abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and access to mental health services. I used that experience as my colleagues and I investigated USA Gymnastics and the allegations against Larry Nassar.

Mencarini: I cover the criminal justice system and had reported quite a bit on sexual assault by the time Indy published the Nassar story. I spent good portions of 2015 and 2016 reporting on a local case that involved a pediatric dentist who had been convicted, years later, of sexually assaulting a young boy who was a patient. I profiled the victim in that case, who was in his 20s when he reported to police. I also reported on the Court of Appeals decision to overturn the former dentist's sexual assault convictions and the no-jail plea agreement on a child abuse charge that followed. In June 2016, I began working on an investigation into the way Michigan State University handled sexual assault and harassment complaints over a several year period. That story ran in Dec. 2016 and included details of Nassar's 2014 Title IX investigation and an interview with the victim. So by the time the Indy story was published, I had already had a lot of conversations with sexual assault advocates and experts about trauma, sexual abuse and the systems in place to respond to abuse. Those conversations have proved invaluable.

Wells: So, fortunately or unfortunately, I’d already had a few years of reporting around how higher education handles sexual assault, including a long, MSU-specific investigation.

But child sexual abuse is a completely different field, obviously, that needed very specific tools. Rachael Denhollander was the one who pointed me to specialists like Carla Van Dam (she’s basically written the manual for understanding men like Nassar: The Socially Skilled Child Molester: Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused, which should be required reading) and Anna Salter. It was also helpful to talk with organizations working to educate adults, like Darkness to Light, and those who’ve handled large child sexual abuse cases from the law enforcement perspective. All those people I talked to had seen this before—so many times, really, that they were totally unsurprised about the details when I filled them in on this case, and basically could have charted this out from the beginning. Which shows you how we keep letting this happen to kids, over and over and over again, because we are so abysmal at understanding that the most effective predators are the people we trust. From the journalism perspective, the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma at the Columbia Journalism School has some great resources for reporters doing this kind of work—basically, how to not screw things up further for the people you’re talking to. It is not just have you talked them through the potential fallout from this interview? But also, what kind of support system do they have? Are you just leaving them high and dry at the end of an upsetting, emotional interview? What kind of expectations are you giving them about what will happen or come of this story?

Is there anything you would have done differently in your reporting or writing or broadcasting and why?

Alesia: Not really. I think we made the most of our resources based on what we knew at the time.

Kozlowski: In 2015, federal officials issued a report that Michigan State did not have the procedures and policies in place to handle Title IX complaints. The report was part of a nationwide crackdown on campus sexual assault, so MSU was not alone. Even so, if we had looked more closely and reported on some of the Title IX reports upon which this report was based, maybe the story would have emerged a year earlier while Nassar was still assaulting women.

Kwiatkowski: No.

Mencarini: This is another tough question. I think I'm still too close to it all to have that perspective. The MSU side of this story is still developing rapidly. I'm immersed in the reporting every day. I'm proud of the work I've done and the details about MSU's involvement I've been able to uncover. Right now I can't think of anything I would have done differently, but ask me in two years and I might have an answer.

Wells: Oh, so many things. But top two that come to mind: 1) there were editors outside of Michigan, who were telling me this was a “local story” for a long time—pretty much right up until the sentencing. While I disagreed, I didn’t fight them that hard on it. I should have. 2) I wish I had started saying something earlier about how the media and the public are approaching this differently, because it’s girls and because it’s gymnastics. The women and girls I spoke with were saying that for months and months, and every time I said “yup, I totally agree,” but I never thought “let’s do a story about that. Let’s talk about that.”

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In her sentencing of Nassar, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said to him, "I just signed your death warrant." The remark sparked some debate. What was going through your head when she said that and how did you write/broadcast about that?

Alesia: I didn’t write it. My story that day was about Rachael Denhollander. I rode with Rachael and her husband to court from Kalamazoo, where they were staying with her parents.

Kozlowski: It was a provocative quote that became the headline over our story. But I agreed with the judge and others who thought the sentence was to serve justice for the victims. I wrote through the story with some of the victims’s quotes very high in the narrative, including one from Kyle Stephens, who said: “My monster is gone.”

Kwiatkowski: I was working on another project at the time and did not see that portion of the sentencing hearing. Nor did I write about it. Our colleagues at the Lansing State Journal did a great job handling that coverage.

Mencarini: I've covered enough sentencing hearings in Judge Aquilina's courtroom to know that a line like that was possible. I can't say I expected something so direct, but she doesn't hold back when addressing defendants at sentencing. We included the line high up in our story and as part of the headline online.

Wells: Honestly, it wasn’t that far out of line with things previously said during the sentencing hearing, and if you’re familiar with Judge Aquilina, you know she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind. So I wasn’t clutching my pearls or anything.

Although this case generated significant national attention during the week of sentencing, Nassar was not covered extensively by most national media until then. Why do you think this was the case?

Alesia: I’ll take this answer and the one below together. The initial story, which had nothing to do with Nassar and was published on the eve of the Rio Olympics, received a lot of attention. But there wasn’t a big national hit on Nassar until three Olympic gymnasts went on 60 Minutes in February 2017. And although Rachael Denhollander had been doing media interviews consistently, the Nassar story didn’t get national attention again until more Olympic gymnasts went public with their abuse. It took the Lansing hearing and 156 women telling their stories to shake people into paying attention.

Kozlowski: Sexual assaults reported nationally generally involve unusual circumstances. In the Nassar case, national media reports emerged when Olympic gymnasts began going public in early 2017. But even before that, lawsuits were piling up against Nassar and he lost his job and medical license. Police also discovered 37,000 images of child pornography on external hard drives that he disposed of in his trash can. So I am not sure why the national media did not cover the Nassar case more extensively.

Kwiatkowski: Our investigation generated significant attention from national media when the first piece published in August 2016. That attention waned in the months afterward, until several high-profile gymnasts shared their experiences. National attention focused on USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar and others again in January as 156 women and girls shared their stories during Nassar’s sentencing hearing.

Mencarini: I've thought about this a decent amount, but I don't think I have a great answer. In March 2017, Judge Aquilina granted a request by Nassar's attorneys to place a gag order on those connected to the criminal case, which included many of the women and girls who spoke at sentencing. A federal lawsuit was filed over that gag order. I think that played a role as many couldn't share the stories they did at sentencing until the gag order was lifted in November after Nassar pleaded guilty. This is also a complex story, with police and university investigations, lawsuits and sexual assaults disguised as medical procedures that even some victims didn't realize were abuse until decades later. I think it's a difficult story to drop in on and for a while it moved pretty fast.

Wells: If I’m being generous, it’s that the sheer scale and power of this case was really best demonstrated by seeing those survivors tell their stories, one after another. It was powerful and riveting and I understand why that moment made such an impact. But it’s also frustrating, because the women and girls were getting up in court and saying, “I was reporting this abuse 20 years ago, where were you guys then?” Rachael Denhollander and others had been putting themselves out on a limb, publicly, for more than a year and a half. The national media’s reaction doesn’t feel all that different. I was driving back from the sentencing hearing this week, listening to a podcast that covers the media, from a network I really respect. The two hosts were asking each other why it had taken so long for the national media to cover the Nassar case, and while their general take was that the lack of coverage had been an unfortunate failure, some of their reasoning didn’t hold water.

For instance: they were saying how even sports networks don’t have a full-time gymnastics reporter, so it’s not like you’ve got somebody who can really jump on this story. Ok, sure. But you’ve got a bunch of college sports reporters, right? You’re telling me if, say, the water polo team at Ohio State started having dozens and dozens of former male players come out to say they’d been sexually abused for 20 years and no adults had listened to them, that you don’t dispatch even one guy to Columbus for a couple days? These podcast hosts also said that, until this month’s criminal sentencing, there was no “present tense” to the Nassar story, no solid “news hook” to give your editor. But new allegations have been coming out for 18 months straight, with more than 130 civil suits being filed, multiple preliminary exams in the criminal case, charges at the federal level, a police investigation, an FBI investigation, suspensions, resignations, etc. Newspapers like the Lansing State Journal managed to produce more than 100 stories in 18 months. There were news pegs.

None of us in this job are perfect. There are 18 million things I would like to go back and do differently about this story. And lord knows, if I was working in New York or D.C. and had started hearing about the Nassar case, I’m not saying I would have demanded my editor put me on the next plane to East Lansing. Far from it. But I am saying, let’s be honest about what happened here: these were girls. So unless it was happening in your backyard, the media didn’t care—or worse, didn’t think its audience would care, and didn’t feel like putting in the work to persuade them otherwise.

In your opinion, did gender or that the sport was gymnastics play a role in why the story did not receive national coverage compared to other sports scandals?

Alesia: I do believe that gender and the sport played a role.

Kozlowski: I think gender played a role but some attributed it more to the sport and other factors. The Jerry Sandusky/Penn State case involved the national pastime of football and a legendary coach, besides the assaults of young boys and cover up. However, the Nassar case eclipsed the number of victims in the Sandusky scandal a long time ago. Our society seems a little more shocked when boys are assaulted than girls. Maybe this will help change that.

Kwiatkowski: My focus has been on examining failures in the system, not making comparisons to other situations.

Mencarini: I think it's possible. I'd like to think that the national media doesn't care less about young gymnasts, young girls or women (not all were athletes) being abused than it does young boys or men being abused. But I can't rule it out.

Wells: Yes. This case has shown us just differently people react when a woman or a girl accuses a man of abuse, compared with a man or a boy making the same allegations. Over and over again, we saw dozens of women and girls say the same thing during sentencing: I thought I must be mistaken. Or: it felt wrong, but this guy was a really big deal so I must be the one with the dirty mind. That says something about the way we raise our girls, the way we teach them to be so petrified of being “difficult,” that it’s easier to just say nothing.

I know with the Jerry Sandusky case we saw coaches and administrators look the other way when male children were being abused—but not because they didn’t believe the abuse could be happening. You can argue the cover up went so high up the chain of command, because those involved knew how big the fallout would be. With the Nassar case, multiple adults just didn’t believe girls.

Even now, when the national media is finally interested, the way we cover it sometimes feels…gendered. There are those who really want us to get to the point where these women are at a place of “healing,” where they’re “so empowering.” Are they powerful? Absolutely. Have they managed to survive a living hell? Yes. But if these were boys, would we be rushing them to emotionally wrap it up, so to speak? Their strength is formidable and awe-inspiring, but I’m wary of the desire to package these survivors’ experiences into something neat and pretty, just so we can feel more comfortable with it.

To that same end, I’ve encountered a lot of pushback and limits on what we can say about the abuse itself. I understand that, especially with broadcast, your kids could be in the car and you may have missed the disturbing-content warning at the beginning of the story. But what happened to these women, matters. Their decision not to shield us from that brutality and horror, matters.

Still, some of those I work with (and not everyone, to be clear) repeatedly want to edit those parts out and sub in the vaguest terms possible: words like “digital penetration,” which frankly couldn’t be more clinical, get replaced with the vague and confusing “inappropriate touching.” If you were the one who’d experienced this abuse, how would you feel about someone deciding your story, the one you chose to tell in court for the entire world, was too indecent to accurately describe? Of course it’s indecent. It’s abuse. And if we don’t trust our audience enough to tell them the facts about what’s actually happened, then we are doing them a disservice as well as these survivors.

?

What should the public know about the resources it takes to cover these types of stories?

Alesia: IndyStar devoted three reporters to the story, virtually full-time, for a year. That is a very big deal for an operation of our size. We travelled all over the country. And, we hired a lawyer in Atlanta to intervene in a court case in Georgia to unseal 54 files that USA Gymnastics kept on abusive coaches. USA Gymnastics fought to keep the files secret, saying in court filings that we wanted to do a “National Enquirer-like article … to satisfy the economic interests of Indy Star’s advertisers, owners, and investors.” The process dragged on for about nine months. I don’t know how much our company paid, but the lawyer could not have been cheap. It was a big commitment by Gannett, the USA Today Network and IndyStar. We used the USA Today Network for help on various aspects of the reporting, especially Matt Mencarini in Lansing, Mich.

Kozlowski: These stories demand enormous time and energy, and involve numerous members of our staff. But telling the Nassar scandal is the reason why my colleagues and I are in journalism: To give voice to the voiceless and hold those with power accountable. In a public statement in Eaton County court on Friday, Larissa Boyce turned to the media and told us to not forget. She asked us continue to report so that other victims will come forward and the dialogue around sexual assault will result in change in the future. To Boyce, and every other woman who has been sexually assaulted: We will continue to report on this and other sexual assault stories, and demand answers from those who don’t do the right thing.

Kwiatkowski: Our bosses at IndyStar and Gannett invested significant time and resources toward this investigation. They supported our project from its first day. They let Mark, Tim, Steve Berta, Robert Scheer and me work on this investigation nearly full-time for a year. We flew to a dozen states. We sought public records in at least 23 states. We received help from colleagues throughout the USA TODAY Network. And the company fought a legal battle for access to court records in Georgia. If you believe in the value of journalism, please subscribe to your local newspaper.

Mencarini: The State Journal has 13 news reporters. For much of the 16 months since the first Indy story, this is the only thing I did. There were stretches, especially at the end of 2016, when I did other reporting, but for the most part this story has occupied nearly all of my time. In a newsroom of our size, that's a significant investment. Time, in my opinion, is the most valuable resource for a story like this. I needed time to review each lawsuit, go to each hearing, dig through court and public records and speak with as many people connected to the case as possible. Not every newsroom could or would devote resources that significant to a single story for such a long time. I can't imagine covering this story without the time and resources my editors gave me. Local journalism and local investigative reporting are important, and the Nassar story—with the USAG and MSU sides—shows exactly why.

Feel free to add anything you wish.

Kwiatkowski: Thank you to the people who trusted us to share their stories.

Wells: Sorry, I’m going on my soap box here, but I worry that, as Nassar becomes a name we put in the same category with Sandusky or Boston priests, the general public concludes these predators look like boogeymen, you know? When the reason they were able to victimize so many, is because these were seemingly kind, trustworthy, respectable people who looked like they were doing a lot of good. The most effective predator is the one who makes you think, “there’s got to be a misunderstanding here, let’s work this out” when you see a red flag. Most adults don’t get into coaching or medicine or just general education because they think, “I hope I’m part of enabling large-scale sexual predation one day.” Lots of good adults are capable of giving other nice-seeming adults the benefit of the doubt. And that’s how this continues.

If interested in the work of the panelists above, click below:

Alesia, Indy Star
Kozlowski, Detroit News
Kwiatkowski: Indy Star
Mencarini: The Lansing State Journal
Wells: Michigan Radio

Nick Kyrgios is a bit like a 22-man shoving match in a game of football. Yes, they set a bad example to children, yes they can be unedifying, and yes they can sometimes overstep the mark. But both are also extremely entertaining and amusing to watch, and there&#39;s usually no real harm done. Kyrgios, as has been well documented, is tennis’s answer to marmite (or, given his nationality, should that be vegemite?). For some the 22-year-old is an enfant terrible whose sledging of opponents and occasional tanking are disgraceful examples of his unsportsmanlike behaviour. For others he’s a fascinating young man who plays majestic tennis and is merely hitting a few bumps in the road as he tries to cope with being a professional athlete. Wherever one stands on the debate though, surely no-one can deny his magnetism. And with the ‘Big Four’ era seemingly on the wane at last, tennis desperately needs some new stars. Australian Open 2018 | Key information for first grand slam of year As a tournament director, selling tickets to a Kyrgios match is a cinch - fans are likely to get either scintillating shot-making or an existential crisis, or a combination of both. Who wouldn’t want to see that? And who wouldn’t want to hear Kyrgios’s post-match analysis of why he has just been beaten? Forget the “it was a tough match that could have gone either way” platitudes, Kyrgios once said of a Wimbledon defeat to Andy Murray: &quot;To be honest, I woke up this morning and played computer games. Is that the greatest preparation? I don&#39;t know. But it was fun.” Imagine now you’re that tournament director trying to sell tickets to, say, a regulation Tomas Berdych match. What’s your pitch there? “Roll up, roll up. Get your line and length groundstrokes. You want percentage tennis played to a T? Have I got the guy for you!” Special report: Cheating claims, Christmas McDonald&#39;s and throwing matches to catch flights - the reality of pro tennis away from the elite This is not meant as a slight on Berdych, who has been a model of professionalism and consistency for more than a decade. It’s just that sport should be about variety, and star quality, and above all fun. Kyrgios is a hyperactive amalgamation of all has all of those qualities , and at a time when tennis has been producing serve-bots like Milos Raonic and nice-but-bland Marin Cilic types, it’s stimulating to have someone a little bit different, and let’s face it a little bit unhinged. It’s probably unfair that the model pros generate so much less interest than the mercurial Kyrgios, but it&#39;s human nature to be more intrigued by the mad than the mundane. And the great thing about tennis is there’s room for both - try for example to find similarities with David Ferrer’s game style and Kyrgios&#39;s. It&#39;s impossible - it would be like comparing swimming lengths to playing water polo. The Aussie certainly has his faults, but we shouldn&#39;t take his misdemeanours too seriously, and I can&#39;t wait to see which way the Kyrgios roulette wheel spins at the Australian Open over the next two weeks. Where do you stand on the Nick Kyrgios debate? Have your say in the comments section below
The Tennis Debate: Nick Kyrgios’s magnetism is badly needed with Big Four finally on the wane
Nick Kyrgios is a bit like a 22-man shoving match in a game of football. Yes, they set a bad example to children, yes they can be unedifying, and yes they can sometimes overstep the mark. But both are also extremely entertaining and amusing to watch, and there's usually no real harm done. Kyrgios, as has been well documented, is tennis’s answer to marmite (or, given his nationality, should that be vegemite?). For some the 22-year-old is an enfant terrible whose sledging of opponents and occasional tanking are disgraceful examples of his unsportsmanlike behaviour. For others he’s a fascinating young man who plays majestic tennis and is merely hitting a few bumps in the road as he tries to cope with being a professional athlete. Wherever one stands on the debate though, surely no-one can deny his magnetism. And with the ‘Big Four’ era seemingly on the wane at last, tennis desperately needs some new stars. Australian Open 2018 | Key information for first grand slam of year As a tournament director, selling tickets to a Kyrgios match is a cinch - fans are likely to get either scintillating shot-making or an existential crisis, or a combination of both. Who wouldn’t want to see that? And who wouldn’t want to hear Kyrgios’s post-match analysis of why he has just been beaten? Forget the “it was a tough match that could have gone either way” platitudes, Kyrgios once said of a Wimbledon defeat to Andy Murray: "To be honest, I woke up this morning and played computer games. Is that the greatest preparation? I don't know. But it was fun.” Imagine now you’re that tournament director trying to sell tickets to, say, a regulation Tomas Berdych match. What’s your pitch there? “Roll up, roll up. Get your line and length groundstrokes. You want percentage tennis played to a T? Have I got the guy for you!” Special report: Cheating claims, Christmas McDonald's and throwing matches to catch flights - the reality of pro tennis away from the elite This is not meant as a slight on Berdych, who has been a model of professionalism and consistency for more than a decade. It’s just that sport should be about variety, and star quality, and above all fun. Kyrgios is a hyperactive amalgamation of all has all of those qualities , and at a time when tennis has been producing serve-bots like Milos Raonic and nice-but-bland Marin Cilic types, it’s stimulating to have someone a little bit different, and let’s face it a little bit unhinged. It’s probably unfair that the model pros generate so much less interest than the mercurial Kyrgios, but it's human nature to be more intrigued by the mad than the mundane. And the great thing about tennis is there’s room for both - try for example to find similarities with David Ferrer’s game style and Kyrgios's. It's impossible - it would be like comparing swimming lengths to playing water polo. The Aussie certainly has his faults, but we shouldn't take his misdemeanours too seriously, and I can't wait to see which way the Kyrgios roulette wheel spins at the Australian Open over the next two weeks. Where do you stand on the Nick Kyrgios debate? Have your say in the comments section below
<p>Alex Ovechkin doesn’t often concern himself over matters of the minor leagues, but special circumstances inspired a break from protocol. On several occasions last season, the Washington Capitals superstar would approach vice president of communications Sergey Kocharov to inquire about a certain defenseman with their AHL affiliate. As organizational memory serves, it was the first time Ovechkin had ever expressed such mounting curiosity in a prospect.</p><p>“What’s going on with Djoos?” he wondered, again and again.</p><p>“How’s Djoos doing?”</p><p>“When’s Djoos coming up?”</p><p>Word soon spread onto the Capitals’ farm in Hershey, Pa., reaching the person of interest. “Fun to hear that he asked,” Christian Djoos says. Now it’s an early-November afternoon at the Capitals’ practice facility. The 23-year-old kicks back in his new locker stall, across the street from the hotel where he unpacked at the start of training camp and hasn’t left yet, across the carpet from his personal champion. “Gives you a little boost, a little confidence. Pretty cool.”</p><p>Not that he needed extra motivation. Less than one month into his rookie NHL season—no doubt delighting Ovechkin and everyone else rooting for a promotion during a 58-point, 66-game offensive outburst with the Hershey Bears in ‘16-17—Djoos has already <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/xNaNBZcKEwlmtn?domain=washingtonpost.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:defied steep odds as a seventh-round pick" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">defied steep odds as a seventh-round pick</a>, ascending from No. 195 five years ago to a blue-line mainstay for the two-time defending Presidents’ Trophy winners. On the other hand, he’s unassuming by nature, hardly the type to harbor grudges against other teams for overlooking him. No running recollection of anyone chosen before him in 2012, no Arya Stark-style hit list seared into his brain. In fact, Djoos clarifies, “I’m bad with names. Sorry.”</p><p>Should he eventually happen across the results from that draft weekend in Pittsburgh, though, two particular entries might catch Djoos’s eye. By now enough late-round choices have reached the NHL—especially overseas prospects like Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg (210th, 1999) and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (205th, 2000)—who slipped through central scouting’s nets—that the success of one more isn’t wholly novel. Still, it is nonetheless striking to see three players, drafted in the same final round in the same year, playing the same position (defenseman) and shooting from the same side (left), beginning to earn their keep in the NHL at the same time.</p><p>There is the red-bearded rookie on the San Jose Sharks, tennis in his blood but hockey in his heart. And the Florida-born, Anaheim-based son of an NFL defensive back, who graduated in three years with a finance degree and figured that he’d seek employment at some Wall Street firm if this whole playing career thing didn’t pan out. And finally there&#39;s Djoos, a baby-faced, second-generation Swedish defenseman who can now claim a hometown idol as a mentor and colleague. “For me,” says Djoos, “it wasn’t like a, ‘I’m going to show them.’ I was just happy to get picked. I appreciate the Caps doing that, taking a chance.”</p><p>The rest can relate.</p><p>As the organist pumps pregame tunes throughout Madison Square Garden on Oct. 23, Catarina Lindqvist-Ryan moseys into the concourse and finds a high-top table to chat. Years ago she was <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/MdNdBEHKRYVEt9?domain=scarletknights.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the 10th-ranked player on the women’s pro tennis circuit" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the 10th-ranked player on the women’s pro tennis circuit</a>, reaching two Grand Slam semifinals in the late ‘80s and twice competing for her native Sweden at the Summer Olympics. Now she works as an assistant coach at Rutgers and operates an indoor facility in East Brunswick, N.J., with her husband, Bill Ryan, a former tennis agent and lifelong Rangers fan. Oh, and they happened to have raised one of San Jose’s most pleasant surprises of this still-young season.</p><p>It had been a busy stretch for the family. When their oldest son, 24-year-old defenseman Joakim Ryan, previously made his Tri-State Area debut against the New Jersey Devils earlier that week, more than 50 friends and relatives packed the stands at Prudential Center. The next night was more manageable, roughly 10–15 ticket requests for the Sharks&#39; eventual loss to the Islanders. And now between 20 and 30 were flocking to midtown Manhattan, where they would see Ryan skate almost 16 minutes during a 4–1 win, in a building where he used to attend games under his dad’s season-ticket plan.</p><p>“It’s been pretty crazy,” Ryan said that morning. “Everything happened so fast.”</p><p>Lindqvist-Ryan remembers draft day well. The family was in Sweden, visiting her mother, after Ryan’s freshman season at Cornell. It was his second and final year of eligibility, and getting passed over once left him “really disappointed.” They tracked the results online, but as the rounds passed--fourth...fifth...sixth…—Lindqvist-Ryan gave up and headed to a friend’s house around the corner. When Ryan swung by later, he delivered an NHL-caliber fakeout. “Yeah,” he said somberly, “didn’t get drafted.”</p><p>“Oh, that’s too bad,” Lindqvist-Ryan replied.</p><p>“I’m just kidding!”</p><p>To hear Ryan retell the story, his eventual selection—seventh round, No. 198, three spots after Djoos—was a surprise. “I’d talked to a couple teams on the phone in interviews and such,” Ryan says. “I knew maybe there was a chance. But I wasn’t expecting to get drafted.” He grew up playing both tennis and hockey, but eventually chose the latter because he preferred the team atmosphere. “Tennis is a pretty lonely, individual sport,” he says, and fortunately fate dumped him into perhaps the most boisterous locker room in the NHL, filled with characters like Joe Thornton and Ryan’s usual defensive partner, Brent Burns.</p><p>Looking around the visiting dressing room at the World’s Most Famous Arena, Ryan motions to other unlikely success stories like him. There’s captain Joe Pavelski and defenseman Justin Braun, both fellow seventh-rounders. Forward Joel Ward and goalie Martin Jones went undrafted. As Ryan was coming up through Cornell, a communications major and an Ivy League first-teamer, this gave him confidence. “I knew the Sharks had no problem playing guys,” he says. “If you’re good enough, you’re going to play.” Indeed, when Paul Martin re-aggravated an ankle injury two games into the season, Ryan was summoned from the minors to make his NHL debut. “And here I am,” he says.</p><p>He still plays tennis every offseason, mostly against his younger brother, Tobias. (“I never lose,” Ryan reports.) He has seen a few short, grainy clips on YouTube of his mother during her playing days, beating opponents with a smooth one-handed backhand, and they used to play often when he was younger. “It definitely translates to hockey,” Ryan says. “A lot of agility, quick movements, good hand-eye coordination. It’s a sport that makes you more athletic.”</p><p>As a pair, Burns and Ryan have been outscored 6-2 <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/O505BLfD43zJid?domain=corsica.hockey" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in 180-plus even-strength minutes together" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in 180-plus even-strength minutes together</a>, but controlled more than 56 percent of total shot attempts. A ticket to the minors seems likely once Martin gets healthy, but Ryan was never one to look too far ahead into the future. That’s how he got here in the first place. As Lindqvist-Ryan has watched her son climb the ladder—from a championship run with Dubuque in the USHL, to four solid years with Cornell, to a 10-goal, 49-point, notice-me ‘16-17 season for San Jose’s affiliate—she noticed parallels in their playing styles. “I think we have the same demeanor,” she says. “We don’t get too excited. We don’t get too down, either. We take everything in stride.”</p><p>Similar to Ryan, Ducks defenseman Jaycob Megna hails from sturdy athletic stock. His mother Jacqueline was a national-caliber swimmer and water polo player in high school. His father spent several seasons in the NFL, dressing for Miami, Washington and New Orleans until hamstring injuries forced him out. “He was always the overachiever,” Megna says. “Undersized, undervalued.”</p><p>Jay Megna wouldn’t let his two sons play football until they were 12, but by then they had already found another love. They grew up in Chicago, sitting on the glass at Blackhawks games in the days when tickets were practically given away for free. “They were pretty lax with their security,” Jaycob, 24, says. “There was nobody there anyways, so it didn’t really matter.” No doubt it struck the family as serendipitous, then, that the Ducks recalled Megna in time to make his NHL debut last April against none other than his hometown team.</p><p>“I don’t remember a lot about it, to be honest,” Megna says. “I look back on it as an amazing day. It was a good benchmark for me. It proved to myself that I can play at this level and I belong up here. Gave me more motivation to keep working, keep pursuing my dream.”</p><p>He too was passed over during his first year of eligibility, and recalls falling off most major scouting lists by 2012. He was at college in Nebraska-Omaha for summer training that Saturday, paying no attention to the happenings in Pittsburgh when the Ducks called his name at No. 210, second-to-last in the entire draft. “I did it the year before, and it was a bummer not getting taken, so I didn’t want to deal with it,” he says, but Megna wasn’t too concerned anyway. His older brother, Jayson, went undrafted but was already receiving significant interest from NHL teams offering free agent contracts. And his defensive partner—Andrej Sustr, currently of the Tampa Bay Lightning—was in a similar spot. “I knew there was still a chance,” Megna says. “I wasn’t at the point where I was thinking about life after hockey quite yet.”</p><p>Worst-case scenario, he would find a job in finance. No need. He graduated in three years, signed an entry-level deal with the Ducks, and reported to their affiliate in Norfolk, Va. When he was playing for the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, his goal was simply to earn a D-1 scholarship. “Then once I finished my freshman year, I figured, I think I can do this, I think I can make the next step,” he says. “Once that finally clicked for me, that became my only focus.”</p><p>Like Djoos, Megna insists that he had enough to worry about beyond who was picked before him. “I don&#39;t know if it was a chip,” he says. “I definitely wanted to prove the teams that didn’t take me wrong, but I also wanted to prove Anaheim right that they made the right decision. It serves as motivation. That’s always in the back of your head. You want to prove to people that you do belong and you can make it, regardless of where they take you. By proving one team right, the rest of them are looking and saying, hey, we could’ve had him and we chose not to.”</p><p>Acclimating himself to NHL life has taken some time. The travel schedule is more hectic, the games more abundant. And he hasn’t enjoyed the luxury of skating with a steady partner like Megna, thus far deployed with five different Anaheim defensemen <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/9XwXBAtEozMdCA?domain=corsica.hockey" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:for at least 15 even-strength minutes apiece" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">for at least 15 even-strength minutes apiece</a>, thanks to injuries currently ransacking the Ducks’ core.</p><p>“It was a bit of an adjustment at first, playing against guys you watch every night on TV,” Megna says. “But then you realize, I’m there too. I’m there for a reason. And you tell yourself that you belong.”</p><p>Hundreds of miles away on June 23, 2012, not long before Ryan marched across the street to prank his mother, Djoos was busy refreshing <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/lN4NB0ckQAX3iJ?domain=nhl.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:NHL.com" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">NHL.com</a> at home in central Sweden. Then his phone rang. “Big day,” he says. “Emotional for the family.”</p><p>Nearby, his father beamed. Pär Djoos—yes, beverage-based puns write themselves—spent bits of three seasons with the Rangers and Red Wings but mostly made his mark as a cerebral, puck-moving defenseman for Brynäs IF. Early into his career there, one of his teammates was Anders Backstrom, who later became general manager of the Swedish Elite League club and often brought his son around the rink. Pär Djoos would do the same.</p><p>Later on, when Nicklas Backstrom was starring for the same team, he once swung by a youth practice and autographed gear for the kids. That always stuck with Christian. “He’s one of the best in the league,” Djoos says of Backstrom. “We’ve been watching him since we were kids. I like watching him play, because he plays a great game. Some parts you can take after him, but some parts he’s almost the only guy that can do it too. He’s such a smart hockey player.”</p><p>That’s what they say about Djoos around Washington too. He could stand to get stronger in the defensive zone and fill out his bony 169-pound frame, which makes him the NHL’s third-lightest defenseman behind Montreal’s Samuel Girard and Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon. But his offensive talent is undeniable too. As a kid, Backstrom loved watching Pär Djoos’ crisp tape-to-tape feeds on the rush. He thinks this trait got passed down onto the next generation. “You just watch in practice, he never misses any passes,” Backstrom says. “And if he does, he gets mad and gets right back at it. Which is how it’s supposed to be. Young kid, coming up, wants to get better, wants to make sure he’s feeding guys the right way. I think that’s great.”</p><p>It is indeed a testament to Djoos’s savvy that he hasn’t yet been smooshed against the glass by an oncoming forechecker. “He processes very quick,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz says. “He’s smart, understands the game very well, has lots of poise with the puck.” Winger Andre Burakovsky, a longtime friend from Swedish national teams, says Djoos has “always been the smartest guy on the ice. He always made the sick passes.” His partner, veteran defenseman John Carlson, praises Djoos’ backhand as “probably better than a lot of guys in the league.”</p><p>Staying up late to watch from home in Sweden, Pär Djoos sees a quiet, swelling confidence in his son; Christian’s two goals equaled the rest of Washington’s blue line through Wednesday, and recently he’s enjoyed an uptick in ice time above 16 minutes over the past two games. “He shows that he can play on a regular basis,” Pär Djoos says. “You’ve got to grow into it.”</p><p>Christian meanwhile envisions a long road ahead. He’s part of a young flock of Capitals thrust into the spotlight after offseason attrition gashed the group of several key veterans, promised even bigger roles in future years. Already he represents a success story, one of the rare seventh-rounders who reached the big time. (Among the 2012 class, only Djoos, Ryan and Megna have logged more than 10 NHL games.) But there is so much room to outgrow that tag, to become something even more. “It’s probably going to take the whole year, and maybe next year too,” Djoos says. “It’s great to be around the guys. It’s fun to see players and rinks and cities you’ve never been to.</p><p>“So far, so good.”</p>
Defensive Trio of 2012 Seventh-Round Picks Finding Rare Success at NHL Level

Alex Ovechkin doesn’t often concern himself over matters of the minor leagues, but special circumstances inspired a break from protocol. On several occasions last season, the Washington Capitals superstar would approach vice president of communications Sergey Kocharov to inquire about a certain defenseman with their AHL affiliate. As organizational memory serves, it was the first time Ovechkin had ever expressed such mounting curiosity in a prospect.

“What’s going on with Djoos?” he wondered, again and again.

“How’s Djoos doing?”

“When’s Djoos coming up?”

Word soon spread onto the Capitals’ farm in Hershey, Pa., reaching the person of interest. “Fun to hear that he asked,” Christian Djoos says. Now it’s an early-November afternoon at the Capitals’ practice facility. The 23-year-old kicks back in his new locker stall, across the street from the hotel where he unpacked at the start of training camp and hasn’t left yet, across the carpet from his personal champion. “Gives you a little boost, a little confidence. Pretty cool.”

Not that he needed extra motivation. Less than one month into his rookie NHL season—no doubt delighting Ovechkin and everyone else rooting for a promotion during a 58-point, 66-game offensive outburst with the Hershey Bears in ‘16-17—Djoos has already defied steep odds as a seventh-round pick, ascending from No. 195 five years ago to a blue-line mainstay for the two-time defending Presidents’ Trophy winners. On the other hand, he’s unassuming by nature, hardly the type to harbor grudges against other teams for overlooking him. No running recollection of anyone chosen before him in 2012, no Arya Stark-style hit list seared into his brain. In fact, Djoos clarifies, “I’m bad with names. Sorry.”

Should he eventually happen across the results from that draft weekend in Pittsburgh, though, two particular entries might catch Djoos’s eye. By now enough late-round choices have reached the NHL—especially overseas prospects like Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg (210th, 1999) and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (205th, 2000)—who slipped through central scouting’s nets—that the success of one more isn’t wholly novel. Still, it is nonetheless striking to see three players, drafted in the same final round in the same year, playing the same position (defenseman) and shooting from the same side (left), beginning to earn their keep in the NHL at the same time.

There is the red-bearded rookie on the San Jose Sharks, tennis in his blood but hockey in his heart. And the Florida-born, Anaheim-based son of an NFL defensive back, who graduated in three years with a finance degree and figured that he’d seek employment at some Wall Street firm if this whole playing career thing didn’t pan out. And finally there's Djoos, a baby-faced, second-generation Swedish defenseman who can now claim a hometown idol as a mentor and colleague. “For me,” says Djoos, “it wasn’t like a, ‘I’m going to show them.’ I was just happy to get picked. I appreciate the Caps doing that, taking a chance.”

The rest can relate.

As the organist pumps pregame tunes throughout Madison Square Garden on Oct. 23, Catarina Lindqvist-Ryan moseys into the concourse and finds a high-top table to chat. Years ago she was the 10th-ranked player on the women’s pro tennis circuit, reaching two Grand Slam semifinals in the late ‘80s and twice competing for her native Sweden at the Summer Olympics. Now she works as an assistant coach at Rutgers and operates an indoor facility in East Brunswick, N.J., with her husband, Bill Ryan, a former tennis agent and lifelong Rangers fan. Oh, and they happened to have raised one of San Jose’s most pleasant surprises of this still-young season.

It had been a busy stretch for the family. When their oldest son, 24-year-old defenseman Joakim Ryan, previously made his Tri-State Area debut against the New Jersey Devils earlier that week, more than 50 friends and relatives packed the stands at Prudential Center. The next night was more manageable, roughly 10–15 ticket requests for the Sharks' eventual loss to the Islanders. And now between 20 and 30 were flocking to midtown Manhattan, where they would see Ryan skate almost 16 minutes during a 4–1 win, in a building where he used to attend games under his dad’s season-ticket plan.

“It’s been pretty crazy,” Ryan said that morning. “Everything happened so fast.”

Lindqvist-Ryan remembers draft day well. The family was in Sweden, visiting her mother, after Ryan’s freshman season at Cornell. It was his second and final year of eligibility, and getting passed over once left him “really disappointed.” They tracked the results online, but as the rounds passed--fourth...fifth...sixth…—Lindqvist-Ryan gave up and headed to a friend’s house around the corner. When Ryan swung by later, he delivered an NHL-caliber fakeout. “Yeah,” he said somberly, “didn’t get drafted.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Lindqvist-Ryan replied.

“I’m just kidding!”

To hear Ryan retell the story, his eventual selection—seventh round, No. 198, three spots after Djoos—was a surprise. “I’d talked to a couple teams on the phone in interviews and such,” Ryan says. “I knew maybe there was a chance. But I wasn’t expecting to get drafted.” He grew up playing both tennis and hockey, but eventually chose the latter because he preferred the team atmosphere. “Tennis is a pretty lonely, individual sport,” he says, and fortunately fate dumped him into perhaps the most boisterous locker room in the NHL, filled with characters like Joe Thornton and Ryan’s usual defensive partner, Brent Burns.

Looking around the visiting dressing room at the World’s Most Famous Arena, Ryan motions to other unlikely success stories like him. There’s captain Joe Pavelski and defenseman Justin Braun, both fellow seventh-rounders. Forward Joel Ward and goalie Martin Jones went undrafted. As Ryan was coming up through Cornell, a communications major and an Ivy League first-teamer, this gave him confidence. “I knew the Sharks had no problem playing guys,” he says. “If you’re good enough, you’re going to play.” Indeed, when Paul Martin re-aggravated an ankle injury two games into the season, Ryan was summoned from the minors to make his NHL debut. “And here I am,” he says.

He still plays tennis every offseason, mostly against his younger brother, Tobias. (“I never lose,” Ryan reports.) He has seen a few short, grainy clips on YouTube of his mother during her playing days, beating opponents with a smooth one-handed backhand, and they used to play often when he was younger. “It definitely translates to hockey,” Ryan says. “A lot of agility, quick movements, good hand-eye coordination. It’s a sport that makes you more athletic.”

As a pair, Burns and Ryan have been outscored 6-2 in 180-plus even-strength minutes together, but controlled more than 56 percent of total shot attempts. A ticket to the minors seems likely once Martin gets healthy, but Ryan was never one to look too far ahead into the future. That’s how he got here in the first place. As Lindqvist-Ryan has watched her son climb the ladder—from a championship run with Dubuque in the USHL, to four solid years with Cornell, to a 10-goal, 49-point, notice-me ‘16-17 season for San Jose’s affiliate—she noticed parallels in their playing styles. “I think we have the same demeanor,” she says. “We don’t get too excited. We don’t get too down, either. We take everything in stride.”

Similar to Ryan, Ducks defenseman Jaycob Megna hails from sturdy athletic stock. His mother Jacqueline was a national-caliber swimmer and water polo player in high school. His father spent several seasons in the NFL, dressing for Miami, Washington and New Orleans until hamstring injuries forced him out. “He was always the overachiever,” Megna says. “Undersized, undervalued.”

Jay Megna wouldn’t let his two sons play football until they were 12, but by then they had already found another love. They grew up in Chicago, sitting on the glass at Blackhawks games in the days when tickets were practically given away for free. “They were pretty lax with their security,” Jaycob, 24, says. “There was nobody there anyways, so it didn’t really matter.” No doubt it struck the family as serendipitous, then, that the Ducks recalled Megna in time to make his NHL debut last April against none other than his hometown team.

“I don’t remember a lot about it, to be honest,” Megna says. “I look back on it as an amazing day. It was a good benchmark for me. It proved to myself that I can play at this level and I belong up here. Gave me more motivation to keep working, keep pursuing my dream.”

He too was passed over during his first year of eligibility, and recalls falling off most major scouting lists by 2012. He was at college in Nebraska-Omaha for summer training that Saturday, paying no attention to the happenings in Pittsburgh when the Ducks called his name at No. 210, second-to-last in the entire draft. “I did it the year before, and it was a bummer not getting taken, so I didn’t want to deal with it,” he says, but Megna wasn’t too concerned anyway. His older brother, Jayson, went undrafted but was already receiving significant interest from NHL teams offering free agent contracts. And his defensive partner—Andrej Sustr, currently of the Tampa Bay Lightning—was in a similar spot. “I knew there was still a chance,” Megna says. “I wasn’t at the point where I was thinking about life after hockey quite yet.”

Worst-case scenario, he would find a job in finance. No need. He graduated in three years, signed an entry-level deal with the Ducks, and reported to their affiliate in Norfolk, Va. When he was playing for the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, his goal was simply to earn a D-1 scholarship. “Then once I finished my freshman year, I figured, I think I can do this, I think I can make the next step,” he says. “Once that finally clicked for me, that became my only focus.”

Like Djoos, Megna insists that he had enough to worry about beyond who was picked before him. “I don't know if it was a chip,” he says. “I definitely wanted to prove the teams that didn’t take me wrong, but I also wanted to prove Anaheim right that they made the right decision. It serves as motivation. That’s always in the back of your head. You want to prove to people that you do belong and you can make it, regardless of where they take you. By proving one team right, the rest of them are looking and saying, hey, we could’ve had him and we chose not to.”

Acclimating himself to NHL life has taken some time. The travel schedule is more hectic, the games more abundant. And he hasn’t enjoyed the luxury of skating with a steady partner like Megna, thus far deployed with five different Anaheim defensemen for at least 15 even-strength minutes apiece, thanks to injuries currently ransacking the Ducks’ core.

“It was a bit of an adjustment at first, playing against guys you watch every night on TV,” Megna says. “But then you realize, I’m there too. I’m there for a reason. And you tell yourself that you belong.”

Hundreds of miles away on June 23, 2012, not long before Ryan marched across the street to prank his mother, Djoos was busy refreshing NHL.com at home in central Sweden. Then his phone rang. “Big day,” he says. “Emotional for the family.”

Nearby, his father beamed. Pär Djoos—yes, beverage-based puns write themselves—spent bits of three seasons with the Rangers and Red Wings but mostly made his mark as a cerebral, puck-moving defenseman for Brynäs IF. Early into his career there, one of his teammates was Anders Backstrom, who later became general manager of the Swedish Elite League club and often brought his son around the rink. Pär Djoos would do the same.

Later on, when Nicklas Backstrom was starring for the same team, he once swung by a youth practice and autographed gear for the kids. That always stuck with Christian. “He’s one of the best in the league,” Djoos says of Backstrom. “We’ve been watching him since we were kids. I like watching him play, because he plays a great game. Some parts you can take after him, but some parts he’s almost the only guy that can do it too. He’s such a smart hockey player.”

That’s what they say about Djoos around Washington too. He could stand to get stronger in the defensive zone and fill out his bony 169-pound frame, which makes him the NHL’s third-lightest defenseman behind Montreal’s Samuel Girard and Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon. But his offensive talent is undeniable too. As a kid, Backstrom loved watching Pär Djoos’ crisp tape-to-tape feeds on the rush. He thinks this trait got passed down onto the next generation. “You just watch in practice, he never misses any passes,” Backstrom says. “And if he does, he gets mad and gets right back at it. Which is how it’s supposed to be. Young kid, coming up, wants to get better, wants to make sure he’s feeding guys the right way. I think that’s great.”

It is indeed a testament to Djoos’s savvy that he hasn’t yet been smooshed against the glass by an oncoming forechecker. “He processes very quick,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz says. “He’s smart, understands the game very well, has lots of poise with the puck.” Winger Andre Burakovsky, a longtime friend from Swedish national teams, says Djoos has “always been the smartest guy on the ice. He always made the sick passes.” His partner, veteran defenseman John Carlson, praises Djoos’ backhand as “probably better than a lot of guys in the league.”

Staying up late to watch from home in Sweden, Pär Djoos sees a quiet, swelling confidence in his son; Christian’s two goals equaled the rest of Washington’s blue line through Wednesday, and recently he’s enjoyed an uptick in ice time above 16 minutes over the past two games. “He shows that he can play on a regular basis,” Pär Djoos says. “You’ve got to grow into it.”

Christian meanwhile envisions a long road ahead. He’s part of a young flock of Capitals thrust into the spotlight after offseason attrition gashed the group of several key veterans, promised even bigger roles in future years. Already he represents a success story, one of the rare seventh-rounders who reached the big time. (Among the 2012 class, only Djoos, Ryan and Megna have logged more than 10 NHL games.) But there is so much room to outgrow that tag, to become something even more. “It’s probably going to take the whole year, and maybe next year too,” Djoos says. “It’s great to be around the guys. It’s fun to see players and rinks and cities you’ve never been to.

“So far, so good.”

<p>Alex Ovechkin doesn’t often concern himself over matters of the minor leagues, but special circumstances inspired a break from protocol. On several occasions last season, the Washington Capitals superstar would approach vice president of communications Sergey Kocharov to inquire about a certain defenseman with their AHL affiliate. As organizational memory serves, it was the first time Ovechkin had ever expressed such mounting curiosity in a prospect.</p><p>“What’s going on with Djoos?” he wondered, again and again.</p><p>“How’s Djoos doing?”</p><p>“When’s Djoos coming up?”</p><p>Word soon spread onto the Capitals’ farm in Hershey, Pa., reaching the person of interest. “Fun to hear that he asked,” Christian Djoos says. Now it’s an early-November afternoon at the Capitals’ practice facility. The 23-year-old kicks back in his new locker stall, across the street from the hotel where he unpacked at the start of training camp and hasn’t left yet, across the carpet from his personal champion. “Gives you a little boost, a little confidence. Pretty cool.”</p><p>Not that he needed extra motivation. Less than one month into his rookie NHL season—no doubt delighting Ovechkin and everyone else rooting for a promotion during a 58-point, 66-game offensive outburst with the Hershey Bears in ‘16-17—Djoos has already <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/xNaNBZcKEwlmtn?domain=washingtonpost.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:defied steep odds as a seventh-round pick" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">defied steep odds as a seventh-round pick</a>, ascending from No. 195 five years ago to a blue-line mainstay for the two-time defending Presidents’ Trophy winners. On the other hand, he’s unassuming by nature, hardly the type to harbor grudges against other teams for overlooking him. No running recollection of anyone chosen before him in 2012, no Arya Stark-style hit list seared into his brain. In fact, Djoos clarifies, “I’m bad with names. Sorry.”</p><p>Should he eventually happen across the results from that draft weekend in Pittsburgh, though, two particular entries might catch Djoos’s eye. By now enough late-round choices have reached the NHL—especially overseas prospects like Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg (210th, 1999) and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (205th, 2000)—who slipped through central scouting’s nets—that the success of one more isn’t wholly novel. Still, it is nonetheless striking to see three players, drafted in the same final round in the same year, playing the same position (defenseman) and shooting from the same side (left), beginning to earn their keep in the NHL at the same time.</p><p>There is the red-bearded rookie on the San Jose Sharks, tennis in his blood but hockey in his heart. And the Florida-born, Anaheim-based son of an NFL defensive back, who graduated in three years with a finance degree and figured that he’d seek employment at some Wall Street firm if this whole playing career thing didn’t pan out. And finally there&#39;s Djoos, a baby-faced, second-generation Swedish defenseman who can now claim a hometown idol as a mentor and colleague. “For me,” says Djoos, “it wasn’t like a, ‘I’m going to show them.’ I was just happy to get picked. I appreciate the Caps doing that, taking a chance.”</p><p>The rest can relate.</p><p>As the organist pumps pregame tunes throughout Madison Square Garden on Oct. 23, Catarina Lindqvist-Ryan moseys into the concourse and finds a high-top table to chat. Years ago she was <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/MdNdBEHKRYVEt9?domain=scarletknights.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the 10th-ranked player on the women’s pro tennis circuit" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the 10th-ranked player on the women’s pro tennis circuit</a>, reaching two Grand Slam semifinals in the late ‘80s and twice competing for her native Sweden at the Summer Olympics. Now she works as an assistant coach at Rutgers and operates an indoor facility in East Brunswick, N.J., with her husband, Bill Ryan, a former tennis agent and lifelong Rangers fan. Oh, and they happened to have raised one of San Jose’s most pleasant surprises of this still-young season.</p><p>It had been a busy stretch for the family. When their oldest son, 24-year-old defenseman Joakim Ryan, previously made his Tri-State Area debut against the New Jersey Devils earlier that week, more than 50 friends and relatives packed the stands at Prudential Center. The next night was more manageable, roughly 10–15 ticket requests for the Sharks&#39; eventual loss to the Islanders. And now between 20 and 30 were flocking to midtown Manhattan, where they would see Ryan skate almost 16 minutes during a 4–1 win, in a building where he used to attend games under his dad’s season-ticket plan.</p><p>“It’s been pretty crazy,” Ryan said that morning. “Everything happened so fast.”</p><p>Lindqvist-Ryan remembers draft day well. The family was in Sweden, visiting her mother, after Ryan’s freshman season at Cornell. It was his second and final year of eligibility, and getting passed over once left him “really disappointed.” They tracked the results online, but as the rounds passed--fourth...fifth...sixth…—Lindqvist-Ryan gave up and headed to a friend’s house around the corner. When Ryan swung by later, he delivered an NHL-caliber fakeout. “Yeah,” he said somberly, “didn’t get drafted.”</p><p>“Oh, that’s too bad,” Lindqvist-Ryan replied.</p><p>“I’m just kidding!”</p><p>To hear Ryan retell the story, his eventual selection—seventh round, No. 198, three spots after Djoos—was a surprise. “I’d talked to a couple teams on the phone in interviews and such,” Ryan says. “I knew maybe there was a chance. But I wasn’t expecting to get drafted.” He grew up playing both tennis and hockey, but eventually chose the latter because he preferred the team atmosphere. “Tennis is a pretty lonely, individual sport,” he says, and fortunately fate dumped him into perhaps the most boisterous locker room in the NHL, filled with characters like Joe Thornton and Ryan’s usual defensive partner, Brent Burns.</p><p>Looking around the visiting dressing room at the World’s Most Famous Arena, Ryan motions to other unlikely success stories like him. There’s captain Joe Pavelski and defenseman Justin Braun, both fellow seventh-rounders. Forward Joel Ward and goalie Martin Jones went undrafted. As Ryan was coming up through Cornell, a communications major and an Ivy League first-teamer, this gave him confidence. “I knew the Sharks had no problem playing guys,” he says. “If you’re good enough, you’re going to play.” Indeed, when Paul Martin re-aggravated an ankle injury two games into the season, Ryan was summoned from the minors to make his NHL debut. “And here I am,” he says.</p><p>He still plays tennis every offseason, mostly against his younger brother, Tobias. (“I never lose,” Ryan reports.) He has seen a few short, grainy clips on YouTube of his mother during her playing days, beating opponents with a smooth one-handed backhand, and they used to play often when he was younger. “It definitely translates to hockey,” Ryan says. “A lot of agility, quick movements, good hand-eye coordination. It’s a sport that makes you more athletic.”</p><p>As a pair, Burns and Ryan have been outscored 6-2 <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/O505BLfD43zJid?domain=corsica.hockey" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in 180-plus even-strength minutes together" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in 180-plus even-strength minutes together</a>, but controlled more than 56 percent of total shot attempts. A ticket to the minors seems likely once Martin gets healthy, but Ryan was never one to look too far ahead into the future. That’s how he got here in the first place. As Lindqvist-Ryan has watched her son climb the ladder—from a championship run with Dubuque in the USHL, to four solid years with Cornell, to a 10-goal, 49-point, notice-me ‘16-17 season for San Jose’s affiliate—she noticed parallels in their playing styles. “I think we have the same demeanor,” she says. “We don’t get too excited. We don’t get too down, either. We take everything in stride.”</p><p>Similar to Ryan, Ducks defenseman Jaycob Megna hails from sturdy athletic stock. His mother Jacqueline was a national-caliber swimmer and water polo player in high school. His father spent several seasons in the NFL, dressing for Miami, Washington and New Orleans until hamstring injuries forced him out. “He was always the overachiever,” Megna says. “Undersized, undervalued.”</p><p>Jay Megna wouldn’t let his two sons play football until they were 12, but by then they had already found another love. They grew up in Chicago, sitting on the glass at Blackhawks games in the days when tickets were practically given away for free. “They were pretty lax with their security,” Jaycob, 24, says. “There was nobody there anyways, so it didn’t really matter.” No doubt it struck the family as serendipitous, then, that the Ducks recalled Megna in time to make his NHL debut last April against none other than his hometown team.</p><p>“I don’t remember a lot about it, to be honest,” Megna says. “I look back on it as an amazing day. It was a good benchmark for me. It proved to myself that I can play at this level and I belong up here. Gave me more motivation to keep working, keep pursuing my dream.”</p><p>He too was passed over during his first year of eligibility, and recalls falling off most major scouting lists by 2012. He was at college in Nebraska-Omaha for summer training that Saturday, paying no attention to the happenings in Pittsburgh when the Ducks called his name at No. 210, second-to-last in the entire draft. “I did it the year before, and it was a bummer not getting taken, so I didn’t want to deal with it,” he says, but Megna wasn’t too concerned anyway. His older brother, Jayson, went undrafted but was already receiving significant interest from NHL teams offering free agent contracts. And his defensive partner—Andrej Sustr, currently of the Tampa Bay Lightning—was in a similar spot. “I knew there was still a chance,” Megna says. “I wasn’t at the point where I was thinking about life after hockey quite yet.”</p><p>Worst-case scenario, he would find a job in finance. No need. He graduated in three years, signed an entry-level deal with the Ducks, and reported to their affiliate in Norfolk, Va. When he was playing for the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, his goal was simply to earn a D-1 scholarship. “Then once I finished my freshman year, I figured, I think I can do this, I think I can make the next step,” he says. “Once that finally clicked for me, that became my only focus.”</p><p>Like Djoos, Megna insists that he had enough to worry about beyond who was picked before him. “I don&#39;t know if it was a chip,” he says. “I definitely wanted to prove the teams that didn’t take me wrong, but I also wanted to prove Anaheim right that they made the right decision. It serves as motivation. That’s always in the back of your head. You want to prove to people that you do belong and you can make it, regardless of where they take you. By proving one team right, the rest of them are looking and saying, hey, we could’ve had him and we chose not to.”</p><p>Acclimating himself to NHL life has taken some time. The travel schedule is more hectic, the games more abundant. And he hasn’t enjoyed the luxury of skating with a steady partner like Megna, thus far deployed with five different Anaheim defensemen <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/9XwXBAtEozMdCA?domain=corsica.hockey" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:for at least 15 even-strength minutes apiece" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">for at least 15 even-strength minutes apiece</a>, thanks to injuries currently ransacking the Ducks’ core.</p><p>“It was a bit of an adjustment at first, playing against guys you watch every night on TV,” Megna says. “But then you realize, I’m there too. I’m there for a reason. And you tell yourself that you belong.”</p><p>Hundreds of miles away on June 23, 2012, not long before Ryan marched across the street to prank his mother, Djoos was busy refreshing <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/lN4NB0ckQAX3iJ?domain=nhl.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:NHL.com" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">NHL.com</a> at home in central Sweden. Then his phone rang. “Big day,” he says. “Emotional for the family.”</p><p>Nearby, his father beamed. Pär Djoos—yes, beverage-based puns write themselves—spent bits of three seasons with the Rangers and Red Wings but mostly made his mark as a cerebral, puck-moving defenseman for Brynäs IF. Early into his career there, one of his teammates was Anders Backstrom, who later became general manager of the Swedish Elite League club and often brought his son around the rink. Pär Djoos would do the same.</p><p>Later on, when Nicklas Backstrom was starring for the same team, he once swung by a youth practice and autographed gear for the kids. That always stuck with Christian. “He’s one of the best in the league,” Djoos says of Backstrom. “We’ve been watching him since we were kids. I like watching him play, because he plays a great game. Some parts you can take after him, but some parts he’s almost the only guy that can do it too. He’s such a smart hockey player.”</p><p>That’s what they say about Djoos around Washington too. He could stand to get stronger in the defensive zone and fill out his bony 169-pound frame, which makes him the NHL’s third-lightest defenseman behind Montreal’s Samuel Girard and Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon. But his offensive talent is undeniable too. As a kid, Backstrom loved watching Pär Djoos’ crisp tape-to-tape feeds on the rush. He thinks this trait got passed down onto the next generation. “You just watch in practice, he never misses any passes,” Backstrom says. “And if he does, he gets mad and gets right back at it. Which is how it’s supposed to be. Young kid, coming up, wants to get better, wants to make sure he’s feeding guys the right way. I think that’s great.”</p><p>It is indeed a testament to Djoos’s savvy that he hasn’t yet been smooshed against the glass by an oncoming forechecker. “He processes very quick,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz says. “He’s smart, understands the game very well, has lots of poise with the puck.” Winger Andre Burakovsky, a longtime friend from Swedish national teams, says Djoos has “always been the smartest guy on the ice. He always made the sick passes.” His partner, veteran defenseman John Carlson, praises Djoos’ backhand as “probably better than a lot of guys in the league.”</p><p>Staying up late to watch from home in Sweden, Pär Djoos sees a quiet, swelling confidence in his son; Christian’s two goals equaled the rest of Washington’s blue line through Wednesday, and recently he’s enjoyed an uptick in ice time above 16 minutes over the past two games. “He shows that he can play on a regular basis,” Pär Djoos says. “You’ve got to grow into it.”</p><p>Christian meanwhile envisions a long road ahead. He’s part of a young flock of Capitals thrust into the spotlight after offseason attrition gashed the group of several key veterans, promised even bigger roles in future years. Already he represents a success story, one of the rare seventh-rounders who reached the big time. (Among the 2012 class, only Djoos, Ryan and Megna have logged more than 10 NHL games.) But there is so much room to outgrow that tag, to become something even more. “It’s probably going to take the whole year, and maybe next year too,” Djoos says. “It’s great to be around the guys. It’s fun to see players and rinks and cities you’ve never been to.</p><p>“So far, so good.”</p>
Defensive Trio of 2012 Seventh-Round Picks Finding Rare Success at NHL Level

Alex Ovechkin doesn’t often concern himself over matters of the minor leagues, but special circumstances inspired a break from protocol. On several occasions last season, the Washington Capitals superstar would approach vice president of communications Sergey Kocharov to inquire about a certain defenseman with their AHL affiliate. As organizational memory serves, it was the first time Ovechkin had ever expressed such mounting curiosity in a prospect.

“What’s going on with Djoos?” he wondered, again and again.

“How’s Djoos doing?”

“When’s Djoos coming up?”

Word soon spread onto the Capitals’ farm in Hershey, Pa., reaching the person of interest. “Fun to hear that he asked,” Christian Djoos says. Now it’s an early-November afternoon at the Capitals’ practice facility. The 23-year-old kicks back in his new locker stall, across the street from the hotel where he unpacked at the start of training camp and hasn’t left yet, across the carpet from his personal champion. “Gives you a little boost, a little confidence. Pretty cool.”

Not that he needed extra motivation. Less than one month into his rookie NHL season—no doubt delighting Ovechkin and everyone else rooting for a promotion during a 58-point, 66-game offensive outburst with the Hershey Bears in ‘16-17—Djoos has already defied steep odds as a seventh-round pick, ascending from No. 195 five years ago to a blue-line mainstay for the two-time defending Presidents’ Trophy winners. On the other hand, he’s unassuming by nature, hardly the type to harbor grudges against other teams for overlooking him. No running recollection of anyone chosen before him in 2012, no Arya Stark-style hit list seared into his brain. In fact, Djoos clarifies, “I’m bad with names. Sorry.”

Should he eventually happen across the results from that draft weekend in Pittsburgh, though, two particular entries might catch Djoos’s eye. By now enough late-round choices have reached the NHL—especially overseas prospects like Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg (210th, 1999) and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (205th, 2000)—who slipped through central scouting’s nets—that the success of one more isn’t wholly novel. Still, it is nonetheless striking to see three players, drafted in the same final round in the same year, playing the same position (defenseman) and shooting from the same side (left), beginning to earn their keep in the NHL at the same time.

There is the red-bearded rookie on the San Jose Sharks, tennis in his blood but hockey in his heart. And the Florida-born, Anaheim-based son of an NFL defensive back, who graduated in three years with a finance degree and figured that he’d seek employment at some Wall Street firm if this whole playing career thing didn’t pan out. And finally there's Djoos, a baby-faced, second-generation Swedish defenseman who can now claim a hometown idol as a mentor and colleague. “For me,” says Djoos, “it wasn’t like a, ‘I’m going to show them.’ I was just happy to get picked. I appreciate the Caps doing that, taking a chance.”

The rest can relate.

As the organist pumps pregame tunes throughout Madison Square Garden on Oct. 23, Catarina Lindqvist-Ryan moseys into the concourse and finds a high-top table to chat. Years ago she was the 10th-ranked player on the women’s pro tennis circuit, reaching two Grand Slam semifinals in the late ‘80s and twice competing for her native Sweden at the Summer Olympics. Now she works as an assistant coach at Rutgers and operates an indoor facility in East Brunswick, N.J., with her husband, Bill Ryan, a former tennis agent and lifelong Rangers fan. Oh, and they happened to have raised one of San Jose’s most pleasant surprises of this still-young season.

It had been a busy stretch for the family. When their oldest son, 24-year-old defenseman Joakim Ryan, previously made his Tri-State Area debut against the New Jersey Devils earlier that week, more than 50 friends and relatives packed the stands at Prudential Center. The next night was more manageable, roughly 10–15 ticket requests for the Sharks' eventual loss to the Islanders. And now between 20 and 30 were flocking to midtown Manhattan, where they would see Ryan skate almost 16 minutes during a 4–1 win, in a building where he used to attend games under his dad’s season-ticket plan.

“It’s been pretty crazy,” Ryan said that morning. “Everything happened so fast.”

Lindqvist-Ryan remembers draft day well. The family was in Sweden, visiting her mother, after Ryan’s freshman season at Cornell. It was his second and final year of eligibility, and getting passed over once left him “really disappointed.” They tracked the results online, but as the rounds passed--fourth...fifth...sixth…—Lindqvist-Ryan gave up and headed to a friend’s house around the corner. When Ryan swung by later, he delivered an NHL-caliber fakeout. “Yeah,” he said somberly, “didn’t get drafted.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Lindqvist-Ryan replied.

“I’m just kidding!”

To hear Ryan retell the story, his eventual selection—seventh round, No. 198, three spots after Djoos—was a surprise. “I’d talked to a couple teams on the phone in interviews and such,” Ryan says. “I knew maybe there was a chance. But I wasn’t expecting to get drafted.” He grew up playing both tennis and hockey, but eventually chose the latter because he preferred the team atmosphere. “Tennis is a pretty lonely, individual sport,” he says, and fortunately fate dumped him into perhaps the most boisterous locker room in the NHL, filled with characters like Joe Thornton and Ryan’s usual defensive partner, Brent Burns.

Looking around the visiting dressing room at the World’s Most Famous Arena, Ryan motions to other unlikely success stories like him. There’s captain Joe Pavelski and defenseman Justin Braun, both fellow seventh-rounders. Forward Joel Ward and goalie Martin Jones went undrafted. As Ryan was coming up through Cornell, a communications major and an Ivy League first-teamer, this gave him confidence. “I knew the Sharks had no problem playing guys,” he says. “If you’re good enough, you’re going to play.” Indeed, when Paul Martin re-aggravated an ankle injury two games into the season, Ryan was summoned from the minors to make his NHL debut. “And here I am,” he says.

He still plays tennis every offseason, mostly against his younger brother, Tobias. (“I never lose,” Ryan reports.) He has seen a few short, grainy clips on YouTube of his mother during her playing days, beating opponents with a smooth one-handed backhand, and they used to play often when he was younger. “It definitely translates to hockey,” Ryan says. “A lot of agility, quick movements, good hand-eye coordination. It’s a sport that makes you more athletic.”

As a pair, Burns and Ryan have been outscored 6-2 in 180-plus even-strength minutes together, but controlled more than 56 percent of total shot attempts. A ticket to the minors seems likely once Martin gets healthy, but Ryan was never one to look too far ahead into the future. That’s how he got here in the first place. As Lindqvist-Ryan has watched her son climb the ladder—from a championship run with Dubuque in the USHL, to four solid years with Cornell, to a 10-goal, 49-point, notice-me ‘16-17 season for San Jose’s affiliate—she noticed parallels in their playing styles. “I think we have the same demeanor,” she says. “We don’t get too excited. We don’t get too down, either. We take everything in stride.”

Similar to Ryan, Ducks defenseman Jaycob Megna hails from sturdy athletic stock. His mother Jacqueline was a national-caliber swimmer and water polo player in high school. His father spent several seasons in the NFL, dressing for Miami, Washington and New Orleans until hamstring injuries forced him out. “He was always the overachiever,” Megna says. “Undersized, undervalued.”

Jay Megna wouldn’t let his two sons play football until they were 12, but by then they had already found another love. They grew up in Chicago, sitting on the glass at Blackhawks games in the days when tickets were practically given away for free. “They were pretty lax with their security,” Jaycob, 24, says. “There was nobody there anyways, so it didn’t really matter.” No doubt it struck the family as serendipitous, then, that the Ducks recalled Megna in time to make his NHL debut last April against none other than his hometown team.

“I don’t remember a lot about it, to be honest,” Megna says. “I look back on it as an amazing day. It was a good benchmark for me. It proved to myself that I can play at this level and I belong up here. Gave me more motivation to keep working, keep pursuing my dream.”

He too was passed over during his first year of eligibility, and recalls falling off most major scouting lists by 2012. He was at college in Nebraska-Omaha for summer training that Saturday, paying no attention to the happenings in Pittsburgh when the Ducks called his name at No. 210, second-to-last in the entire draft. “I did it the year before, and it was a bummer not getting taken, so I didn’t want to deal with it,” he says, but Megna wasn’t too concerned anyway. His older brother, Jayson, went undrafted but was already receiving significant interest from NHL teams offering free agent contracts. And his defensive partner—Andrej Sustr, currently of the Tampa Bay Lightning—was in a similar spot. “I knew there was still a chance,” Megna says. “I wasn’t at the point where I was thinking about life after hockey quite yet.”

Worst-case scenario, he would find a job in finance. No need. He graduated in three years, signed an entry-level deal with the Ducks, and reported to their affiliate in Norfolk, Va. When he was playing for the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, his goal was simply to earn a D-1 scholarship. “Then once I finished my freshman year, I figured, I think I can do this, I think I can make the next step,” he says. “Once that finally clicked for me, that became my only focus.”

Like Djoos, Megna insists that he had enough to worry about beyond who was picked before him. “I don't know if it was a chip,” he says. “I definitely wanted to prove the teams that didn’t take me wrong, but I also wanted to prove Anaheim right that they made the right decision. It serves as motivation. That’s always in the back of your head. You want to prove to people that you do belong and you can make it, regardless of where they take you. By proving one team right, the rest of them are looking and saying, hey, we could’ve had him and we chose not to.”

Acclimating himself to NHL life has taken some time. The travel schedule is more hectic, the games more abundant. And he hasn’t enjoyed the luxury of skating with a steady partner like Megna, thus far deployed with five different Anaheim defensemen for at least 15 even-strength minutes apiece, thanks to injuries currently ransacking the Ducks’ core.

“It was a bit of an adjustment at first, playing against guys you watch every night on TV,” Megna says. “But then you realize, I’m there too. I’m there for a reason. And you tell yourself that you belong.”

Hundreds of miles away on June 23, 2012, not long before Ryan marched across the street to prank his mother, Djoos was busy refreshing NHL.com at home in central Sweden. Then his phone rang. “Big day,” he says. “Emotional for the family.”

Nearby, his father beamed. Pär Djoos—yes, beverage-based puns write themselves—spent bits of three seasons with the Rangers and Red Wings but mostly made his mark as a cerebral, puck-moving defenseman for Brynäs IF. Early into his career there, one of his teammates was Anders Backstrom, who later became general manager of the Swedish Elite League club and often brought his son around the rink. Pär Djoos would do the same.

Later on, when Nicklas Backstrom was starring for the same team, he once swung by a youth practice and autographed gear for the kids. That always stuck with Christian. “He’s one of the best in the league,” Djoos says of Backstrom. “We’ve been watching him since we were kids. I like watching him play, because he plays a great game. Some parts you can take after him, but some parts he’s almost the only guy that can do it too. He’s such a smart hockey player.”

That’s what they say about Djoos around Washington too. He could stand to get stronger in the defensive zone and fill out his bony 169-pound frame, which makes him the NHL’s third-lightest defenseman behind Montreal’s Samuel Girard and Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon. But his offensive talent is undeniable too. As a kid, Backstrom loved watching Pär Djoos’ crisp tape-to-tape feeds on the rush. He thinks this trait got passed down onto the next generation. “You just watch in practice, he never misses any passes,” Backstrom says. “And if he does, he gets mad and gets right back at it. Which is how it’s supposed to be. Young kid, coming up, wants to get better, wants to make sure he’s feeding guys the right way. I think that’s great.”

It is indeed a testament to Djoos’s savvy that he hasn’t yet been smooshed against the glass by an oncoming forechecker. “He processes very quick,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz says. “He’s smart, understands the game very well, has lots of poise with the puck.” Winger Andre Burakovsky, a longtime friend from Swedish national teams, says Djoos has “always been the smartest guy on the ice. He always made the sick passes.” His partner, veteran defenseman John Carlson, praises Djoos’ backhand as “probably better than a lot of guys in the league.”

Staying up late to watch from home in Sweden, Pär Djoos sees a quiet, swelling confidence in his son; Christian’s two goals equaled the rest of Washington’s blue line through Wednesday, and recently he’s enjoyed an uptick in ice time above 16 minutes over the past two games. “He shows that he can play on a regular basis,” Pär Djoos says. “You’ve got to grow into it.”

Christian meanwhile envisions a long road ahead. He’s part of a young flock of Capitals thrust into the spotlight after offseason attrition gashed the group of several key veterans, promised even bigger roles in future years. Already he represents a success story, one of the rare seventh-rounders who reached the big time. (Among the 2012 class, only Djoos, Ryan and Megna have logged more than 10 NHL games.) But there is so much room to outgrow that tag, to become something even more. “It’s probably going to take the whole year, and maybe next year too,” Djoos says. “It’s great to be around the guys. It’s fun to see players and rinks and cities you’ve never been to.

“So far, so good.”

<p>Former Yankees great Jorge Posada and his wife, Laura, are spearheading a fundraising campaign to aid hurricane relief in Puerto Rico. </p><p><a href="https://www.youcaring.com/familiesandkidsdevastatedbyhurricanemaria-956568" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The fundraising page on YouCaring" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The fundraising page on YouCaring</a> has raised over $68,000 of its $100,000 goal from 408 donors in less than 24 hours. </p><p>Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and his wife, Wanda, <a href="https://www.gofundme.com/pray4prteammolina4pr" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:have launched a similar campaign" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">have launched a similar campaign</a> on GoFundMe, as have <a href="https://www.gofundme.com/pushups4pr" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:U.S. water polo Olympian Maggie Steffens" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">U.S. water polo Olympian Maggie Steffens</a> and <a href="https://www.gofundme.com/dontforgetpuertorico" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:ESPN reporter Marly Rivera" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">ESPN reporter Marly Rivera</a>. The Molinas’ campaign has raised over $50,000, thanks in large part to $10,000 contribution from Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong. </p><p>Puerto Rico was struck Wednesday by Hurricane Maria, the second powerful storm to hit the island in as many weeks. The storm tracked across much of the island, knocking the entire power grid offline. The whole island is without power and could be for months, <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/20/americas/hurricane-maria-caribbean-islands/index.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN</a>. The storm also caused extensive flooding. </p><p>The island escaped major damage from Hurricane Irma earlier this month when the storm stayed further offshore than anticipated. Still, that storm knocked out power to <a href="http://www.npr.org/2017/09/07/549098183/hurricane-irmas-impact-on-puerto-rico" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:70 percent of the island" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">70 percent of the island</a> and left nearly 40 percent of Puerto Ricans without running water. </p><p>The Posadas have a history of charitable efforts, launching the Jorge Posada Foundation during his playing career. </p>
Jorge Posada and Wife Laura Launch Fundraising Campaign for Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief

Former Yankees great Jorge Posada and his wife, Laura, are spearheading a fundraising campaign to aid hurricane relief in Puerto Rico.

The fundraising page on YouCaring has raised over $68,000 of its $100,000 goal from 408 donors in less than 24 hours.

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and his wife, Wanda, have launched a similar campaign on GoFundMe, as have U.S. water polo Olympian Maggie Steffens and ESPN reporter Marly Rivera. The Molinas’ campaign has raised over $50,000, thanks in large part to $10,000 contribution from Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong.

Puerto Rico was struck Wednesday by Hurricane Maria, the second powerful storm to hit the island in as many weeks. The storm tracked across much of the island, knocking the entire power grid offline. The whole island is without power and could be for months, governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN. The storm also caused extensive flooding.

The island escaped major damage from Hurricane Irma earlier this month when the storm stayed further offshore than anticipated. Still, that storm knocked out power to 70 percent of the island and left nearly 40 percent of Puerto Ricans without running water.

The Posadas have a history of charitable efforts, launching the Jorge Posada Foundation during his playing career.

<p>Long Beach Rendering – BMX and Water Polo. (Photo courtesy of LA2028) </p>
Los Angeles Olympics

Long Beach Rendering – BMX and Water Polo. (Photo courtesy of LA2028)

&#39;Football is turning into water polo&#39; - Buffon slams VAR
'Football is turning into water polo' - Buffon slams VAR
'Football is turning into water polo' - Buffon slams VAR
&#39;Football is turning into water polo&#39; - Buffon slams VAR
'Football is turning into water polo' - Buffon slams VAR
'Football is turning into water polo' - Buffon slams VAR
&#39;Football is turning into water polo&#39; - Buffon slams VAR
'Football is turning into water polo' - Buffon slams VAR
'Football is turning into water polo' - Buffon slams VAR
The Italy international has seen numerous developments in football over his long career but VAR is not one that pleases him
'Football is turning into water polo' - Buffon slams VAR
The Italy international has seen numerous developments in football over his long career but VAR is not one that pleases him
&#39;Football is turning into water polo&#39; - Buffon slams VAR
'Football is turning into water polo' - Buffon slams VAR
'Football is turning into water polo' - Buffon slams VAR
It&#39;s not football; it&#39;s water polo - Juventus great Buffon slams VAR
It's not football; it's water polo - Juventus great Buffon slams VAR
It's not football; it's water polo - Juventus great Buffon slams VAR
It&#39;s not football; it&#39;s water polo - Juventus great Buffon slams VAR
It's not football; it's water polo - Juventus great Buffon slams VAR
It's not football; it's water polo - Juventus great Buffon slams VAR
Gianluigi Buffon has seen numerous developments in football over his long career but VAR is not one that pleases the Juventus goalkeeper.
It's not football; it's water polo - Juventus great Buffon slams VAR
Gianluigi Buffon has seen numerous developments in football over his long career but VAR is not one that pleases the Juventus goalkeeper.
<p>Singapore beat Malaysia 17-4 to win the Republic’s 27th SEA Games gold medal in men’s water polo. The win streak is the country’s longest in the sport. Photo: Fadza Ishak/Yahoo News Singapore </p>
SEA Games 2017: Water polo gold medal match

Singapore beat Malaysia 17-4 to win the Republic’s 27th SEA Games gold medal in men’s water polo. The win streak is the country’s longest in the sport. Photo: Fadza Ishak/Yahoo News Singapore

<p>Singapore beat Malaysia 17-4 to win the Republic’s 27th SEA Games gold medal in men’s water polo. The win streak is the country’s longest in the sport. Photo: Fadza Ishak/Yahoo News Singapore </p>
SEA Games 2017: Water polo gold medal match

Singapore beat Malaysia 17-4 to win the Republic’s 27th SEA Games gold medal in men’s water polo. The win streak is the country’s longest in the sport. Photo: Fadza Ishak/Yahoo News Singapore

<p>Singapore beat Malaysia 17-4 to win the Republic’s 27th SEA Games gold medal in men’s water polo. The win streak is the country’s longest in the sport. Photo: Fadza Ishak/Yahoo News Singapore </p>
SEA Games 2017: Water polo gold medal match

Singapore beat Malaysia 17-4 to win the Republic’s 27th SEA Games gold medal in men’s water polo. The win streak is the country’s longest in the sport. Photo: Fadza Ishak/Yahoo News Singapore

<p>Singapore beat Malaysia 17-4 to win the Republic’s 27th SEA Games gold medal in men’s water polo. The win streak is the country’s longest in the sport. Photo: Fadza Ishak/Yahoo News Singapore </p>
SEA Games 2017: Water polo gold medal match

Singapore beat Malaysia 17-4 to win the Republic’s 27th SEA Games gold medal in men’s water polo. The win streak is the country’s longest in the sport. Photo: Fadza Ishak/Yahoo News Singapore

<p>Singapore beat Malaysia 17-4 to win the Republic’s 27th SEA Games gold medal in men’s water polo. The win streak is the country’s longest in the sport. Photo: Fadza Ishak/Yahoo News Singapore </p>
SEA Games 2017: Water polo gold medal match

Singapore beat Malaysia 17-4 to win the Republic’s 27th SEA Games gold medal in men’s water polo. The win streak is the country’s longest in the sport. Photo: Fadza Ishak/Yahoo News Singapore

<p>Singapore beat Malaysia 17-4 to win the Republic’s 27th SEA Games gold medal in men’s water polo. The win streak is the country’s longest in the sport. Photo: Fadza Ishak/Yahoo News Singapore </p>
SEA Games 2017: Water polo gold medal match

Singapore beat Malaysia 17-4 to win the Republic’s 27th SEA Games gold medal in men’s water polo. The win streak is the country’s longest in the sport. Photo: Fadza Ishak/Yahoo News Singapore

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