EDITOR’S NOTE: This story contains strong language and mature subject matter.
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue . Subscribe today!
JANE REMEMBERS THE?linoleum floor in the bathroom of Larry Nassar’s apartment. She remembers feeling strange as he walked in and handed her gymnastics magazines to read as she lay fully naked in his bathtub. She was 12 or 13; she can’t recall exactly.
Nassar, no older than 30 and putting the finishing touches on his medical degree, had called Jane’s mother days before, explaining he was doing research about gymnasts’ flexibility and wanted her daughter’s help. On the day Jane was to participate, her mother was out of town, so a neighbor dropped her off, alone, at Nassar’s one-bedroom apartment a few blocks from the Michigan State University campus. Once inside, Nassar had Jane do splits on his living room floor while she wore a gymnastics leotard.
“He measured the flexibility, how far your crotch came off the floor when you did the splits,” Jane, now 38, recalls.
After Nassar said she should take a hot bath as part of the study’s metrics, Jane got dressed in her leotard and did splits a second time. Then, she says, Nassar gave her what he called “her reward.” On a training table crammed between the living room and kitchenette, he gave her a full-body massage. Once again, she was naked. The encounter didn’t strike her as threatening; to the contrary, she recalls, she “felt special.” Other girls from Great Lakes Gymnastics Club had been invited to Nassar’s apartment, perhaps five to seven, she says, and to be asked was to become part of the chosen few.
“Looking back now, I think that what Larry was trying to figure out was: Can I really get away with sexually abusing little girls?” says Jane, who had met Nassar at the gymnastics club in nearby Lansing, where she’d been training since age 5. The former gymnast, who spoke to Outside the Lines on the condition of anonymity to protect her family’s privacy, agreed to be identified using only a pseudonym. She is one of the more than 150 women suing Nassar, his former employer Michigan State University, and other entities claiming she was sexually assaulted under the guise of medical treatment.
Starting Tuesday, many of those women will share their stories in a Michigan courtroom. Nassar, now 54, pleaded guilty in November to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with victims as young as 6 years old. The presiding judge will allow dozens of women or their advocates to issue victim-impact statements before she will decide his prison sentence. That sentence could be added to the 60 years in prison he received last month after pleading guilty to federal child pornography charges.
Understanding how Nassar gained unfettered access to young girls and young women over the course of a quarter-century — despite repeated warning signs — means confronting an uncomfortable truth: He didn’t gain that access alone. Nassar was surrounded by a collection of adults who enabled his predatory behavior — a group that included coaches of club, collegiate and elite-level gymnasts, the USA Gymnastics organization, medical professionals, administrators and coaches at Michigan State University, and gymnasts’ parents, whom he groomed just as effectively as those he violated. Now that so much of the Nassar tragedy has been exposed, a lingering question remains: Were each of those enablers complicit or simply conned by a man described as a master manipulator?
JOHN GEDDERT, ONE of the nation’s preeminent gymnastics coaches, was everything Larry Nassar was not.
“John was in his 30s, an extremely good-looking, fit guy, super charismatic. When John was in a good mood or playful or approved of you it was like a drug, you wanted more of it,” Jane says about her training with him as a girl.
Nassar, by comparison, was socially awkward, even “nerdy,” she says. But still, “like a Labrador puppy, the sweetest guy. Safe.”
The two men were all but inseparable, professionally and socially. They worked together for more than 25 years, first at Great Lakes Gymnastics and, starting in 1996, at the gym Geddert owns now, Twistars USA Gymnastics Club near East Lansing. They worked the 2012 Olympics together. Geddert was in Nassar’s wedding party when Nassar got married in East Lansing in 1996. They attended each other’s house parties and traveled the country and, later, the world together at competitions. They vouched for each other when faced with career-threatening circumstances.
The two men were joined at Great Lakes Gymnastics by a mutual friend, Kathie Klages, who worked at the club for five years before leaving to become head coach of the women’s gymnastics team at Michigan State University. Together, Klages and Geddert coached some of the area’s best gymnasts, many of whom later competed in Spartan green. Nassar was there to treat them when their bodies broke down.
Geddert’s coaching style was largely based on fear and intimidation, according to Jane and dozens of others who spoke with Outside the Lines over the past year, a group that includes current and former gymnasts, parents of gymnasts, coaches who have worked alongside Geddert, and other gym employees. Many of those contacted said they were reluctant to speak publicly about Geddert because they either have children involved in gymnastics in the Lansing area or careers in the sport and they are mindful of the power he wields.
Geddert joined Great Lakes as head coach in 1984 and helped build the gym into a national powerhouse. In the workout area, he frequently could be overheard screaming at his gymnasts, reducing many to tears. He threw things. He routinely denied gymnasts water until they performed exercises to his satisfaction, former gymnasts say.
“John’s very good at emotional manipulation. He can make you feel like nothing very quickly,” says a former office manager of Geddert’s at Twistars, Priscilla Kintigh, who was coached by Geddert at Great Lakes in the mid-1980s and whose son trained at Twistars. “Larry was the one to calm the girls down when they had a practice with John. If I had a daughter, there’s no way I would have taken her to Great Lakes or Twistars.”
The sport demands a remarkable amount of time and commitment from those competing at its highest levels: four-and-a-half hour practices Monday through Friday; five-hour practices on Saturday. Injuries are commonplace. Parents were allowed to observe practices from the galleries at Great Lakes and later Twistars but, given the long hours, most preferred to drop their children off, entrusting them to Geddert and his fellow coaches.
In the hyper-competitive environment in which the fiery head coach lorded over the gym, Nassar’s training room at Great Lakes offered an escape, former gymnasts told Outside the Lines. It was tucked behind the vault and balance beam, through a heavy metal door with a single small window that Nassar often covered with a sheet while treating gymnasts. A parent would have had to walk across the entire workout floor to get to the training room, and few ever did.
Jane, the former gymnast, remembers being alone with Nassar on multiple occasions, laying on his training-room table as he penetrated her rectum with his bare fingers, ostensibly to treat her injured back. She can’t recall the precise dates of those sessions but said they occurred around the same time she visited his apartment, in 1992-93, when she was 12 or 13 years old. She never told her parents or anyone else at the time about what happened with Nassar, who wasn’t yet a physician. He never sought parental consent.
“It wasn’t even a thought of anything’s wrong,” she says now. Nassar, after all, was “the good cop” to Geddert’s bad cop, the smiling trainer who helped gymnasts decompress from the pressure-cooker environment Geddert created outside of the training room door.
“John and Larry were like this perfect storm,” Kintigh said. “You become so unapproachable that your own gymnasts don’t feel comfortable telling you what’s going on. There’s no way any of the girls would have felt comfortable saying anything to John [about Larry]. Kids were terrified of him.”
Nassar started working with Geddert at Great Lakes the same year he started medical school at Michigan State. By then, Nassar was an accomplished athletic trainer who had volunteered at the 1987 Pan American Games and 1988 Olympic gymnastics trials, treating members of the U.S. women’s national team. Nassar volunteered at Great Lakes about 20 hours a week, a demanding schedule for a medical student. He once failed a biochemistry exam after he’d worked a weekend gymnastics competition. “After 2 semesters in medical school, I was kicked out,” Nassar wrote in a September 2015 Facebook post about that time in his life.
With his future in doubt, it was Geddert who came to Nassar’s aid, writing a letter to the dean of Michigan State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, saying he wouldn’t allow Nassar back in his gym until he completed medical school. Nassar was ultimately readmitted at MSU and told he could complete his degree in five years rather than four.
His absence from Great Lakes lasted a month.
In the years that followed, Nassar and Geddert rose to greater prominence within the gymnastics world. In 1996, Nassar became national medical coordinator for the sport’s governing body, USA Gymnastics, a position that made him part of an iconic Olympic moment that same year: He helped Team USA gymnast Kerri Strug to the bench in Atlanta after she was injured on the vault. He frequently impressed young gymnasts in and around Lansing with ribbons and posters he’d bring to them as gifts from his travels to international competitions.
Geddert would go on to become the most decorated women’s gymnastics coach in state history, coaching more than 50 U.S. national team members, including his most accomplished athlete, Jordyn Wieber, a member of the famous “Fierce Five,” the gold-medal-winning team from the 2012 London Olympics. Wieber did not respond to ESPN’s requests for comment.
Geddert served as head coach of the women’s team at the London Games. In recent months, three members of that team, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas, have alleged that they, too, were sexually assaulted by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment. Maroney says Nassar abused her when he was alone with her in Texas and in Tokyo.
In the months before and after the London Olympics, Geddert’s temper threatened his career. He was accused of assault and battery in two separate incidents at Twistars, according to police reports obtained by Outside the Lines.
In the first incident, reported in November 2011, the parent of a Twistars gymnast, who also worked at the club as a coach, told state police that during a heated argument after an evening practice, Geddert followed her into the parking lot and physically assaulted her by stepping on her foot and chest bumping her to prevent her from leaving. In the second incident, a year later, a gymnast told police Geddert “stepped on her toe, grabbed her arm and pushed her into the wall” to discipline her, according to a police report. Geddert, who told police the 11-year-old “got her ass chewed,” denied the allegations of assault and did not face charges in either case.
Shortly after the second alleged incident, the girl’s grandmother received a series of text messages from an unexpected source — Larry Nassar. He pleaded with her not to file charges against Geddert.
“Just ask to drop it, if you are not 100% sure you want to close John’s gym and have him banned from USAG for the rest of his life,” Nassar texted the girl’s grandmother. “If you are able to tell the PA [prosecuting attorney] that you want to drop the case it would go a long way for sure. Remember this is not just about John but also effects [sic] every family at the gym.”
Nassar went on to say in the texts, which were reviewed by Outside the Lines: “John just sent a policy out that from now on all staff members are not to be allowed to be with a gymnast alone and not allowed to be in any room without the door being open.”
Whether such a policy ever existed at Twistars is unclear, but, if it did, it didn’t apply to Nassar. Just as he had years earlier at Great Lakes Gymnastics, Nassar saw hundreds of girls on his training table in a back room at Twistars, alone. Parents would sign up their children to see Nassar on Monday evenings and often wait more than two hours for a chance to be treated by him. Dozens of former Twistars gymnasts now say Nassar sexually abused them during those medical exams.
In the spring and summer of 2014, USA Gymnastics paid Don Brooks, a Lansing private detective, to investigate the history of complaints against Geddert. Among others, Brooks interviewed the former Twistars gymnast who alleged Geddert assaulted her in the locker room, the girl’s grandmother said. When reached by phone, Brooks declined to comment about his findings, which he turned over to USA Gymnastics in September 2014. It’s unclear what happened to the investigation; USA Gymnastics declined to comment.
Nassar was well aware of the way Geddert worked with gymnasts. What’s not clear, even today, is how much Geddert knew about Nassar’s serial sexual abuse. On at least one occasion, Geddert walked into the back room of Twistars while Nassar was digitally penetrating a young gymnast, according to the woman’s court testimony: “All I remember is him [Nassar] doing the treatment on me with his fingers in my vagina, massaging my back with a towel over my butt, and John walking in and making a joke that I guess my back really did hurt.”
Jane, the gymnast who took the bath at Nassar’s apartment and trained at Great Lakes, says the dynamic in Geddert’s gym had led her to conclude that “part of what enabled this is John broke little girls’ spirits and bodies, and Larry was there to fix them.”
Geddert declined to comment. His attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
SEVERAL OF THE current and former gymnasts who have accused Nassar of abuse have spoken about how they initially felt privileged to see him, given his status as the doctor for Team USA. But Nassar was arguably one of the most accessible doctors in and around East Lansing, too. He saw patients at the sports medicine clinic on the Michigan State University campus, where he worked full time, as a volunteer at Great Lakes Gymnastics and later Twistars, and at Holt High School, not far from his home. He saw girls after hours, at his home, to accommodate parents’ schedules. He followed many of the girls he saw as patients on social media, often commenting on their posts.
In the fall of 1997, Nassar treated young gymnasts in the basement of Michigan State’s Jenison Fieldhouse. That’s where he met Larissa Boyce.
Back then, Boyce was a 16-year-old gymnast training with Spartan Youth Gymnastics, a program for promising East Lansing-area gymnasts run by Michigan State’s head gymnastics coach, Kathie Klages, Nassar’s former colleague from Great Lakes Gymnastics. Nassar also treated MSU gymnasts and other athletes.
Boyce told Outside the Lines that Nassar penetrated her dozens of times, explaining the first time he did the procedure that he needed to massage her pelvic muscles in order to treat her injured back. During one such visit, he removed his belt, dimmed the lights and appeared to become sexually aroused, Boyce says.
A second Spartan Youth gymnast, 14 at the time, says she also had been digitally penetrated by Nassar over the course of several appointments. She and Boyce say that in late 1997, they told Klages what was happening during their sessions with Nassar.
“I said that he was putting his fingers inside of me … and that it was uncomfortable, and at that point she just said she couldn’t believe that was happening … that was somebody she trusted and knew for years,” Boyce says when asked about her meeting with Klages.
Says the second former gymnast: “I thought I was gonna have someone to help me. And it wasn’t that sense at all of getting help. It was more a sense of, ‘Who have you told so far?’ and, ‘Let’s not talk about this anymore.'” She spoke only on the condition of anonymity, to protect her family’s privacy.
Boyce and the second former gymnast say Klages never informed their parents about what they had told her. Klages and her attorney declined to comment for this story.
“I was silenced. I just wasn’t going to say anything else,” Boyce says.
“They just kept it quiet, and that is what’s so hard — knowing that if adults were to make the right decision and do the right thing at the right time, that the abuse could have stopped,” the second gymnast says.
Under Michigan law, certain individuals are required to alert law enforcement authorities of suspected abuse. School and university administrators and teachers are among those required to report. Coaches are not named as mandatory reporters in the law, but some attorneys who represent gymnasts believe they fall into the “teacher” category and are obligated to alert authorities.
Boyce and the second former gymnast are two of four athletes Outside the Lines has interviewed who say they told Michigan State coaches or trainers in the late 1990s about Nassar’s invasive methods.
Tiffany Thomas Lopez, a softball player on full scholarship, says she complained about Nassar to three athletic trainers in 1998, a year after Boyce and the second gymnast met with Klages to reveal their alleged abuse.
“I felt like they thought I was a liar,” Thomas Lopez says. She eventually met with Destiny Teachnor-Hauk, an athletic training supervisor. “She brushed me off, and made it seem like I was crazy. She made me feel like I was crazy.”
Teachnor-Hauk, who remains employed by Michigan State, declined comment. An MSU spokesman said he could not comment due to pending litigation.
A fourth MSU athlete, Christie Achenbach, says she told a Michigan State coach in 1999 details of what happened to her during an appointment with Nassar that year — a year after Thomas Lopez had complained to trainers about Nassar. Achenbach told Outside the Lines her coach assured her Nassar was a respected physician.
It is unclear whether the athletic trainers and coaches at Michigan State were guided by indifference or blind loyalty to Nassar. Even when multiple women came forward in late 2016, alleging abuse by Nassar during medical exams, Klages continued to defend her former colleague. Lindsey Lemke, a senior on the Spartans’ gymnastics team, says Klages circulated a card during a team meeting in late September, shortly after Nassar was fired by the university, asking gymnasts to sign it as a show of support for him.
Lemke alleges in a lawsuit against Nassar and Michigan State that she was sexually assaulted hundreds of times, digitally penetrated by Nassar when she was as young as 12. Her mother, Christy Lemke-Akeo, remembers a conversation she had with Klages the day before she and her daughter reported the abuse to police.
“I spoke to her [Klages] about what Lindsey had said and she goes, ‘You know, Christy, this is a legal medical procedure,'” Lemke-Akeo says.
Doctors interviewed by Outside the Lines say intravaginal and intrarectal treatments have been used for decades to treat medical problems such as pelvic floor dysfunction, which can occur when muscles on the pelvic floor become weak or tight. The treatments can also be used for interstitial cystitis, a painful bladder syndrome. But those same doctors say the procedures are never performed without gloves, a chaperone in the room and, in the case of a minor, parental consent.
Lemke-Akeo says she explained to Klages that Nassar never sought parental consent, that he touched her daughter without gloves and without someone else in the room. She says she told Klages that “in my mind, that makes it illegal.” But Klages, she says, was steadfast in her support of Nassar.
In February of last year, as the allegations of sexual abuse mounted, Michigan State suspended Klages for her outspoken support of Nassar. A day after being suspended, Klages resigned.
Shortly after, Klages ended up back with Geddert at his gym, Twistars. She left in August after local media reported her presence there.
ON A MONDAY morning last March, a pair of detectives — one from the FBI the other from the university’s police department — climbed the short flight of steps outside East Fee Hall, home of Michigan State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. They were there to speak with Dr. William Strampel, the college’s dean. Three weeks after Nassar had been charged with 22 felony counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, the detectives were investigating whether anyone else might have broken the law by failing to stop or report Nassar’s abuses sooner.
Strampel explained that his role as dean put him at the top of Nassar’s reporting chain. He told the two detectives that other than signing off on Nassar’s travel requests to attend Olympic Games and other international gymnastics competitions, he and the doctor had no interaction with each other during Strampel’s first 15 years in East Lansing.
That changed on a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 2014. Strampel was at home when he received a call telling him that a student had accused Nassar of assaulting her, massaging her breasts and vaginal area when she visited him for a hip injury. The day of her one and only appointment with Nassar, the woman told a receptionist and another doctor at the sports medicine clinic she “felt violated.” Strampel told the detectives he suspended Nassar from seeing patients indefinitely the following afternoon and let law enforcement and the school’s Title IX office take over from there.
The university’s police department opened a criminal investigation. The university’s Title IX department interviewed four experts to evaluate the complaint, all of whom had ties to Nassar.
Among the four was Dr. Brooke Lemmen, a fellow physician who was viewed by colleagues as a close friend and “prot?g?” of Nassar’s. She told the Title IX investigators in the spring of 2014 there was nothing sexual about the treatment Nassar administered. The other three experts agreed with her opinion and decided that the complainant didn’t understand the “nuanced difference” between the medical procedure and assault.
Lemmen resigned under pressure last January. She faced allegations that she had failed to tell her bosses that Nassar had told her — in 2015 — he was being investigated by USA Gymnastics for suspected abuse, according to her personnel file first obtained by the Lansing State Journal. She also was accused of removing some of Nassar’s patient files from the sports clinic after he was fired by MSU in 2016. In a letter sent by Strampel to Lemmen before she resigned, Strampel told her that had the school known about the 2015 USAG allegations, it could have taken steps to review Nassar’s conduct earlier.
Yet Strampel told the detectives he interpreted the 2014 Title IX ruling then to mean Nassar was “exonerated” and “cleared of all charges.” Nassar returned to the clinic with the police investigation still active. Strampel sent Nassar an email on July 30, 2014, that said he was “happy that this has resolved to some extend [sic]” and recapped basic guidelines for what Nassar had to do while treating patients in sensitive areas in the future.
Nassar saw patients for another 16 months while he remained under criminal investigation. The county prosecutor decided in December 2015 that there was not enough evidence to charge him with a crime. Instead, the prosecutor instructed a police officer to tell Nassar that he should have a witness present whenever he performed an intravaginal treatment and to explain it fully before doing it.
Nassar told the officer that he had been doing those things since he started seeing patients again the previous summer. He told Strampel upon returning to work that the impact of the Title IX investigation “will forever affect me.”
At least a dozen young women and girls have reported to police that Nassar assaulted them after he was allowed to return to work. Former Olympian Aly Raisman and former U.S. national team member Maggie Nichols, who have reported being sexually assaulted by Nassar to the FBI, say their abuse continued after July 2014. Several of the women who saw Nassar during that period said he didn’t have a chaperone in the examination room on Michigan State’s campus and that he touched them without wearing gloves, clear violations of the protocols he agreed to follow after the Title IX investigation.
The day after the detectives’ visit with Strampel last March, they met with Dr. Douglas Dietzel, Nassar’s immediate supervisor. Dietzel told them that, in 2016, when a new wave of allegations arrived — ones that would eventually open the floodgates of complaints and land Nassar in prison — Strampel visited the clinic and said Nassar would be suspended again. Strampel said the suspension was due in part because Nassar did not follow the guidelines they agreed upon after his 2014 investigation. This surprised Dietzel. He told the police that, up until that conversation in 2016, he had no idea that Nassar had any extra guidelines he needed to follow.
“How do we enforce those things when we didn’t even know about them?” Dietzel asked the detectives.
Strampel, whose attorney declined comment on his behalf, told the detectives he saw no need to let others in the clinic know about Nassar’s guidelines or to set up any system that would make sure he was following them. Having someone else in the room when treating a sensitive area is “healthcare 101,” Strampel said. Despite the fact Nassar was under a police investigation, Strampel told the detectives that he just had not seen a need to follow up.
Despite Nassar’s track record, Strampel, who stepped down from his position as dean and took a medical leave in December, did not appear to approach Nassar with a different degree of skepticism over time: When Nassar emailed Strampel in September 2016 to let him know that reporters from The Indianapolis Star wanted to ask him questions about new sexual abuse allegations, Strampel wished Nassar luck and wrote: “I am on your side.”
IN THE LATE spring of 2015, inside the Karolyi Ranch — the Team USA gymnastics training center just north of Houston run by coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi — visiting coach Sarah Jantzi overheard a troubling conversation. Maggie Nichols, Jantzi’s star gymnast who, at 14, made the U.S. women’s national team, was speaking with Aly Raisman, captain of the 2012 and 2016 gold medal-winning Olympic teams.
Nichols described to Raisman treatment sessions she had had with Nassar, Raisman told Outside the Lines. Jantzi became so concerned about what she overheard that she notified Nichols’ mother and USA Gymnastics officials.
Maggie Nichols says that Nassar started sexually abusing her during medical exams at the Karolyi Ranch when she was 15 while being treated for severe back pain. Raisman says Nassar started abusing her when she was 15. She says he would give her desserts as treats, which were forbidden at the ranch, where the Karolyis closely monitored what the gymnasts ate. “He was grooming me so he could molest me,” Raisman says.
In a victim-impact statement, McKayla Maroney also described in detail how Nassar began abusing her when she was also 13 at the Karolyi Ranch. Several other national team gymnasts have alleged Nassar sexually abused them there, including Mattie Larson, a Team USA member from 2005-10, who was one of the first to sue Nassar, USAG and the Karolyis.
Parents were not allowed to stay with their children at the ranch or during international competitions.
After Jantzi reported to USA Gymnastics what she had overheard, USAG officials hired a workplace harassment investigator, who interviewed Nichols, Raisman and Maroney before USA Gymnastics reported the suspected abuse — a month later — to federal authorities, according to the gymnasts’ attorney, John Manly. USA Gymnastics officials initially publicly said they reported the allegations “immediately” to law enforcement. Later, USAG officials acknowledged the delayed timeline but that “USA Gymnastics never attempted to hide Nassar’s misconduct.”
Nichols’ case is believed to mark the first time USA Gymnastics officials received a report about suspected abuse by Nassar. A day after Jantzi’s report about what she had overheard, Nichols’ mother, Gina, received a phone call. It was from Steve Penny, the president and CEO of USA Gymnastics, who started the conversation by saying: “I understand Maggie has some concerns,” Gina Nichols says.
“He never once said, ‘Is Maggie OK?'” Instead, she says, Penny told her, “We need to keep this quiet. It’s very sensitive. We don’t want this to get out.”
It was the year before the Rio Olympics.
Nassar didn’t leave his position as national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics until months after the organization had been first informed of his suspected abuse. He posted a lengthy farewell message on his Facebook page on Sept. 27, 2015, saying, “it has come time for me to retire” from USA Gymnastics. At the time, the organization didn’t refute that Nassar was voluntarily stepping down, but a year later said it had cut ties with him and reported him to law enforcement officers in the summer of 2015 due to “athlete concerns.”
It does not appear USA Gymnastics made any attempt to share those concerns with officials from Michigan State University — where Nassar continued to see patients — or the state medical board. Michigan State, likewise, did not inform USAG when it was investigating Nassar in 2014.
Gina Nichols says Penny repeated his initial request for discretion in several conversations over the ensuing months, requests that struck her, an operating room nurse, and her husband John, a physician, as odd. Penny, Gina Nichols says, put them in an impossible situation and “was in a position of authority over me and my husband. Our whole family gave up everything so we could put [Maggie] on this road.”
As medical professionals, the Nichols are both required by law to immediately report suspected child sex abuse to authorities, but, out of concern they would hurt their daughter’s future in the sport — and because they had been told Nassar had already been reported and any action on their part might jeopardize the investigation — they remained silent.
USA Gymnastics officials have said they kept the matter confidential overall because of “the FBI’s directive not to interfere with the investigation.” But in mid-June 2015, when Penny made his initial phone call to Gina Nichols, nobody from USA Gymnastics had spoken with the FBI.
Nichols says it wasn’t until July 2016, just before the Olympic trials, that she and her daughter received their first phone calls from an FBI agent investigating the case.
In the months before Gina Nichols spoke with the FBI, she says Penny assured her the case was being “taken care of.” At that point, Maggie was widely regarded as a lock to make the 2016 Olympic team; she was ranked second in the nation behind Simone Biles until a meniscus tear kept her off the team that would go on to win gold at the Rio Olympics.
Raisman told Outside the Lines that she and her mother, Lynn, had similar interactions with Penny in the months after she initially reported Nassar’s abuse to the investigator hired by USA Gymnastics. “Steve Penny was trying to control when I was going to be interviewed by the FBI,” Aly Raisman says. “He was trying to control every part of it. The biggest priority was to make sure I kept it quiet so they’d have a good Olympics. It’s disgusting.”
Because of Penny’s assurances the investigation was being handled, Raisman says she did not meet with the FBI until Sept. 9, 2016, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a month after serving as captain on Team USA’s gold-medal-winning team in Rio. Penny flew in for the interview, she says. She says she wouldn’t allow him to be in the room when she spoke to the FBI agent investigating the case.
On Monday afternoon, Biles, the all-around gold medalist in Rio, issued a statement saying she, too, had been abused by Nassar: “For too long I’ve asked myself, ‘Was I too naive? Was it my fault?’ I now know the answer to those questions. No. No, it was not my fault. No, I will not and should not carry the guilt that belongs to Larry Nassar, USAG, and others.”
In March, Penny resigned from USA Gymnastics. At the time, Penny not only faced widespread criticism for the way he had handled complaints against Nassar, but an investigation by The Indianapolis Star revealed USA Gymnastics had a pattern of ignoring or mishandling complaints of sexual abuse by dozens of coaches.
Penny and his attorney both declined to comment.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Penny received a $1 million severance package.
“I really think there needs to be an independent investigation to figure out who knew what and when [at USAG],” Lynn Raisman told Outside the Lines. “What USAG and MSU did, it magnifies the pain.”
THE FIRST WOMAN?to testify in Michigan state court about Nassar’s abuse was Kyle Stephens. She says she was about 6 years old when he first exposed himself to her. It took her roughly six more years to realize that she was being sexually abused and to gather the courage to tell her parents. And it would take another six years before her father believed her.
Stephens, who initially spoke to Outside the Lines on the condition of anonymity but identified herself publicly Tuesday during Nassar’s sentencing hearing, says she frequently spent her childhood weekend afternoons and evenings at Nassar’s split-level home in Holt, Michigan. Her parents were close friends with Nassar and his wife, Stefanie, and they often cooked together on Sundays.
She and her older brother sometimes played hide-and-seek with Nassar in the basement while the other adults remained upstairs. She says she’d often hide in his boiler room, tucked between a furnace and a sink. On several occasions, she says, Nassar entered the room and, pretending not to see her, masturbated in front of her. He stashed a bottle of lotion in the room.
“I still know that [lotion’s] smell,” she said in her first court appearance. “The smell still makes me sick.”
Over the course of the next several years, Nassar grew bolder. She says that he would sit next to her on a basement couch while she and her brother watched television and rubbed her feet against his crotch. He progressed to putting a blanket over himself and her feet, and she says he pulled out his genitals and rubbed them against her feet. Eventually, and on multiple occasions, he put his finger inside her. The woman says she didn’t understand the nature of what was happening to her until a friend described an abusive encounter of her own while they rode the bus together in sixth grade. She realized similar things had happened to her, and that she needed to tell her parents.
“Mom,” Stephens says she told her mother one night in her bedroom during the summer after she completed sixth grade, “when Larry rubs my feet, he uses his penis.”
Her mother went gaunt. She had her daughter repeat the story to her father. The parents decided they would consult a psychologist. They took her to Dr. Gary Stollak, who was then a Michigan State professor and a clinical psychologist. Stollak organized a meeting with the woman’s parents and Nassar to discuss her accusations. Stephens, then a young teenager, was not at the meeting, and Nassar denied any wrongdoing. She says she visited Stollak’s office roughly eight times, sometimes by herself and sometimes with her parents. She doesn’t recall the doctor ever asking her questions about the abuse when her parents were absent or trying to determine whether her side of the story was true. She described their session as more akin to “uncomfortable” sex education lessons.
Stollak retired from Michigan State in 2010. He testified in court that he suffered a stroke after retirement that has significantly impaired his memory. He also said he disposed of the notes he kept on his clients when he retired. There is no record that Stollak, who was bound by state law to report suspected abuse, talked with anyone else at the university or to police about the alleged abuse. He told the court that he did not recall seeing the woman as a patient.
After the meeting with Nassar and Stollak, Stephens says her parents brought her back to Nassar’s home and told her to apologize to him. She refused and stuck to her story for the following year. Her relationship with her father became “volatile” during that time. He routinely pressured her to admit that what she had told them about Nassar was a lie. About a year later, when she was 13 years old, her father made it clear his patience had run out.
“If you don’t tell the truth,” he told her, “I’m going to make your life a living hell.”
Stephens says the look on his face that day made her believe him, “and if I wasn’t already in a living hell, I was unprepared to endure one.” She says she decided it would be easier to concede to the story he wanted to believe.
Several parents who spoke to Outside the Lines say Nassar was as effective in grooming them as he was in grooming his victims. Tony Guerrero says he beamed with pride the first time he brought his daughter to Nassar’s office on Michigan State’s campus in 2014. The walls of the two rooms where Nassar saw patients were plastered with autographed photos and memorabilia from Olympic gymnasts and figure skaters. He says it all made him feel like he was providing his daughter — at the time a 12-year-old aspiring to be an elite gymnast — an opportunity to receive world-class care.
Nassar gave her a floor pass from the Olympic Games signed by gold medalist Nastia Liukin and allowed Guerrero to sit in the room throughout the treatment. He was in the room each time his daughter saw Nassar. He says Nassar used his body to block Guerrero’s view and talked casually as Nassar touched his daughter.
“He was a professional at what he did. Not a doctor — a professional predator,” Guerrero says. “He positioned himself in places where I couldn’t see where his hands were, and he would be doing what he wanted. The whole time she’s thinking it’s normal because I’m sitting there with her, and he’s doing stuff he shouldn’t be doing.”
Others trusted Nassar enough to drop off their daughters at his house for treatment, often late at night. He was an in-demand doctor who was willing to find time after hours to help their family. Lindsey Lemke, the Michigan State gymnast who grew up in the same town as Nassar, says he gained her family’s trust because he would do “anything for anybody at any time of day that you asked.”
Christy Lemke-Akeo, Lindsey’s mother, socialized with Nassar and considered him a family friend. They exchanged Christmas gifts. She didn’t hesitate to run errands while Lindsey was at Nassar’s office or in his home at night.
“How could we have missed this?” Lemke-Akeo says. “I was on my kid’s back 24/7 about Facebook and Twitter. I would follow them on their phones to see where they went every night. I thought I had everything under control. … It was a terrible feeling as a parent because you do feel like you’ve dropped the ball.”
Lemke-Akeo says she asked her daughter several times in the fall of 2016 if Nassar had ever abused her, and Lindsey shook her off. Both women had trouble coming to grips with their shattered reality. It wasn’t until he was charged with child pornography possession — authorities found more than 37,000 images — that they fully believed Nassar had ill intentions when treating her.
Stephens, whose father did not believe that she had been abused, says the fact she refused to apologize to Nassar was a constant subject in what had become a contentious relationship with her father. She says he branded her as a liar. Her father suffered from chronic debilitating physical pain throughout much of her life, and she says the cocktail of drugs he was prescribed to manage that affected his mental well-being.
A month before she left for college in 2010, she decided it was time to try again to tell her father that Nassar had assaulted her.
“I wasn’t lying,” she remembers telling him, before his hand shot out and pinned her neck to the chair where she was sitting. “Then he said — well, he growled, ‘What did you say?’ I gasped, ‘I wasn’t lying.’ He said it again. I was basically choking, and I said, ‘I. Was. Not. Lying.’ He just crumpled. You could see his face just completely shatter, like, ‘Holy shit, this 18-year-old doesn’t have any reason to stick to that story at this point.’ He just sat on the couch and just stared into space for a while.”
On March 30, 2016, he died by suicide.
Stephens says she reached a level of peace with her father in the years that followed that altercation. He told her he was wracked with guilt for believing Nassar, especially because he worked for many years as a caretaker in a home for abused children. She says she thinks the chronic pain with no hope of relief was the main reason her father took his life, but the guilt he felt in those final years “really broke his spirit and his belief that he was worth keeping alive.”
Less than six months after his death, a 31-year-old lawyer and mother of three named Rachael Denhollander filed a police report alleging that Nassar had abused her when she was a teenage gymnast. She became the first person to publicly accuse Nassar of assault,? in an article published in The Indianapolis Star in September 2016.
Denhollander’s story convinced dozens of other women and girls to come forward. This week, many of them will detail their tragic encounters with Nassar in a Michigan courtroom. The stories that have existed in isolation for a quarter-century will be for the first time told in a common setting as Nassar and a judge who will decide his prison sentence listen.
The trusted reputation he built as a shield and the gaps of communication in which he preyed upon young girls and women for decades will be gone. For Denhollander and the many other women like her, only a portion of the justice they seek will be done. The questions and fallout from Nassar’s action will linger for them and for all who surrounded Nassar for so many years.
“The culture of enabling is absolutely vital to why pedophiles flourish,” Denhollander said when Nassar pleaded guilty to abusing her and nine others in November. “You don’t get someone like Larry Nassar, you don’t get a pedophile who is able to abuse without there being a culture surrounding him in that place. Until we deal with the enablers, this is going to continue to happen.”