Michigan State faces reckoning over Nassar

Sports & Outdoors

By Kevin White

PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

On Jan. 24, Larry Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in prison for sexual assault. Nassar was already jailed in 2017 for child pornography charges, sentenced for 60 years. Nassar committed his crimes as the team doctor for both Michigan State and USA gymnastics, abusing a position of power and trust.

There have been nearly 250 accusations made against Nassar. Emma Holmes’ article last issue in the put the number of victims speaking at Nassar’s sentencing at 156. These numbers are staggering, and deserve more coverage. This should stand as one of the worst crime sprees  in American history.

Nassar’s crimes also join a long and terrible history of sexual assaults within college athletics. The NCAA has recently been rocked by scandals at Penn State and Baylor. In all cases, no matter who committed the crime (players, coaches, or trainers), the system aided and abetted the crime.

It seems that, in these cases, there has been justice, but not rehabilitation. Jerry Sandusky (the perpetrator of the crimes at Penn State) and Larry Nassar were both sentenced to jail. Joe Paterno and Art Briles were forced out of their jobs, reputations forever tarnished. The Presidents and Athletic Directors of Penn State, Baylor and Michigan State were all forced from their jobs. Those responsible for the crimes were held accountable, not at the swift rate they should have, but hopefully the victims find some solace in the fact justice was eventually delivered.

The question of rehabilitation remains. In this case, rehabilitation isn’t confined to the individuals who perpetrated the crimes. I’m referring to the rehabilitation and overhaul of the system itself. Three large-scale sexual-crime-related scandals at big-name schools all within the same decade, along with a wider conversation about the climate and response to sexual assault by schools, reveals a deep-seated issue on college campuses. And when the issue crosses with Division I sports, an operation that essentially prints money for the schools, there becomes a conflict that oftentimes places profits before people. In order to rectify the current system, there needs to be changes made, either by the NCAA or a higher authority.

One of the narratives that made the Nassar crimes so significant is the intersection with the #MeToo movement. Olympic gymnasts McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles all spoke up during the movement to reveal Nassar’s assaults. As the community moves forward, and as Michigan State and the NCAA as a whole grapple with these questions once again, we must hope that the arrival of the #MeToo movement in college athletics brings the institutional change needed. Unfortunately, we must depend on this civic action, a cultural phenomena where Americans across all walks of life have risen together to reveal a deep flaw in the system and say “no more,” rather than the federal government, which has begun unravelling Title IX protections on college campuses.

Larry Nassar is going to jail for the rest of his life. Those in leadership of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State have been forced from their jobs and will be held accountable. 200 victims have finally been given justice. Now, it is up to the NCAA or, hopefully, the government, to recognize the issue and change the system so these crimes are stopped. Hopefully, #MeToo helps force that change.

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