Michigan State University president resigns amid widening calls for accountability over Larry Nassar abuse scandal
Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon announced she was resigning just hours after a judge imposed a prison term of 40 years to 175 years on Nassar, a former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics team doctor. (Jan. 25, 2018)
Fallout from an Olympic sexual-abuse scandal continued to spread Wednesday, as officials called for top sports and academic leaders to resign over victims’ allegations that several institutions had enabled Dr. Larry Nassar’s abuse of gymnasts and other young athletes for decades.
Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon announced she was resigning just hours after a judge imposed a prison term of 40 years to 175 years on Nassar, a former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics team doctor.
“As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger,” she said in a statement late Wednesday.
Simon said she was deeply moved by the accounts of gymnasts who had suffered under Nassar. “They are tragic, heartbreaking and personally gut-wrenching,” said Simon, the institution’s president since 2004. She insisted that the university was involved in “no cover-up.”
Earlier in the day, the United States Olympic Committee’s chief executive called for the entire USA Gymnastics board to resign and threatened to decertify the organization as the nation’s gymnastics governing body unless reforms are made.
“The Olympic family is among those that have failed you,” Scott Blackmun wrote in an open letter to athletes posted on the Team USA website. He said the committee is launching an investigation “by an independent third party to examine how an abuse of this proportion could have gone undetected for so long.”
The inquiry, whose results will be made public, will include both the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics.
“We need to know when complaints were brought forward and to who,” Blackmun wrote.
Harsh scrutiny also continued to fall on Michigan State University, whose administrators failed to act after victims raised red flags about Nassar’s behavior as early as the 1990s. The Michigan state House voted 96 to 11 for a resolution calling for Simon’s resignation.
“As leader of the university, President Simon is inherently responsible for perpetuating a sick culture that allowed a predator to continue molesting new young women and girls while also forcing his past victims to endure their suffering in silence,” the bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Rep. Adam Zemke, said in a statement. “Her blatant failure to protect students from Nassar’s abuse proves that she is unfit to continue as president of the university, and must resign or be removed immediately.”
The lawmakers’ vote follows a decision Tuesday by the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. to open a probe into the university, citing “serious concerns about institutional practices, student-athlete safety and the institution’s actions to protect individuals from his behavior.”
On Friday, the university’s Board of Trustees — which had already created a $10-million fund to support Nassar’s victims — asked Michigan Atty. Gen. Bill Schuette to investigate the university’s actions involving Nassar. Simon said she supported “wholeheartedly” the decision to launch the review, and would continue to cooperate with it.
For several days, scores of women have visited the Ingham County Circuit Court in Lansing, Mich., to tell similar stories of how they were sexually abused by Nassar, who used his position as a highly praised athletic doctor to victimize athletes during purported treatment sessions.
In their statements before the court, several women laid at least part of the blame on what they saw as a complicit network of athletic and university officials who failed to intervene when victims tried to alert them about Nassar’s assaults.
“Your abuse started 30 years ago, but that’s just the first reported incident we know of,” Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, a star member of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, said in a court statement directed at Nassar. “If over these many years, just one adult listened and had the courage and character to act, this tragedy could have been avoided. I and so many others would have never, ever met you.”
The record showed that over and over again, when women and girls came forward, “adult after adult, many in positions of authority, protected you, telling each survivor it was OK, that you weren’t abusing them,” Raisman said. “In fact, many adults had you convince the survivors that they were being dramatic or had been mistaken. This is like being violated all over again.”
Raisman then pivoted to direct criticism of USA Gymnastics President and Chief Executive Kerry Perry, accusing her of leaving court partway through the testimony of victims.
Raisman noted that Perry came on as president in November, after Nassar’s reign of abuse, but “unfortunately, you’ve taken on an organization that I feel is rotting from the inside, and while this may not be what you thought you were getting into, you will be judged by how you deal with it.”
In a statement after Nassar’s sentencing Wednesday, Perry said the victims’ accounts “have left a lasting impression on all of us” and that “every day, their stories will impact my decisions as president and CEO.”
Perry added: “As stated on my first day on Dec. 1, 2017, I will not waiver on my commitment to focus each and every day on our organization’s highest priority — the safety, health and well-being of our athletes. We will create a culture that empowers and supports them. Our commitment is uncompromising, and it is my hope that everything we do going forward makes this very clear.”
Three board members for the gymnastics organization have already resigned over the scandal, and the group has ended its lease at the remote Karolyi Ranch in Texas, which was both a training crucible for the nation’s elite gymnasts and the site of many of Nassar’s abusive encounters with athletes.
One of the gymnasts assaulted there, Mattie Larson, told the court that she was so afraid to return to the ranch, which she described as a perfect environment for a predator, that she purposely injured herself so she wouldn’t have to go back.
“I have never felt so small and disposable in my life,” Larson said.
Matt Pearce is a national reporter for The Times. Follow him on Twitter at @mattdpearce.
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