Jordyn Wieber: Engler ‘lobbied against’ Nassar victims

Simon Schuster
Special to The Detroit News

Former Olympic gymnast Jordyn Wieber said Michigan State University interim President John Engler “personally lobbied against” Larry Nassar’s victims when he spoke out against a package of sexual assault reforms in the Legislature.

Jordyn Wieber, an Olympic gold medalist who testified about sexual assault by former MSU and doctor Larry Nassar, speaks at Michigan State University about empowerment.

“If his actions are intended to promote healing and restore confidence in MSU, they’re doing just the opposite,” Wieber told an audience of students and faculty at the university’s Wharton Center on Thursday.

Engler had said during his appointment that he would treat students on campus “as if they were my own daughters.” His recent comments, Wieber said, meant “that promise has not been kept.”

Larry Nassar, once a leading sports doctor, will spend the rest of his life in prison after being convicted of molesting young female athletes. More than 250 women and girls came forward to say they were abused by the physician.

A DeWitt native, Wieber revealed she had been assaulted by Nassar when she was 14 years old when she deliver a victim impact statement before Nassar’s sentencing in Ingham County in January. She told the audience “that was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.”

Wieber said she hadn’t accepted that Nassar abused her until five months ago, after dozens of women had come forward. She said she spent months in denial, increasingly isolated and avoiding any mention of Nassar. Eventually, she said she was able to open up about her experience.

“I was groomed and manipulated into thinking that I could trust him, because that was the only way I was going to make the Olympic team,” she said. “Every time I laid in the doctor’s office, cringing at how he was inappropriately touching me, I closed my eyes and told myself over and over, ‘This feels weird, but he’s the Olympic team doctor. This has to be my best shot of overcoming my injuries and making the Olympic team,’ so I endured it, and like nothing happened, I moved forward.”

Wieber is now a volunteer assistant coach for the gymnastics team at the University of California Los Angeles.

Wieber also praised the #MeToo movement, saying it has “empowered me more than ever before.”

“I have taken something horrible that has happened to me and my goal is to use it to make changes that protect children and students everywhere,” Wieber said. She urged the attendees to push for changes on campus and asked Engler to partner with students on reforms.

“I hope President Engler will hear this message and take it to heart,” she said. “Survivors are not the enemy. We want MSU to move forward, rebuild its reputation and thrive. We want students to be safe on this campus. Work with us so we can move forward together.”

Wieber and two other gymnasts also spoke about their experiences during a congressional hearing. One teammate who delivered an impact statement with Wieber in January, Aly Raisman, has now sued the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, alleging they hid Nassar’s abuse during his time as each organization’s physician.

MSU has been under intense scrutiny for its handling of sexual assault complaints, particularly those against Nassar. It is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education, the NCAA, the Michigan House and state Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Engler has argued that the package of bills, one of which would increase the statute of limitations on sexual assault charges, would open the university up to further liability and interfere with the settlement negotiations with some sexual assault victims.

Claire Fredin, an international relation junior, is the campus coordinator of the sexual assault advocacy organization It’s On Us and was in the audience for Wieber’s speech.

She had wanted to give Engler an opportunity to follow through on his assurances for change. But after Wieber’s speech, she’s less certain. She said MSU’s approach to investigating sexual assault has been lax and the university has been too shy in doling out punishments when students have been found in violation of policy.

“I’m not going to have my faith restored until I see the numbers of people kicked off campus for sexual assault go up, and also change their policies,” Fredin said.

International development senior Amal Matovu said the scandal inspired her to attend law school in order to represent survivors of sexual assault. Wieber’s speech, she said, also was inspiring.

“Especially when she said she wasn’t just a victim (that) she was way more than that,” she said. “It shows you that there can be multiple sides to you, that even if you are a survivor ... you can do anything that you want to do.”