Nassar victims hit MSU, gymnastic officials before attending Senate hearing
Washington — More than 80 accusers of disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar criticized Michigan State University and gymnastic officials before attending Tuesday a U.S. Senate hearing where MSU Interim President John Engler is set to testify.
It will be the first time that Engler publicly takes questions from lawmakers about the Nassar sexual abuse scandal since taking the helm of the university in late January. President Lou Anna K. Simon had resigned after Nassar was effectively sentenced to life in prison.
Engler will appear before a Senate Commerce subcommittee that has been investigating cultural and systemic issues related to the abuse of Olympic athletes since January.
Dozens of Nassar's victims expected at the hearing appeared at a news conference with senators on Capitol Hill beforehand, including Michigan's Jordyn Wieber, Kaylee Lorincz and Morgan McCaul. They all wore teal ribbons symbolizing sexual assault awareness.
Lorincz, a gymnast assaulted at MSU’s clinic at age 12, has said Engler tried to "bully me and buy my silence" at a March meeting and later at an MSU trustees' meeting.
"What is Mr. Engler so afraid of? Under his leadership, the Nassar cover-up continues. MSU routinely denies FOIA requests and refuses to cooperate with an independent investigation by Michigan's attorney general," said Lorincz, now a student at Adrian College.
"All we want is the truth about how Larry Nassar was able to get away with assaulting little girls for decades. I am hoping today we will get answers."
MSU general counsel Robert Young has resisted turning over some MSU documents as protected communications between an attorney and client.
Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman said, "Real change cannot be achieved as long as brand protection and revenue generation remain higher priorities than athlete welfare."
Each woman at the news conference took the microphone, stated her name, her age when Nassar first abused her and said: "USAG, USOC and MSU failed me."
“Never again. No more victims. No more survivors. No more perpetrators," Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said, flanked by Nassar victims.
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the panel's ranking Democrat, said "the risk for other athletes continues." He called on the Senate to come together to address "institutional failures" that allowed Nassar's and similar crimes to occur.
"Why wasn’t one enough?" Blumenthal said, referring to complaints about Nassar. "That’s the question that should burn in each of our hearts."
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said she first feels outrage when hearing victims' stories, but then that gives way to inspiration and courage.
"They aren’t here just for the outrage. They are going to make sure it’s not going to happen again," Stabenow said.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said MSU has continued to fail Nassar's accusers "after all this."
"We’ve got to change more than policies, more than protocols. It’s really about changing the culture," he said. "This can never, ever ever happen to another girl or young woman again. ... Enough is enough."
Many of the "sister survivors" were honored at last week’s ESPY Awards, where they accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in Los Angeles.
It is the subcommittee’s third hearing related to the Nassar scandal. The panel heard last month from Simon.
Moran and Blumenthal also heard from Olympic athletes, including Nassar victims Jordyn Wieber and Jamie Dantzscher, at an April hearing on abuse.
Under Engler, the university reached a $500 million settlement this spring with more than 300 accusers of Nassar, a former sports doctor for MSU and USA Gymnastics who admitted to sexually abusing girls and women under the guise of medical treatment.
While Engler has also directed numerous changes to ensure the university has safeguards to prevent future abuse, his time at MSU has also drawn fierce criticism.
Several top Michigan politicians called for his resignation last month, including two MSU trustees, but the board did not vote to fire him.
Rachael Denhollander, who in 2016 was the first to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault, said Tuesday she couldn't be in Washington for the hearing due to the recent birth of her fourth child. But she issued a statement critical of MSU, USAG and the USOC for not apologizing for their role in "enabling and covering up" his abuse two years after his crimes were revealed.
"Leaders boast of new policies and procedures while steadfastly refusing to identify how the old policies and procedures failed. While they have all made variations on the statement, 'We are sorry bad things happened,' even Larry Nassar said this," Denhollander posted on Facebook.
"Weak platitudes that even a serial predator can offer is not the same thing as being able to identify what went wrong and apologizing for it."
At least six women with ties to MSU have said they tried to alert the university to Nassar's misconduct in the years prior to his arrest.
A Detroit News investigation in January found 14 MSU staff members had received reports of Nassar’s sexual abuse over two decades.