Ex-gymnasts talk of alleged sex abuse on ‘60 Minutes’

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Three former female gymnasts, including a 2000 Olympian, said former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused them as young girls.

The accusations came during a “60 Minutes” segment Sunday night, when the attorney, John Manly, and three of Nassar’s alleged victims were interviewed by Dr. Jonathan LaPook. Manly called Nassar a “serial predator” who likely has abused hundreds more.

Jamie Dantzscher, who is a former 2000 Olympian, Jessica Howard, a member of the U.S. National Team in the late 1990s, and former national gymnast Jeanette Antolin allege Nassar sexually abused them during medical treatments at the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center at Karolyi Ranch in Texas. They said Nassar touched their vaginas during the medical procedures and during massages when they were young girls at that training facility.

“I went to him for my back pain,” Dantzscher told LaPook. “... he would put his fingers inside of me and move my leg around. He would tell me I was going to feel a pop. And that that would put my hips back and help my back pain.”

She was 13 or 14 the first time Nassar performed that procedure, which LaPook said is a “rare therapy for back and hip pain where specialists massage areas inside the vagina.”

“But for a minor, it’s expected such a procedure should involve a chaperone and use of a glove,” said LaPook, which Dantzscher said Nassar did not use. That procedure happened until she was 18 years old.

“I had a hip problem. A very severe hip problem ... he had asked me not to wear any underwear,” said Howard in the segment. “And then he just continued to go into more and more intimate places. ... I remember thinking something was off, but I didn’t feel like I was able to say anything because he was, you know, this very high-profile doctor. ... The girls would say, ‘Yeah, he touches you funny.’ ”

The women said as girls they did not question Nassar’s procedures partly because he was seen as a “good guy” in a hostile training environment at the ranch, and they trusted him because he was a doctor.

Dantzscher said that Bela and Martha Karolyi, the owners of the training facility, knew Nassar was alone with her for the treatments, which she received in the bed she slept in at the ranch.

The Karolyis have denied knowing Nassar performed that procedure or visited the girls in their rooms without supervision, according to “60 Minutes.”

On Friday, the 53-year-old Nassar, who was fired by MSU last year, was bound over for trial on three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Seven lawsuits have been filed against Nassar in federal and state courts in Ingham County, Grand Rapids and California by at least 37 women who say they were assaulted under the guise of treatment.

In the lawsuits, several victims said they had complained to others, including former MSU head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, about Nassar but nothing was done. Among those were three young women who said they had complained to MSU officials, including a coach, trainers and sports staff in the late 1990s and early 2000s, according to the lawsuits.

One complainant was a teen who was part of a Michigan youth program instructed by Klages in the late 1990s, according to a lawsuit filed last month. The teen was treated by Nassar for lower back pain and said the doctor fondled her several times from 1997 to 1999.

Nassar is facing federal and state charges. He is charged with possession of child porn, assaulting a girl at his home and destroying evidence. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is being held without bond at Ingham County Jail.

The charges don’t involve his work at MSU, but police are investigating complaints they’ve received from 60 women.

In September, two gymnasts, including a member of the 2000 U.S. Women’s Olympic team, said they were sexually abused by him when they were teens. He has denied those accusations.

In the “60 Minutes” segment, LaPook and those he interviewed condemned the Karolyis and USA Gymnastics for their handling of the sexual abuse complaints.

Antolin said she didn’t realize she had been sexually abused until last year.

“Just knowing how vulnerable I was as a kid, to even not think that was something that would be inappropriate just ruined me,” she said.