Last week, 89 people came forward in a Lansing, Michigan courtroom to give testimony about how Larry Nassar’s decades of abuse — and his enablers at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics who kept him employed and roaming free — had ruined their lives.
Victim after victim, family member after family member, addressed Nassar face to face at his sentencing hearing. And they’re not done. Going into the hearing last Tuesday, 88 of his victims were expected to come forward and deliver impact statements; now, that number is up to 144, compelling the judge to extend the hearing into a second week. After more than 20 years of silence, shame, and denial, these women are finally being heard.
Unfortunately, it seems some important people in power aren’t listening. Among them? NCAA president Mark Emmert.
Last week, Emmert spoke at an NCAA convention in Indianapolis. When asked about the dozens of NCAA athletes at Michigan State who were abused by their university-employed doctor — and whose pleas for help were ignored by coaches, assistants, trainers, and other doctors throughout the Michigan State athletic department dating back to 1997 — Emmert said he simply didn’t know enough about the case to express an opinion.
“I don’t have enough information [on] the details of what transpired at the school right now,” Emmert said. “That’s obviously something that the university itself is looking deeply into. You hear that testimony — it just breaks your heart when you look at it, but I can’t offer an opinion at this time. It’s clearly very, very disturbing, and I know the leadership there is equally shaken by it.”
While most of the focus about the egregious lack of accountability in the Nassar case has focused on Michigan State and USA Gymnastics (and understandably so), it’s reasonable to wonder why there hasn’t been more pressure on the NCAA and its leadership to impose sanctions on Michigan State University, or at the very least issue a statement and offer support to the victims.
After all, the NCAA has an entire “well-being” section on its website, which boasts that, “In 1906 the NCAA was founded to keep college athletes safe. We are working hard to protect them physically and mentally, on the field and off …. [and] working to ensure college athletes are getting the best care possible.”
And yet for decades, one of the NCAA’s most prestigious and decorated member schools enabled a sexual predator to serve as a doctor for its female athletes, and the organization hasn’t so much as launched an investigation.
Emmert’s silence is particularly grating given his role in the Penn State case several years ago. It was Emmert who strongly advocated for the so-called “death penalty” for Penn State’s football program following the revelations of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual predation. In terms of the number of victims, Nassar’s case dwarfs the Penn State case by an order of magnitude.
But Emmert also has ties to Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon, who has resisted calls to resign from students, alumni, and many others for her failure to protect students from Nassar. In 2013, while serving as chair of the NCAA’s Board of Governors (then known as the Executive Committee), Simon strongly endorsed Emmert’s leadership as president of the NCAA.
“Mark Emmert was hired to lead a major transformation of the NCAA,” she said in a statement at the time. “The Executive Committee unanimously affirmed its confidence in Mark’s leadership as president and its support for his ongoing efforts to implement these essential and historic reforms.”
Perhaps it’s time for Emmert to start listening.
UPDATE (1/22/18): On Tuesday night, the New York Times reported that the NCAA has officially opened an investigation of Michigan State’s handling of the Nassar case.
“The NCAA has requested information from Michigan State about any potential rules violations,” said NCAA chief legal officer Donald M. Remy.