Larry Nassar, a former athletic trainer and doctor, sexually assaulted hundreds of women and girls, many from the world of gymnastics.
Who Is Larry Nassar?
Larry Nassar is a former doctor and athletic trainer who has been convicted of sexual assault and possession of child pornography. Hundreds of women and girls, from Olympic gymnasts to the daughter of family friends, have accused him of sexual abuse. His crimes include abusing patients under the guise of performing medical treatments. Following a 2016 report by the Indianapolis Star that contained two women’s accounts of being assaulted by Nassar, more victims came forward. Though prior investigations into Nassar’s actions had been dropped, this time he was charged and convicted. Before he was sentenced in January 2018 following a guilty plea to several sexual assault charges, more than 150 women and girls delivered victim-impact statements in court. This testimony, which went on for seven days, was seen as a milestone in the #MeToo movement.
Early Life and Education
Lawrence Gerard Nassar was born on August 16, 1963, in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He attended North Farmington High School in Michigan, graduating in 1981. He majored in kinesiology at the University of Michigan and received his degree in 1985.
Nassar enrolled in Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1988. After twice failing biochemistry, he convinced officials to let him switch from a four-year to a five-year course of study, which gave him time to continue working with gymnasts. He graduated from medical school in 1993.
Career in Gymnastics
Nassar began working with the gymnastics team at his high school in 1978. By 1986 he was involved with the U.S. national gymnastics team. He became the national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics in 1996. That same year he was on hand to tend to Kerri Strug after she vaulted with an injured ankle during the Olympic Games. In August 1997, Nassar was named as an assistant professor at Michigan State University at its College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Nassar often tried to ingratiate himself with gymnasts. He reportedly took the time to listen to them and could be counted on to provide treats to girls who weren’t getting enough to eat while training. Nassar was a part of USA Gymnastics until 2015 when the organization let him go following a report of abuse. Though USA Gymnastics did inform the FBI about the allegations concerning Nassar, they didn’t object when Nassar publicly stated that he’d willingly retired. Nassar still worked at Twistars Gymnastics Club and Michigan State University after leaving USA Gymnastics.
Nassar told ailing female gymnasts — injuries are common in the sport — that he could assuage their aches and pains via what he termed “intravaginal adjustment.” While pelvic-floor manipulation can be a legitimate method of treatment, Nassar’s approach — not using gloves, never obtaining informed consent and utilizing this treatment even for knee and ankle injuries — defied accepted practice and served as a way for him to molest patients. He would rub breasts and genitals, and use his ungloved fingers to penetrate a patient’s vagina or anus.
Many of the women and girls Nassar abused accepted his explanation that he was performing legitimate medical treatments and therefore did not question his behavior. He sometimes assaulted patients with parents or others nearby, which made it difficult for some to believe that abuse had taken place. (Nassar had convinced so many people of his good intentions that when the accusations against him first came out he received messages of sympathy and support.) Gymnasts recounted assaults by Nassar at his apartment, in his office at Michigan State University, at the Twistars Gymnastics Club in Michigan and during gymnastics events, including the Olympics. It’s estimated that Nassar molested one victim more than 800 times.
Nassar’s elevated position in the world of gymnastics also made many gymnasts reluctant to speak out. Some worried that denouncing Nassar could end their careers. The institutional culture of USA Gymnastics seemed to be more focused on preserving the organization than protecting gymnasts.
Yet Nassar’s abuse was reported, but ignored, on multiple occasions. A gymnast shared concerns with her coach in 1997 but was encouraged not to file an official complaint. In 2004, a police report was filed about Nassar, but he used materials he’d created to convince an officer that he’d been providing medical care. A Title IX investigation at Michigan State University in 2014 also did not stop Nassar. And the FBI investigation that began in 2015 dragged on for months, allowing Nassar to abuse an estimated 40 victims while it was in process. A Senate probe later stated that the FBI”failed to pursue a course of action that would have immediately protected victims in harm’s way.”
Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander was the first woman to publicly identify herself as a victim of Nassar’s abuse via the Indianapolis Star. Soon others spoke up, either to the police or the public, about their experiences with Nassar. Several Olympians, including Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas, have acknowledged that they were subjected to abuse by Nassar.
In addition to gymnasts, Nassar assaulted other athletes he treated at Michigan State University. He also abused women who’d come to him for help with regular aches and pains. In 1998, he began molesting the 6-year-old daughter of family friends. She has stated that the abuse continued on a nearly weekly basis until she was 12.
Though victims who first spoke up about Nassar were ignored or dismissed, all had the opportunity to speak at his sentencing hearing in Ingham County in January 2018. Over the course of seven days, 156 emotional victim-impact statements were shared.
Michigan State University, which employed Nassar for years, set up a $500 million fund for his victims. In the years since his crimes became public, more than 500 people have accused Nassar of abusing them.
Investigation and Trial
On November 22, 2017, Nassar pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Michigan’s Ingham County Circuit Court. This was followed later in the month by a guilty plea to three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Eaton County Circuit Court in Michigan. In January 2018, he received a sentence of 40 to 175 years in Ingham County Court. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told him, “I’m a judge who believes in life and rehabilitation when rehabilitation is possible. I don’t find that’s possible with you. I just signed your death warrant.” Another sentence of 40 to 125 years was later delivered in Eaton County.
While investigating the sexual assault accusations against Nassar in September 2016, police took custody of external hard drives found in his trash (these were only discovered because garbage pick-up was late that day). They turned out to contain more than 37,000 images of child pornography, which resulted in federal charges against Nassar. He submitted a guilty plea to three child pornography charges in July 2017. Later that year he received a sentence of sixty years for these crimes. Nassar’s federal prison sentence must be completed before he serves time for his other convictions.
Wife and Children
On October 19, 1996, Nassar wed Stefanie Lynn Anderson, a fellow athletic trainer. The couple had three children: girls in 2001 and 2004, and a boy in 2006.
One of Nassar’s daughters is autistic. He set up the Gymnastics Doctor Autism Foundation to support gymnastics programs for autistic children and other kids with special needs.
Nassar’s wife divorced him after his history of serial abuse became public.
Podcast and Documentaries
The Nassar case has been covered in the podcast Believed and in the documentaries At the Heart of Gold and Athlete A.