John Barr Podcast Transcription.[00:00:59] AB: What is your blank canvas. First comment about what you’ve been covering. [00:01:35] JB: Well my first exposure to it and maybe that is a logical starting point was in the late summer of 2016.
I was working on a special at the time for ESPN on hazing, and you know what it’s like at ESPN when a story sort of coming in for a landing it gets a little crazy and it becomes all-consuming and you get this tunnel vision where everything else gets blocked out.
It just so happens that the law firm that had helped us with respect to getting access to a hazing victim was also the same law firm representing at the time a Jane Doe who was getting ready to file a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics and Larry Nassar- and we now know that that Jane Doe was Jamie Dantzscher who has since come forward and has made some very powerful victim impact statements in court. Jamie Dantzscher was a bronze medalist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
But at that time Jamie was the first one. The first national team gymnast, the first Olympian to sue Larry Nassar. And in that original Indianapolis Star article that helped blow this thing wide open. The Star article quoted Rachel Denhollander who is an attorney who lives in Louisville Kentucky and this unnamed former Olympian who we now know is Jamie Dantzscher. What I had no concept of at the time and I don’t think anybody else did was just how far reaching this was.
And once Rachel Denhollander publicly accused Larry Nassar of sexually assaulting her during a medical exam, first publicly in the Indianapolis Star, it just opened up the floodgates and women just came out in droves. And you know and now we’re at a point where more than 260 women have filed complaints about this guy criminal complaints and more than 200 women are now part of civil lawsuits suing Nassar, USA Gymnastics, and former officials there, Michigan State and others. So it’s taking on this field of just this sprawling legal case. The criminal part of it which recently wrapped up after a third sentencing for Nassar, but this civil case drags on.[00:04:05] AB: Rachel Denhollander a name that no one knew before mid-January. Describe…gratitude… [00:04:50] JB: I think so and rightfully so. She, so I don’t believe Rachel is a practicing attorney. But I but I do know that she has a law degree, and it shows. In the way she conducts herself in court just an incredibly bright woman and you know amazing results. She came forward at a time when many people still supported Larry Nasser and was the first to put herself out there you know using her own name and her backstory that she alleges she, well more than alleges. Larry Nassar has been convicted of criminal sexual conduct of Rachel Denhollander. She was one of the cases that wound up being charged in court and he was convicted and sentenced.
She was abused as a 15-year old club level gymnast and in Michigan, and most of his victims were club level gymnasts in Michigan. But they weren’t all. Some of them weren’t even athletes. He saw, her reporting you know took us back more than 25 years to this gym and in the East Lansing area known as Great Lakes gymnastics, and back then very Nassar was just an athletic trainer.
He had worked with the gymnastics team in high school. He later went on to become an athletic trainer for the U.S. Olympic team at the Pan Am Games and at the Olympic trials back in 1988. And around that same time he started working at Great Lakes gymnastics with a head coach by the name of John Geddert who would go on to become the coach of the 2012 Olympic team that won gold in London. And, Cathy Klages was another one of the peers of Larry Nassar she was at Great Lakes as well and she later went on to become the head women’s gymnastics coach at Michigan State University. So, while Geddert and Klages coached gymnasts there at Great Lakes, Larry the trainer, would treat them for their injuries in a back room and parents would have had to walk across the entire workout floor to get to that back room and none of them ever did. So as a result you often you had Larry back there with young women alone constantly and it was there according to these women that he first started to digitally penetrate them. He would fondle their breasts. He would he would digitally penetrate them telling them that these pelvic treatments would help their injured backs or their injured hamstrings. He did so without parental consent.[00:07:48] AB – told to go by Geddert or Klages? [00:07:59] JB: Yea, injuries and gymnastics just go hand. The picture that many of these women we spoke with, and we didn’t just speak with former gymnasts from Great Lakes. We spoke with parents of gymnasts from Great Lakes, people who worked alongside Geddert at Great Lakes and then later at the gym that up until not long ago he was the head coach in a gym by the name of Twistarz. Right. Geddert’s coaching style was such that he broke these women down he broke them down mentally. And according to them he broke them down physically. He was so demanding even under the best of circumstances gymnasts get injured. We look at what they do to their bodies. It just goes with the sport. But according to these women Geddert pushed them to a point where injuries were commonplace. And so they would go back and they would see Larry for treatment, and it was during those treatments that he first started using this quote unquote procedure of intra-vaginal and intra-rectal you know massage and many of these, these weren’t women, these were young girls, and in many cases they’ve never had a sexual experience in their lives. Going back there along with this guy, and he convinced them that this was a legitimate medical procedure, and it wasn’t. It just wasn’t and it was abuse and it was abuse that went on for more than 25 years. [00:09:39] AB – Now is there any way, that what he did with these what seemed to be horrific ways of treating these girls had any medical value? [00:09:54] JB: Well it’s interesting. There’s a woman named Kristene Whitmore who is working the urology department at Drexel here in Philly, and she reported, her actually in an article we wrote back in October 2016, and she was referred to me by another osteopathic physician, Larry Nassar is an osteopathic physician, was, and Dr. Whitmore told me this pelvic massage actually is an accepted medical procedure and it can be used to treat something called pelvic floor dysfunction when the muscles in the pelvic area become taught. The only way to access them is the you know an intra-vaginal treatment. And there’s also something called interstitial cystitis which is a painful bladder condition and it also can be a useful treatment for that. But there are protocols, you always use gloves, because you don’t introduce pathogens if you don’t. You explain the procedure on the front end, you know you don’t just do it. You explain it. Explain the rationale behind it. You have a chaperone in the room you know because you’re dealing with a sensitive area. And I know my wife goes to get treatment for a shoulder, at PCOM, you know Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and then she goes in there to get her shoulder treated with a shirt on. The doctor has somebody else in the room you now and in the case of a minor you get parental consent.
The idea that this guy would digitally penetrate a minor without speaking to the parents, you know as a parent that’s, that’s what really jumps out at you or something or you say oh my god this is not appropriate.[00:11:46] AB: Now was he also treating the injuries I mean if someone came back there with an ankle or knee or a shoulder or a calf or a hamstring, beyond his abusive treatments was he was he actually also treating the injured? [00:12:02] JB: There are there are women who talked about Larry being a quote unquote miracle worker, Jordyn Wieber when she went to the 2012 Olympics. Now she has since come out and joined with her teammates from that 2012 gold medal winning squad. McKayla Maroney Aly Raisman Gabby Douglas, she’s the fourth member of that team to now say Larry Nassar sexually assaulted her during medical exams.
But if you go back and look through that period of when they won the gold ,Jordan Wieber was quoted as saying Larry you know worked miracles. And there were women who did credit him with helping them get better, and what’s so, what’s so unusual about this, this abuse and this pattern of abuse is the fact that the women took so long to recognize it as abuse. You know it happened to so many of them when they were young, before they had a full understanding of what abuse really was. You know look this is happening, this is a doctor, right. So, part of it was they just couldn’t process that somebody in that position, would abuse them. We’re taught to respect the white coat, and he also was the doctor for the Olympic team. So, you had these club-level gymnast who idolized these Olympians and when they would go into his office on the campus of Michigan State University he had Olympic memorabilia all over the walls.
He groomed many of them by bringing them ribbons and posters from international competitions to gain favor with them. Their parents thought it was a big deal that their kid got to go see the Olympic doctor. So surely this guy couldn’t be abusing me. He’s got all these credentials, and many of them would go on to see him well into their 20s. There’s a woman who, who had some problems with her pregnancy when she spoke to us about them, and said that she continued to see Nassar Well into her 20s and so that’s that.
So then when Rachel Denhollander ultimately went in late 2016 and reported Nassar as abusing her. That was the moment when a lot of women had to look back and think to themselves well geez I guess he was abusing me too.[00:14:41] AB: That’s my question. And we’ll get to the stakeholders involved in a minute. Obviously USOC Michigan State USA G. But this question is not in any way to put any blame on the victims. But, before Denhollander no one’s complaining. No one’s going to their parents. No one’s going to authorities? [00:15:03]JB: Well that’s just it Andrew, and that’s what our report did reveal, people did. To raise warning signs and the warning signs were ignored.
You know in our initial reporting we found four women who went to people at Michigan State in the late 90’s, there in 1997 a woman named Larissa Boyce was a 16-year old gymnast. There’s something called Spartan youth which was a program for promise in East Lansing area a gymnast run by Cathy Klages Michigan State and said gymnastics coach.
Larissa was digitally penetrated by Larry Nassar over multiple exams. She decided to tell Klages about it and did in 1997. In late 1997 she was very clear with her she says. She says she told her he was penetrating her during medical exams. A second gymnast’s was in the room when that conversation between Klages and Larissa was occurring. The second gym confirms what Larissa told Klages, and said she too told Klages she was being digitally penetrated by Larry Nassar. Klages did not according to the women, and we found nothing to suggest otherwise. Klages did not report that incident, she didn’t report it to anybody at Michigan State. She didn’t report it even to their parents. Fast forward a year. 1998 a softball player, full scholarship Tiffany Thomas Lopez, went to see Dr. Nassar for an injured back. She too is digitally penetrated she told three Athletic trainers including a supervisor who still at the school a woman named Destiny Teachnor-Hauk, complained about the nature of the treatments was very clear about what he was doing. I’ve spoken with her boyfriend at the time and he you know remembers listening to her and encouraging her to tell somebody. Nothing happened. Larry Nassar was never reported. They told her she had to continue to see him if she wanted to keep playing. She wouldn’t. So, they ultimately declared him medically inactive and she dropped out of school. So that’s three women. 1999 a woman named Christie Achenbach cross-country runner went to Nassar once and one time only she was 21 at the time.
She was a distance runner at Michigan State. She complained to her coach Kelly Beart who has since left the school. Nothing happened. These women were they, they were not believed. They were told things like “Oh he’s a doctor for the Olympic team you must you must be misunderstanding.”
You know Destiny Teachnor-Hauk tried to pass it off as a legitimate medical procedure. Fast forward to 2014. A former student files a complaint to police about Nassar after going to see him. He didn’t even penetrate her according to the woman, he massaged her and her badging malaria and touched her breast. This is according to her she told another doctor at the clinic. She told the receptionist that same day that she felt violated, they launched a police investigation and a Title IX investigation. Well during the course of the Title IX investigation they talked to four medical experts. They were all people who knew Nassar. One of them was his protege and good friend and one of them low and behold was Destiny Teachnor-Hauk, who Tiffany Thomas Lopez the soccer player had complained to back in 1998. When they asked Destiny Teachnor-Hauk about Larry Nasser, she said I’ve never received a complaint about him in 17 years you know. So there were all these missed warning signs, and then fast forward, rewind a little bit, during the victim impact statements that came out during his first sentencing hearing, two more Michigan State athletes came out.
One was a rower. One was a volleyball player, and they said they too tried to tell coaches and they weren’t believed. So that’s at least a half-dozen examples that we’re aware of in the late to late 90s and early 2000s where women did come forward and try to report this guy. And they just weren’t taken seriously. And it was kept in-house. And he was allowed to continue to see patients.[00:19:42] AB: This is maddening. And when you start bringing up dates like 1997 1998 99 that is 20 years ago, and you start thinking as I’m sure you have many times about how many women could have been spared this abuse over 20 years, if someone had taken this seriously. [00:20:02 JB: it’s brutal, brutal. And look I mentioned that 2014 case where the woman went to police and there was a Title IX investigation. You know Nassar was briefly suspended from seeing patients at Michigan State after that when that Title IX investigation was going on. But he was ultimately allowed after they interviewed these four quote unquote medical experts who knew him. He was allowed to go back to work. Even though he was still being investigated by police ultimately, they never filed charges against the guy. But you know the guy was allowed to continue to see patients. And during that time, we now know at least a dozen patients say he sexually assaulted them during medical exams.
So you know it’s amazing. It’s amazing how many times there was either a lack of communication or women were not taken seriously. The number of times this guy could have been stopped. It’s mind boggling. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the USA Gymnastics stuff. I mean this guy was reported to USA gymnastics in the summer of 2015. And he continued to see patients[00:21:25] AB: So with Michigan State was it the same setup as in the early days, where somehow some way he would be in a backroom with no one else around.
[00:21:37] JB: No in Michigan State he had an office. He had an office at the Sports Medicine Facility. But you know everybody talked about would have, put a big feather in your cap that would be to see Larry Nassar. The reality is Larry Nassar was everywhere. Larry Nassar was in a back room at Great Lakes in the 80’s. He was then in a back room at a gym called Twistarz starting in 1996. In 1997 when Cathy Klages, had Spartan youth on the campus of Michigan State University, he had, he saw, in a training room in the basement of Jennison Field House on the campus of Michigan State University but he was treating clinician at a sports medicine facility at Michigan State.
But Andrew he had he had the parents of so many of these young women so convinced that they could trust him that a lot of them would drop their kids off at his house. He had a training table in his basement.
There’s a young woman who’s made a number of public appearances and she’s been interviewed by ESPN repeatedly. Now her name’s Lindssy Lemke.
She is a former Michigan Staet University gymnast, and Lindsey alleges in her lawsuit, her civil lawsuit, she was abused hundreds of times by Larry Nassar. And her mom Christie Lemke-Akao who is just wrought with guilt. Now talks about how Larry would hold the side door of the sports medicine facility open after hours and she because the building would be locked and she’d drop Lindsey off and she’d go off and do some grocery shopping for an hour while Lindsay got treated by Larry. She dropped Lindsey off at Larry’s house because they lived in kind of the same area. now of course she’s just killing herself because she trusted this man so much with her daughter.[00:23:40] AB: Angry father rushes nassar, parent angle. [00:24:20] JB: Big time. Yeah, I don’t ,it was pretty gut wrenching at the first sentencing hearing.
The thing that, so many things hang with me, but this woman, Donna Markham who got up and talked about her daughter Chelsea. Her daughter Chelsea took her own life. And you know ultimately, she believes that it was largely because of the spiral that the sexual abuse you know started her. She just couldn’t deal with it. And the very first woman to speak, a woman named Kyle Stephens, she spoke about how she was abused as a 6 year old.
She wasn’t a gymnast she wasn’t an athlete, she was 6, she was the daughter of family friends. Her mom and dad would go over to the Nassar’s and they cook Sunday dinner together and she’d be down in the basement with her brother and Larry Nassar’s kids.
And that’s where she says Larry Nassar started to first expose himself to her, and later fondle her digitally penetrate her, and she said it wasn’t until she was 12 that she understood it as abuse and told her parents. But her dad didn’t believe her. And it became kind of a bone of contention between the two and it wasn’t until she was 18 and going off to college that she had this kind of knockdown drag out argument with her father, and the subject came up again and she said, you know I’m paraphrasing, but she effectively said you know Larry really did abuse me and he grabbed her and wouldn’t believe her and she looked him in the eye and said he did this to me, and her dad just crumbled.
And it finally sunk in that she wasn’t lying. The father wound up taking his own life as a direct result of this. Well look he had some other issues going on but she’s convinced this contributed to it.
So when you start hearing the stories, you realize that the ripple effect of what this man did is something that we’re never going to completely understand.
They waited five weeks. They did an internal investigation first. And what’s really curious is they finally reported it to the FBI in late July of 2015. Right. Then they allow Nassar to resign. He wasn’t fired. He basically put out this lengthy Facebook post in September saying that he was stepping down from his position as national medical coordinator. He continued to work at Michigan State as a doctor, treating gymnasts, treating other athletes, really treating anybody walked in his door and USA Gymnastics even though they had three national team members saying, no this guy’s abusing us during these medical exams. They never picked up the phone and called Michigan State. Now similarly in 2014 when Michigan State was investigating the guy, and when he was reported to police they never called USA gymnastics. So, the two large institutions are not communicating with one another. And then the bizarre thing about the FBI case is, even though it was reported to the FBI in late July of 2015, they didn’t reach out to Maggie Nichols or Aly Raisman until well into 2016, and Aly Raisman is convinced that the reason that Steve Penny the CEO and president of USA Gymnastics put off her interview with the FBI is because they didn’t want a scandal before the RIO Olympics.
She’s convinced that they just wanted to have a good Olympics and they didn’t want to anything get tainted. Penny won’t comment about that, but that’s what Raisman believes.
AB: and you mentioned some of these Olympic gymnast like Aly Raisman and others who are getting more attention than others because of their stature in bringing these allegations or these charges of abuse, but, you mentioned McKayla Maroney she had a confidentiality agreement correct? And one that she obviously broke but is it or was it even enforceable?[00:31:57] JB: Well it’s pretty clear USA Gymnastics isn’t going to go after her for the money and it would be, you know the optics of doing that would be horrible right. But, yeah in late 2000, I believe it was in November of 2016, when the Nassar scandal was starting to percolate. And when this is that point Rachel Denhollander had come forward Jamie Dantzscher then known only as Jane Doe had come forward and other women were coming forward to Michigan State Police, right around that time, McKayla Maroney entered into a confidentiality agreement with USA gymnastics, and her attorney at that time was Gloria Allred. She is the one who negotiated the deal for McKayla, and McKayla is now represented by the attorney named John Manley, who is an Irvine, California based attorney and he along with two other Michigan based attorneys they formed this troika of attorneys who are representing the most women. They represent more than 120 women, who are suing Larry Nassar, Michigan State, USAG, and others.
But yea, McKayla Maroney signed a confidentiality agreement, but Manley her current attorney told me that those agreements are flat out illegal in California. You can’t sign, you can’t make a victim of child sex abuse, make the false choice of remaining silent. So, whether that agreement would even stand up in a California court is absurd. You know that’s an issue for a judge there to decide but Manley is of the opinion that it wouldn’t stand up and it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.
But just the fact that U.S.A.G. would do that is pretty telling, because it, because at that point in the in the reporting cycle we were wondering well heck if he did this to these, if what these women are saying is true and he did this to all of these club level gymnasts in the Michigan area.
And we know that he’s been treating Olympic gymnast as a trainer since 1986, and as national medical coordinator since 1996. Well did he do it to national team members and Olympians? And if and if he did well where are they? Why aren’t they coming forward? Well now we know and in McKayla Maroney’s case that the reason she didn’t come forward back then is because they paid to keep her quiet.[00:34:45] AB: the allowances made – [00:35:05] JB: Well and there’s been accountability right. You know you look at what happened. You know Steve Penny, he stepped down in February as the president and CEO of USA Gymnastics but many people believe that wasn’t enough.
So you know in recent weeks we saw the entire board of USA gymnastics resign. You know and then the fall out at Michigan State, the president resigned, the athletic director resigned. Cathy Klages, the gymnastics coach who missed warning signs way back in 1997, she, she resigned back in February, last year. So, you know people have lost jobs and there has been accountability. But you know when it comes to the liability, that’s what still is yet to be determined and that’s, that’s a complicated issue in and of itself just determining how much Michigan… Michigan State was Larry Nasser’s full time employer.
Everything he did for USA gymnastics or at Twistarz Gym was on a volunteer basis. There were kind of three prongs to his employment agreement at Michigan State. He was a treating clinician. He was a faculty member, and then the third prong is he had to do outreach, and as part of his outreach he was national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics, but he was also like this volunteer who treated gymnast’s at Twistarz, at Holt High School the High School where he lives or lived. So in terms of the entity that’s really holding the bag here from a monetary standpoint it’s Michigan State University.[00:36:55] AB: So, what happens John. We know that Larry Nassar will never see the light of day, these sentences from three different trials as you mentioned go into the hundreds of years. All the lawsuits against him. What will happen there? I mean we assume that he doesn’t have much money. [00:37:27] JB: You know he blew his entire,his entire retirement savings in legal fees just in his federal case. Right. And two state cases. So, he’s broke, that we know. The judge presiding over the civil cases ordered, decides, to go into mediation late last year and they did so I think it was for initially for a period of six weeks and there was a bit of an extension, but the bottom line is they couldn’t come to an agreement.
So now we’re back in that phase of discovery where multiple law firms representing more than 200 women are going to be trying to figure out who knew what and when at Michigan State. You know whether they come to some sort of an agreement or not remains to be seen. But it’s you know I hesitate to make that comparison because people sort of resist the comparison. I know you’re familiar with the Penn State outcome, where more than 30 men, God I believe was 93 million dollars in settlements. Well this is this is more than 200 women.
So, and how do you assign a monetary value to what happened to them? You know when you hear these stories of how their lives have been shattered have people committed suicide, loved ones have committed suicide. And, you know now we hear the stories about just what they’re dealing with in their day to day lives and how this has impacted them. I don’t know how you assign a value to that.[00:39:08] AB: And like you said the ripple effects with family and back to those two words the human carnage. I mean we know about those suicides you mentioned but think about these, these women’s friends, family, boyfriends, significant others, spouses that are dealing with the effects.
I mean it’s, I mean the ripples you know. [00:39:41] JB: The thing that the thing I was most encouraged by though if you could kind of look for a hopeful sign. It is just it is just the idea that so many women who were going to remain anonymous were empowered by seeing other women speak, that they decided to shed their anonymity. And I think every time a young woman does that it just further feeds down this notion that there should be some stigma. You know. I don’t know if that helps the women as a collective group deal with it. It’s certainly the women I spoke with we’re empowered by what happened in those Michigan courtrooms. I hope that helps. You would hope that would help them deal as they move forward. But you would also hope that it would inspire a young woman who’s being abused to come forward and to speak up. [00:40:43] AB: I think that’s exactly right. And I think you know I think that’s a great way to wrap on a hopeful note, of something that’s been tragic and you know we have talked about the doom and gloom in this. But yeah these are shining stars. We go back to where I started with. You mentioned her first Rachel Denhollander, the first to sort of shine a light into the darkness. [00:41:10] JB: She’s a rock star and she really is a remarkable lady. She’s got three kids her husband Jacob is somebody who I’ve connected with on social media. Now this is a lady who not only was the first, she’s met with legislators in Michigan to try to change the reporting laws in Michigan. You know she’s become an agent for change. And that’s pretty remarkable that she could take this horrible situation and actually you know contribute to the greater good. You know just the just isn’t one of the more impressive people I’ve ever come across. [00:41:53] AB: And John you’re a rock star too. No. Because you’ve done, you know again that you haven’t done what Rachel’s done but you have shined a light into this to, where I mean I think that’s the value of investigative reporting that it just contributes so much that now we’ve seen this and maybe there will be another Nassar down the road. But maybe there won’t. And part of it is people like yourself exposing this unseemliness out there. [00:42:29]JB: Well I appreciate it. I do. I think we both are. Look neither of us are naïve. We know there are pedophiles out there, we know there will be others. But we would hope certainly somebody in that position there would be, and thus controls put in place so that this will never happen again. You know maybe that’s the hopeful way to end it too. [00:42:52] AB: It is indeed John Barr ESPN Outside The Lines. Tremendous work on this Larry Nassar case that we’ve just delved into. Thanks for being part of the business of sports podcast. [00:43:05] JB: Thank you my friend. Thank you my friend.