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TW: Revisiting Larry Nassar and What it Meant for Women in Sports

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at VCU chapter.

Trigger warning: This article contains content pertaining to sexual assault and the abuse of minors.

Several years ago, one of the largest sexual abuse scandals in the history of competitive sports rocked the foundation of the Olympics, and the effects of it are still being felt to this day. Larry Nassar was a physician who had a long and storied history of working with young athletic women in order to keep them in top shape for competitions. His reputation proceeded him, and he was notorious for being a doctor that was good at what he did. 

He worked for Michigan State University as well as the USA Olympics gymnastics team. So, naturally, the man had to have a reputation as a good and kind doctor to maintain those roles and advance up the career ladder in the way that he did. However, as these things tend to sadly go, he wasn’t a kind man at all and ended up using his position in society as a form of leverage against his victims. He has been confirmed to have sexually harassed at least 265 women during his career, with multiple other victims likely existing as well. 

The general public was appropriately horrified when this information was released in court, as were the family and friends of the victims who testified against Larry Nassar during the trial. He’s long since been convicted and will be spending the rest of his life in prison, but people still have questions about his prolific record of assault. Namely, how he was allowed to get away with it for so long, considering the general volume and severity of the assault he committed. 

The answer is simple and sad. No one believes young women who talk about a well-known, influential and respected physician sexually molesting them during their physical check-ups. Other individuals in positions of power also actively covered up for him, one of the more prominent ones being an MSU gymnastics coach named Kathy Klages, who was actually indicted for lying to police during the investigation in regards to whether or not young women had come to her with complaints about Nassar. 

Meghan Holmes / Unsplash

Even when the women being sexually assaulted also had relatively high positions in society, possessing the coveted title of Olympic athlete, they still were not able to escape Nassar’s harassment. Multiple Olympic athletes and medalists alike have spoken on Nassar’s perversions and how it was a constant fear for them, and it’s utterly heartbreaking. People can look back and wonder how it was ever allowed to happen in the first place, horrified at what had transpired, but the general takeaway from the case was different for women in athletics, gymnastics in particular.

The Nassar case made it clear that women, despite having a successful career and a bright future ahead of them, will still never be believed when it comes to a man potentially having his reputation ruined. It also meant that no matter your position in society, that as a woman, there is always a chance that a man can take advantage of you and be protected by his colleagues. That may seem like a stretch, but taking the numbers into account, with well over 200 women coming forward about past abuse from Nassar over his nearly 40-year long career, it’s a reasonable one to make. 

The Nassar case has heavily impacted women’s sports in general, as the public’s horror forced people to actually care about the abuse suffered at the hands of Nassar and the environment that allowed it to flourish. MSU, the university that employed Nassar, was forced to pay out a $500 million dollar settlement to the victims of his crimes, and even that doesn’t feel like enough. 

When a man uses his systemic power to abuse countless young women, $500 million dollars seems like a pittance. Money cannot take away all the harm he has caused, nor can it take away the fear that it has permanently put into the hearts of female athletes both nationally and internationally. 

The Nassar case will live on as a stain and as a constant reminder that the #metoo movement is an incredibly emotional and painful movement for women to be a part of. As well as the fact that women of all social statuses can be taken advantage of in the worst ways possible, despite the strides of inequality that has happened over the past several decades. 

Mikaela is a current student of Virginia Commonwealth University.
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