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Companies Behaving Badly Part 7: USA Gymnastics & Michigan State

As part of a weeklong series, the personal injury attorneys of Chicago’s Levin & Perconti have been highlighting the list of companies named by the American Association for Justice (AAJ) as having the “Worst Corporate Conduct of 2018.” These companies have each engaged in behaviors that have emotionally and physically harmed patients, clients, customers, employees, and young female student athletes.

Larry Nassar, the now imprisoned former doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University Athletics, has landed both of his employers as the final “bad businesses” on the list. While employed by both the University and big-business funded USA Gymnastics, Dr. Larry Nassar was able to sexually abuse hundreds of young women. Since at least the late 1990s, high level employees at Michigan State had been aware of allegations against Dr. Nassar and had actively engaged in multiple coverups of these incidences.

Last year, Larry Nassar was sentenced to a minimum of 40-125 years in prison as the result of both federal and state charges of sexual assault of both adults and minors, as well as possession of child pornography.

Non-Profit Backed by Corporate Interests and A Major University Cover up Crimes
USA Gymnastics hardly has a bankroll as large as a publicly-funded institution like Michigan State. However, the company has earned millions over the years through corporate alliances. As a high profile Olympic sport, gymnastics has come to convey an image of female strength, overcoming adversity, and reliance on family for support.  Prior to the scandal, USA Gymnastics maintained corporate partnerships with AT&T, Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, Procter & Gamble, Under Armour, and several others. After the lid was blown off the Nassar scandal, each of these corporations wisely abandoned their partnerships with USA Gymnastics.

Perhaps these major sponsors help (inadequately) explain how USA Gymnastics was willing to dismiss sexual abuse allegations against their official team physician. Risking these partnerships and the funding they provided would put a non-profit such as USA Gymnastics in serious financial distress from which they may not have been able to recover.

Michigan State University, a well-regarded public institution known for its collegiate sports programs, also had much to lose by making allegations against Nassar public. Funded by a large endowment, tuition, and tax-payer dollars, the public outcry would have been massive. Somehow Michigan State still seems to have kept its reputation intact, despite evidence that top employees shushed victims for years.

Years of Sexual Abuse Under the Guise of Medical Care
In 1996, Larry Nassar became a medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics. In 1997, he also signed on as a team physician for women’s gymnastics at Michigan State University.

In September 2018, the former President of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, was found guilty of evidence tampering for destroying documents related to Larry Nassar.  Penny allegedly also begged a victim’s mother to not go to police about allegations of sexual abuse by Nassar made by her daughter. He waited over a month to finally notify police, during which Nassar continued to molest other athletes.

In January 2017, a federal lawsuit revealed allegations that Michigan State coaches, trainers, and even township police have been aware of Nassar’s sexual misconduct since at least 1999 and never took action to investigate victims’ claims. 18 women filed the lawsuit in federal court against USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar, MSU, and a gymnastic’s club called Twistars. The suit describes how victims had gone to MSU coaches and trainers in 1999 and again in 2000 to notify them of the abuse and that the university failed to take action. In 1997, a parent went to the head of Twistars club, John Geddert, with allegations of abuse, but he also refused to notify police. This same group of victims allege that Meridian Township Police (Michigan) were made aware of allegations in 2004 and also didn’t launch an investigation.

In February 2018, Nassar was sentenced to 40-125 years in prison.

In May 2018, Michigan State University agreed to a $500 million settlement with hundreds of victims who were assaulted by Nassar.

A timeline of events put together by USA Today shows a staggering number of victims of sexual assault, and just as horrifying, awareness of Nassar’s behavior by staff at MSU, USA Gymnastics, and even the police. How a coverup of these crimes occurring under the noses of two separate organizations was able to persist so long is baffling.

A physician employed by major organizations being able to sexually abuse minors and young women over and over for years is beyond comprehension. It is perhaps the worst example of how monetary greed and a lust for a favorable image can easily come at the expense of human decency.