Looking Beyond Nassar

Note: This is the second piece written after I attended a Congressional hearing with Olympic Sports leaders on Tuesday, May 24th. You can find my "quick hit" thoughts here.

Larry Nassar has become a household name for all the worst reasons. Yesterday, his name was probably the most frequently used by representatives as they questioned Olympic sports leaders. 

Before I set about how the Nassar case should be a spring board for further change, lets acknowledge what attention to the case has achieved:

1. It has greatly increased pressure and scrutiny on Olympic sports bodies, particularly gymnastics. Judging from yesterday the scrutiny and pressure does not seem to be enough, but the Nassar case definitely dialed it up.

2. The public airing of victim impact testimony had an immeasurable impact on victims, increasing confidence in many that they would be heard and that there would be consequences for those who hurt them.

3. Instead of isolating Nassar as a rogue operator, there have been some (but not nearly enough) consequences for the myriad people who enabled his destructive behavior, both at Michigan State and in Gymnastics

4. Finally, the $500 million dollar judgment against MSU is a seismic shift in terms of consequences for harboring a predator like Nassar.

But focus on Nassar is not all good, and in particular yesterday's testimony highlighted some of the areas we need to shore up in its wake.

Not Just Olympians

Although there were many tremendous statements made in the course of the the Nassar trial, overwhelming focus was given to the elite athletes he abused. I myself got caught up in it, especially the words of Aly Raisman.

Any attention on this issue is good attention. However, a heavy focus on the stories of Olympians can undermine the confidence of the vast majority of athletes who have been abused who do not have the notoriety. Remember these are deeply hurt people.

So it is important that we as a community publicly support the survivors who aren't well known for their athletic accomplishments. Additionally, a bridge needs to be built between the Olympian class of survivors and those with stories that are all too similar with less familiar names.

We need the biggest team we can possibly have advocating for the right thing.

Not just one man

As I said, there has been some scrutiny of at least those closely tied to Nassar. William Strampel, Nassar's boss, is now in his own jeopardy. 

John Geddert, a gymnastics coach who has also been accused of abusing athletes and who had ties to Nassar, "retired". Hardly an acceptable consequence for what he has done and the culture he helped foster within gymnastics.

The truth is, predators like Nassar are not rogue operators. They exist within a system that at varying levels enables or ignores their behavior.

in the case of Sean Hutchison, NPR reported that another Olympic coach will be implicated in sexually inappropriate behavior that Hutchison conducted with athletes. This holds the promise of a "smoking gun" for another prominent US coach. We may not be as lucky to root out the enabling behavior in many cases.

Predators do not exist in a vacuum. It is a huge task, but in order to move forward, we actually need to find out not only who the bad actors were, but also who knew about the bad actors and did not act themselves. Yes, some of those people were nearly as powerless as the victims themselves. Some were not. There need to be consequences for those that knew enough and stood by.

I've heard the term "truth and reconciliation" bandied about recently, mostly from those who are in a real hurry to get to the "reconciliation" part. There's a reason truth comes first in that phrase. We need the truth first, then we can think about what reconciliation looks like.