Prof.: ‘Institutional collapse’ allowed Nassar abuse

Larry Nassar, Eaton County
Larry Nassar in an Eaton County courtroom during his sentencing hearing for sexual assault. (Feb. 2, 2018)

EAST LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Larry Nassar’s final sentencing hearing is expected to wrap up Monday, but the fallout from the former sports doctor’s years of unreported sexual abuse will continue to play out on the world stage.

In recent weeks, leaders at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics have resigned over the abuse scandal, students have organized protests and government officials have launched investigations. Nassar’s victims, meanwhile, continue to ask how and why he got away with his abuse for so long.

Target 8 is digging deeper into the campus culture that many say contributed to his criminal tenure.

“It’s shocking to see the degree of institutional collapse, and I don’t say those words lightly. A lot of people had to, allegedly, do things not the right way for us to get to where we were,” Joanne C. Gerstner told 24 Hour News 8.

Gerstner is an award-winning sports journalist and author. Her work has been featured by The New York Times, ESPN and the U.S. Olympic Committee. After years of traveling to cover some of the world’s biggest sporting events, Gerstner has landed at MSU, where she’s currently the sports journalist in residence. She said she takes pride in the university and her students, but won’t shy away from recognizing the institutional changes that must come from this.

“When you hear woman after woman, girl after girl, in that court say, ‘I told somebody and nobody listened,’ you just want to cry. You want to cry for them cause that’s not right. They tell you, ‘Say something. We’ll help you,'” Gerstner said. “Maybe not.”

She was referring to the women who have given victim impact statements during Nassar’s sentencing hearings for sexual assault in Ingham and Eaton counties. According to the women’s accounts, MSU employees were told about Nassar as early as 1997.

Target 8 previously detailed 10 reported complaints spanning 18 years that were never pursued. Additionally, Target 8 found three people who were reportedly told about Nassar during that time still work for MSU, including the Title IX coordinator who determined he did nothing wrong in a 2014 investigation.

“There’s a long list of things that need to be looked at and I welcome — as a journalist, as a professor and as a citizen of the state of Michigan — that people are coming to check this out. We need to know what happened,” Gerstner said. “We’re talking about massive, societal think pieces here. So we’re kind of almost a crucible for the world’s biggest sociology experiment and I hope we’re going to come out with some better results.”

Society is built on priorities, but as Gerstner has found in her years of reporting, sometimes putting effort in to building a successful athletic department distracts from other important areas.

“We’ve worshiped athletes and had stadiums since the gladiators of Rome, so we’re really not doing something new here,” she said. “(It’s) not just sexual assault, anything, anything that’s wrong. Unfortunately it sometimes does get in the way of common sense, sanity, legality, all that good stuff.”

The Michigan Attorney General, U.S. Department of Education and NCAA are investigating the university.

Gerstner said she already sees changes happening on campus.

“The students are just like, ‘You know what? We’re going to be the change. We’re going to do it.’ They’ve been marching. They’ve been raising money for things. They’re being super supportive,” Gerstner explained. “I think all of us need to take a step back and truly say, ‘Yes, this can happen anywhere. Are we watching our house?’ And we were not watching the house here at Michigan State.”