Athlete A concludes with Larry Nassar convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but there are still a number of outstanding lawsuits.
Netflix documentary Athlete A offers an overview of the 2016 USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal, in which sports doctor Larry Nassar was revealed to have molested hundreds of young athletes – but the story is not over. To date there are still outstanding legal cases, both criminal and civil, aimed at USA Gymnastics and others connected to the Nassar case.
Though Nassar himself is now behind bars serving what is effectively a life sentence, Athlete A comes to the same conclusion that many of the survivors (and their legal representatives) did: that Nassar had allies who enabled his access to vulnerable girls, protected him when his victims reported him, and attempted to cover up the truth as it was emerging.
While the reveal of Nassar’s crimes was shocking enough to make people hope for swift justice, the reality is that legal proceedings tend to be very drawn out. Three years after Nassar first pleaded guilty to charges against him (the first of three guilty pleas to various crimes), other lawsuits and criminal cases are still ongoing. Here are the outcomes of cases that have concluded, and the status of those that have yet to be settled.
Criminal Cases & Convictions
After pleading guilty, Nassar was convicted of three federal child pornography charges, after more than 37,000 graphic photos and videos were found on hard drives he’d attempted to destroy and dispose of. He also pleaded guilty to ten charges of sexual assault. He received a 60-year federal prison sentence, to be followed by a 40 to 125 year state prison sentence.
Nassar wasn’t the first person to be convicted of sexual abuse committed while working for USA Gymnastics. Georgia-based coach William McCabe was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted of molesting young gymnasts, as well as secretly videotaping them getting changed and posting the images online. McCabe was only convicted after one of the victim’s mothers went directly to the FBI; USAG had received numerous complaints about him, but had chosen not to pass them on to the authorities. Four other USAG coaches have also been convicted on criminal sexual abuse charges: James Bell, Marvin Sharp, Robert Dean Head, and Mark Schiefelbein.
After Nassar’s crimes were exposed, senior officials came to the attention of authorities for alleged cover-ups. Former USAG coach Debra Van Horn, who worked alongside Nassar, was charged for acting as a party to his abuse, but the charge was later dropped due to insufficient evidence. Former Michigan State University coach Kathie Klages was convicted on two counts of lying to authorities when questioned about Nassar. She is currently awaiting sentencing, and faces up to four years in prison. Ex-MSU president Lou Anna Simon faced similar charges, but her case was eventually dismissed. USA Gymnastics’ former president and CEO Steve Penny faces charges of tampering with evidence, and is still awaiting a trial date.
Civil Lawsuits Against USA Gymnastics
Michigan State University was the subject of civil lawsuits by hundreds of women and girls sexually assaulted by Nassar. The plaintiffs alleged that the university had failed in its duty to protect them from sexual abuse, such as in the case of Amanda Thomashow, who reported Nassar to the university only to be told that his acts of molestation were normal medical procedures. In 2018, MSU reached a $500 million settlement agreement with the victims, with $75 million of the lawsuit to be held back in order to settle possible future lawsuits. According to Lansing State Journal, the university had hired nine different law firms to represent itself and its current and former employees, and paid more than $11.3 million in legal fees.
USA Gymnastics and its executives and employees have also faced dozens of civil lawsuits from Nassar’s victims. The combination of legal fees and loss of sponsors quickly took its toll, and in 2018 the organization filed for bankruptcy, which put all outstanding lawsuits on hold. In February 2020, as part of its bankruptcy disclosure statement, USAG proposed a settlement offer of $215 million to be distributed in four tiers based on the survivors’ level in the field, with Olympians and World Champions getting the biggest payout. It also has a lot of strings attached, most notably the release of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Steve Penny, USAG’s former national team directors Bela and Marta Karolyi, and many other USAG officials from all current and future claims.
The settlement offer was overwhelmingly rejected by the survivors. John Manly, an attorney representing dozens of the survivors, told The OC Register that “Some of the parents who’ve called me have been homicidal.” The coronavirus pandemic and its related lockdowns have added further delays to legal proceedings across the board, and so the lawsuits against USAG remain an ongoing process.
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