By Sam Mellinger | The Kansas City Star
A real-life monster was sentenced to prison, and if you are inclined to say Larry Nassar will spend the rest of his natural life behind bars then you likely have a graphic idea of what his afterlife will be like too.
Nassar deserves all of it, of course. The coward whose perversions and disregard of basic human dignity in pursuit of his own sexual desires left a line of more than 100 women with lives irreparably damaged at best and ruined at worst.
He is a longtime doctor with USA Gymnastics and Michigan State athletics who used his position and the vulnerability of young athletes seeking treatment in the worst ways. He pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct in Michigan’s Ingham County. He is evil personified — there can be no debate about this — but here is a more uncomfortable truth:
His type of evil persists, somewhere, right now as I’m typing these words and you are reading them.
More victims are made every day in sports facilities and schools and churches and homes.
Limiting the number of victims going forward is the only way to pull a crumb of positivity from a shameful conspiracy of institutions and silence enabling a pervert’s destructive desires.
This is when a long overdue cultural movement must materialize and show itself to be a positive force in the future.
Watching the strength and courage of 160 women speaking directly to Nassar is an inspirational result from an awful tragedy. Nearly all of his crimes happened in a different time, or at least that’s the hope we can take.
Just in the last few months, a wave of silence-breakers commonly termed #MeToo has drastically changed the way sexual assault and harassment are viewed in America in all demographics and on both sides of the political spectrum. Men have lost jobs, careers and reputations. Women have gained agency, voice and confidence in a clearer future.
The willingness of so many to speak against Nassar is part of that, along with the clear shame that must be worn by Michigan State and USA Gymnastics.
Their complicity is a heartbreaking reminder of how long and horribly sexual assault has been mishandled. Victims were too often ignored, blamed, not believed or, perhaps worst of all, told they were lucky to be treated by such a respected doctor.
The contrast between the old way and our new and overdue reality is best illustrated by a Michigan State trustee’s embarrassing recent radio interview in which he downplayed both the problem and his university’s role in this scandal.
The reaction was swift and full, the antique and harmful approach of enabling silence shouted down by so many who simply want those who use positions of power to exploit and damage vulnerable young men and women to be exposed and held accountable.
The only way to a better future is to accept that this is where we all are, still. Institutions failed these women, but so did a culture that made it difficult or worse for them to speak up and be believed.
It’s easy to shove all the blame on entrenched establishments, but others have smaller parts, too. Parents, friends, teachers, counselors, priests. All of us. We’ve made it too hard for the powerless to speak against the powerful.
At one point, Nassar was told he must wear gloves with a nurse in the room while treating athletes. That in itself is an admission of some level of wrongdoing, but what’s worse than allowing him to continue without a more serious examination is that he was allowed to continue without any check on whether he was actually wearing gloves with a nurse in the room.
A diabolical monster was trusted, and of course he should not have been.
This is disgraceful stuff, and in 2018 we should be decades better. But ugliness exposed is the beginning of solutions. You can’t clean a broken septic tank without smelling the foul odor.
In the future, some accusations will be false or exaggerated. Others will be made with less than pure motivations. But the pendulum never stops in the perfect place, and for far too long it’s swung much too far in favor of the assaulters. The fix will continue to be messy.
For Nassar and Michigan State and USA Gymnastics, it’s too late. Everyone involved must live with their share of responsibility, of knowing they became part of the problem as an opportunity to lead and protect came and went without them.
The hope, then, is that the next Michigan State and the next USA Gymnastics are paying attention, because there is no question that the next Nassar is currently scheming … or worse.
We all have a part in stopping him. There is no telling which of us will have a bigger part than others.