The Larry Nassar case wrapped an important phase yesterday, when the long, long sentencing hearing finally concluded and Nassar himself received the specifics of his punishment, which guarantee he will die in prison.
But I don’t want to talk about Nassar so much right now. I want to talk about sports.
With the winter Olympics bearing down on us, we’re about to be bombarded with stories of plucky young athletes who have sacrificed nearly everything youth has to offer for the chance to compete at a world level and maybe stand on the podium, have a medal hung around their neck and, rarest of all, have their national anthem played before the world. (At least if they’re in a sport worthy of attention. Hard to get big ratings for biathlon or my fave from the summer games, modern pentathlon. That’s riding, swimming, running, fencing and shooting, which was plainly my destiny in my parallel life.)
And I’ve been seeing headlines lately. Michael Phelps contemplated suicide after the 2012 games, which he left with four golds and two silvers. Tiger Woods, derailed after the death of his infamously domineering father, briefly trained with Navy SEALs, a foolish pursuit that may have given him a career-altering injury. Play in the NFL? Prepare to suffer head injuries that will likely shorten your life, or at least make its last years miserable in unanticipated ways. And then there’s Tonya Harding, human punching bag, the evil princess of American figure skating.
Anyone who pays attention to high-school and college sports hears stories, of parents willing to harass and even bribe coaches for playing time for their children. A average-size defensive lineman at my own high school came back from summer vacation looking like the Incredible Hulk. His father was a doctor, and the stories started circulating that dad had been helpful in finding a drug cocktail that would turn his son into a behemoth just in time for football season.
And these poor gymnasts in the Nassar case. Now that the main narrative has been concluded, look for the rest of the fallout to be coming down soon – about the coaches and trainers and others who, if they didn’t look the other way, certainly were accustomed to telling these tiny girls to just sit down and shut up about what this famous doctor did to them.
The stories are already starting to come out. This guy, booted from USA Gymnastics only this week, was one of Nassar’s enablers:
Geddert’s coaching style has largely been based on fear and intimidation, according to dozens of people who spoke with Outside the Lines over the past year, a group that includes current and former gymnasts, parents of gymnasts, coaches who have worked alongside Geddert and other gym employees. Many of those contacted said they were reluctant to speak publicly about Geddert because they either have children involved in gymnastics in the Lansing area or careers in the sport and they are mindful of the power he wields.
Man, it’s like you could hardly come up with a better atmosphere for a 14-year-old to not speak up about the doctor treating her back pain with a finger up her vagina, could you?
So, my question to the athletes in the room, or the athletes’ parents, or anyone who is athlete-adjacent: We hear a lot about kids who are “obsessed” with the game they play, who have to be told to put down the sticks and take off the skates/uniform/helmet. But how do you keep a child safe in a world like this, and why would you even want them to be part of it? How do you turn them over to a coach who trains little girls with fear and intimidation? I read an interview with Michael Phelps once where he apologized for not being more interesting, because “I swim, I eat and I sleep. That’s literally all I do.” Are even 20 gold medals worth it, when the result is a grown man who had to careen through alcohol, drugs, depression and suicidal ideation before, against all odds, finding himself? I mean, what about the ones who aren’t Michael Phelps, who train every bit as hard for just as long, but don’t make the cut?
I’ve long thought this was all about parents. Anyone seen “I, Tonya” yet? Allison Janney has a big scene, playing Tonya Harding’s mother, where she spits at her daughter, “I made you a champion, knowing you’d hate me for it. That’s the sacrifice a mother makes.” But how can you encourage a kid to keep trying, to not accept defeat easily, to give their best effort, in environments like this?
I read once that Wayne Gretzky’s father would take his hockey gear away from him and lock it in a closet once the season was over. Young Wayne could do whatever he wanted in the off-season except play hockey. It strikes me that the elder Mr. Gretzky knew something too many parents have forgotten.
In the meantime, this is the effort it took for someone to finally pay attention to what Nassar was doing:
Other girls had sounded the alarm about Nassar over the previous two decades — yet no one discovered his criminal behavior.
Rachael Denhollander arrived at MSU years after Nassar assaulted her. She was an attorney, ready for a battle with a thick folder of documents.
Among them: her medical records, journals, the names of four pelvic floor specialists, a USA Gymnastics-certified coach she had told about Nassar’s conduct, an index of medical journal articles on legitimate pelvic floor techniques, a character letter reference and a memo that outlined how her complaint met every element of Michigan law defining first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
“I knew it was going to be a fight,” Denhollander, a former Kalamazoo resident living in Louisville, told The Detroit News. “I had to present the absolutely strongest case possible because it was a medically and legally complex case because a doctor and alleged medical treatment was involved. My biggest fear was I would file a report, he would win and would know he was unstoppable.”
So. Can we skip to some bloggage for the weekend?
A friend of mine works in an office where the Fox Business channel is on all day. “Think how bad Fox News is, then double it, and that’s Fox Business,” he says. After reading this piece on Lou Dobbs, I don’t doubt it.
And that’ll be it for me until after the weekend. I have a fundraiser to work on Saturday, and I appear to have blown out my knee (again), so I’m limping. Play nice and I’ll be back Sunday/Monday.