Settlement in Larry Nassar sexual abuse case not about the $380 million, but rather the courageous women who spoke out against him

Boston Globe

December 16, 2021

By Tara Sullivan

The specific words varied by publication, but every headline made sure to include the number: $380 million.

No wonder.

When the approved court settlement over Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of hundreds of female gymnasts landed as one of the largest dollar amounts in the history of sexual abuse cases, it was bound to be prominently displayed.

Of course no amount of money can fix what happened to Nassar’s victims. No amount of money can replace their stolen childhoods, restore their shattered innocence or rebuild their broken trust in institutions that failed so miserably to protect them. But what this money can do is help the victims on their road to recovery, provide actual, tangible resources for mental and physical care.

What this money also does? Stand as a powerful symbol in the fight for justice.

And that is something that deserves a headline today, tomorrow, and every day into the future.

The upshot of this long, tortuous tale should not be about Larry Nassar, the man whose de facto life prison sentence was only the beginning of the punishments that should be meted out over the devastating number of people whose willful dereliction of duties were revealed while Nassar was unmasked as a serial predator. We should be talking instead about the courageous women who spoke out against him and against those in power, this amazing army of gymnasts who combined their voices as one and made it so loud it could no longer be ignored.

Women such as Rachael Denhollander, the Indianapolis-based lawyer, super mom, former gymnast, and all-around hero of the fight. She was the first person to put her name to accusations against Nassar, doing so in the groundbreaking reporting done by the Indianapolis Star, and she stayed at the front of the fight as the army of fellow victims swelled behind her. She is a best-selling author, a passionate mentor, and a tireless advocate for victims’ rights.

She never wavered on what was important in this settlement — that it not be just a monetary reckoning, but include a series of nonfinancial provisions as well, ones that make certain USA Gymnastics can no longer silence these victims. Victims will have a dedicated seat on the organization’s Safe Sport Committee, the Athlete Health and Wellness Council, and USAG’s board of directors. They were also promised an ongoing dissection of USAG’s culture and what allowed it to foster such unchecked evil by Nassar, with the aim on preventing it from happening again.

“It’s not about money, it’s about change,” Denhollander told the Associated Press. “It’s about an accurate assessment of what went wrong so that it is safer for the next generation.”

[PHOTO: Simone Biles was one of several prominent gymnasts to speak out.ASHLEY LANDIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS]

Such a legacy from such tragedy, leaving nothing but respect for the way these women took an awful narrative and turned it around, the way they spoke up for themselves, spoke the hard truths, fought for themselves and fought for others. From well-known voices at the top of the sport, including Olympians Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Moroney, and Maggie Nichols, to aspiring gymnasts at area clubs or college teams such as Michigan State, the voices rose in unison. Who could ever forget those seven days back in January 2018, the searing and unceasing victim impact statements inside a Michigan courtroom that led to Nassar’s sentencing?

Public outrage was swift and deep, and slowly the walls protecting those in power began to crumble, bringing down USAG leaders such as Steve Penny, abusive coaches such as Bela and Marta Karolyi or John Geddert, FBI agents who let earlier accusations against Nassar gather dust on their desks, or Michigan State coach Kathie Klages along with school administrators who continued to employ Nassar despite credible evidence against him.

I just can’t stop thinking of how brave these women had to be to speak up against the very community they were a part of, to take aim at the very group they wanted so desperately to succeed in, to stand firm against the tide of those they so eagerly wanted to please but who, over and over, refused to believe them. It’s hard to risk alienating the ones who hold the power, because it is so very hard to strip their power when they have it. Just look at the ongoing and disturbing headlines in Danvers, where accusations of hazing, bullying, racist, and antisemitic behavior have been covered up at so many turns. If that has shown us anything, it’s the reluctance on so many levels to taint a town’s reputation over exposing any ugliness underneath.

But Danvers now, like Duxbury before it, like Mater Dei out in California, like the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and the Kyle Beach case, they would all do well to hear and to heed these amazing women. Empowered victims are growing in number, and they continue to alert the leaders and organizations of not simply their liability ($380 million anyone?) but their culpability, and ultimately, their responsibility.

They have become vitally important agents of change, and that, now and always, deserves a headline.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.