In 1992, I sat in a courtroom in Milwaukee in which a cannibal murderer named Jeffrey Dahmer was judged to be sane enough to be locked away in a prison for the rest of his life. One of the things we had to sit through was a recitation by one of the primary detectives on the case of Dahmer’s lengthy, handwritten confession, which was taken down immediately after his arrest and which was written in the monotoned cop-ese familiar to anyone who’s covered cops or watched an episode of Law and Order. For example, Dahmer was always “The Suspect.” The court even gave each of us a copy so we could follow along. As the detective droned on, as deadpan as the prose that he was reading, one statement caught me up short.
“The Suspect,” said the detective, “states that it takes about an hour to boil a head.”
That moment, all the more devastating for how simply it was rendered, has come to mind over and over again as Dr. Larry Nassar, who was sentenced on Wednesday to 40-175 years in prison, sat and listened to all the young women he victimized during his time as team physician for USA gymnastics and for Michigan State University. The courthouse is supposed to be the great leveler. It is supposed to be the place where all the monsters are called to final account as fairly as possible. It is supposed to be where flaming vengeance is cooled into steely justice. It is the secular equivalent of the passage from the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus tells the assembled that, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”
God knows, it doesn’t always work out that way in our courthouses. The thumbs on the scales of justice weigh heaviest on the poor and the brown. But it is by god working out in the courtroom in Lansing, Michigan over which Judge Rosemarie Aquilina presides. In that courtroom, for the past few weeks, a remarkable pageant of crime and punishment, of grotesque sin and justified retribution, has been playing out. Larry Nassar’s victims have come to disclose his hidden sins. They have come to bring out into the open that which was concealed in cowardly shadow by a rogue’s gallery of coaches and bureaucrats, all of whom should be driven from polite society by howling mobs. It is not like anything I ever have seen.
Burn it all down. That is the calm and reasoned conclusion to which I have come as one horror story after another unspooled in the courtroom. Nobody employed in the upper echelons at USA Gymnastics, or at the United States Olympic Committee, or at Michigan State University should still have a job. If accessorial or conspiracy charges plausibly can be lodged against those people, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Those people should come out of civil courts wearing barrels. Their descendants should be answering motions in the 22nd Century. In fact, I can argue convincingly that none of those three institutions should continue to exist in its current form. USA Gymnastics and the USOC should lose their non-profit status forthwith. Michigan State should lose its status within the NCAA for at least five years. American gymnastics is no longer a sport. It’s a conspiracy of pedophiles and their enablers.
Where are the other coaches in East Lansing? Where is Tom Izzo, who makes four million bucks a year to coach basketball? Where is Mark Dantonio, who makes just about as much to coach football? Larry Nassar worked for the same athletic department as they do. In a recent press conference, Izzo fumbled all over himself to the point where Aly Raisman’s mother cranked up a flamethrower on Twitter.
Both Izzo and Dantonio went out of their way to support MSU president Lou Ann Simon, who probably should be transported to the apartment in Rome recently vacated by the late Bernard Cardinal Law. Nice to know that these two highly paid public employees know who the real victim is. And the school’s gymnastics coach tried to coerce her athletes into signing a card to support Nassar when the first charges began to come down. This is unfathomable to me. I believe it also would be unfathomable to Vlad the Impaler.
Is there anything about the modern Olympic Games that isn’t corrupt? The people who run them make up a claque of international bagmen, shaking down whole countries and bankrupting cities as though the entire world was their goodie bag. There are drugs and bribery, and there was Sochi, which was a monument to both of them. And now there’s this incredible crime spree that took place right under the noses of the Olympic officials. Back in the day, East Germany had its steroid-peddling doctors. The U.S.A. had Larry Nassar. Two-tie, all tie.
NBC should refuse to pay a dime toward its rights fees until everyone involved in this catastrophe is unemployed. If they so choose, American gymnasts should be allowed to compete in 2020 under the Olympic flag or, perhaps, under the flags of the nations from which their parents emigrated. Their country failed them as surely as did the sporting organizations that purport to represent it. No punishment is too harsh for the inhabitants of this universe of ghouls and gargoyles to which these brave young women were condemned. Burn it all down. Salt the earth so it never rises again.
Twenty-three years ago, a gifted journalist named Joan Ryan tried to warn us that gymnastics and figure skating – two sports that attained wild success through athletes who barely were old enough to go to high school – were warping young lives in dangerous ways, and that they were ideal hunting grounds for predators like Larry Nassar and pocket fascists like the Karolyis. That book, Little Girls In Pretty Boxes, was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the top 100 sports books of all time, and the revelations therein prompted USA gymnastics to put together a handbook for parents to alert them to the signs of eating disorders, abusive coaches, and other delights of the sporting life. By then, Larry Nassar was already climbing the ladder of that organization, so we can see how well that all worked out.
He’s already gone into the penal system, never to return. He’s been sentenced to 60 years on federal child-pornography charges. Judge Aquilina looks poised to bury him under a jail, and there’s still another state judge waiting her turn. So the fundamental function of the criminal justice system has done all it can to Larry Nassar. (The civil courts, on the other hands, are planning a feast that will last for decades.) All that’s left is to hear the stories, all of them, no matter how long it takes. All that’s left is to shame the universe of ghouls and gargoyles publicly. The young women who were preyed upon by Larry Nassar while allegedly responsible alleged adults looked the other way have stepped up to fulfill that last obligations of justice.
Among the most eloquent of them was Aly Raisman, who won three Olympic gold medals, including in London, which is where Nassar abused her. Citius, Altius, Creepius.
“Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long a period of time, are now a force and you are nothing. The tables have turned, Larry. We are here, we have our voices, and we are not going anywhere. And now, Larry, it’s your turn to listen to me. There is no map that shows you the pathway to healing. Realizing that you are a survivor of sexual abuse is really hard to put into words. I cannot adequately capture the level of disgust I feel when I think about how this happened.
“I am here to face you Larry, so you can see I have regained my strength — that I am no longer a victim, I am a survivor. I am no longer that little girl you met in Australia where you first began grooming and manipulating.
“Imagine how it feels to be an innocent teenager in a foreign country, hearing a knock on the door, and it’s you. I don’t want you to be there, but I don’t have a choice. Treatments with you were mandatory. You took advantage of that. You even told on us if we didn’t want to be treated by you, knowing full well the troubles that would cause for us. Lying on my stomach with you on my bed, insisting that your inappropriate touch would help to heal my pain. The reality is you caused me a great deal of physical, mental and emotional pain. You never healed me. You took advantage of our passions and our dreams.”
Aly Raisman came for everyone.
“A few days ago, U.S.A. Gymnastics put out a statement attributed to its president and C.E.O., Kerry Perry, saying she came to listen to the courageous women and said, “Their powerful voices leave an indelible imprint on me and will impact my decisions as president and C.E.O. every day,” Raisman continued. “This sounds great, Ms. Perry, but at this point talk is cheap. You left midway through the day and no one has heard from you or the board. Kerry, I have never met you, and I know you weren’t around for most of this. But you accepted the position of president and C.E.O. of U.S.A. Gymnastics, and I assume by now you are very well aware of the weighty responsibility you’ve taken on.
“Unfortunately, you’ve taken on an organization that I feel is rotting from the inside, and while this may not be what you thought you were getting into, you will be judged by how you deal with it. A word of advice: continuing to issue empty statements of empty promises, thinking that will pacify us, will no longer work. Yesterday, U.S.A. Gymnastics announced that it was terminating its lease at the ranch where so many of us were abused. I’m glad that it is no longer a national team training site, but U.S.A. Gymnastics neglected to mention that they had athletes training there the day they released the statement.”
She came for every damn one of them.
“Why have I and the others here probably not heard anything from the leadership of the U.S.O.C.? Why has the U.S. Olympic Committee been silent? Why isn’t the U.S.O.C. here right now?,” Raisman asked. “Larry was the Olympic doctor and he molested me at the 2012 London Olympic Games. They say now they applaud those who have spoken out, but it’s easy to say that now. When the brave women started speaking out back then, more than a year after the U.S.O.C. says they knew about Nassar, they were dismissed.
“At the 2016 Olympic Games, the president of the U.S.O.C. said that the U.S.O.C. would not conduct an investigation. It even defended U.S.A. Gymnastics as one of the leaders in developing policies to protect athletes. That’s the response a courageous woman gets when she speaks out? And when others joined those athletes and began speaking out with more stories of abuse, were they acknowledged? No. It is like being abused all over again. I have represented the United States of America in two Olympics and have done so successfully. And both U.S.A. Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee have been very quick to capitalize on and celebrate my success. But did they reach out when I came forward? No.”
They should carve Aly Raisman’s entire statement into the walls of the lobby of every athletic organization in the world. (If you think this kind of thing was limited to Larry Nassar, or even to the United States, I have some vacant churches all around the world on which I can get you some great deals.) They should put her in charge of the Olympics. Larry Nassar should live in a cage long enough to hear about every great thing that Aly Raisman ever does. He will look through bars forever. He should have some company there, too.