Dr. Larry Nassar was arrested in November of 2016 for sexual abuse of a minor, and the ensuing investigation revealed an enormous collection of child pornography that may also point to up to 60 victims who fell under Nassar’s care. Many of them are well-known athletes.
Since Nassar was long employed by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, many young athletes who went on to achieve success in their field were entrusted to his care. In an episode of 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, three of them came forward to explain how Nassar was able to abuse so many girls for so long. One was 2000 bronze medal winner Jamie Dantzscher, joined by three-time US rhythmic gymnastics champion Jessica Howard and former national team member Jeanette Antolin. All worked with him at a national team training camp at a Texas ranch run by coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi.
Dantzscher revealed in the interview that training at Karolyi Ranch was extremely challenging. She was criticized for her weight, until she began to force herself to throw up. She says it felt like “we weren’t allowed to even smile in the gym” and by contrast Dr. Nassar was a friendly face amongst the adults. “He was like my buddy,” Dantzscher said, “He was on my side.”
Antolin agreed. “He was someone that we would talk to when we were getting treatment, if we had a hard day,” she said, “He was a listening ear. He would make us laugh. When it’s such a serious environment that would be the world. It could fix your day.”
It was the doctor’s friendliness and confidence in his “procedures” that made the girl’s vulnerable to him, as well as their reluctance to cause problems by complaining to other adults in the high-stress environment. Howard says she knew something was wrong, but no one wanted to speak about it:
Jessica Howard: He started massaging me. And— he had asked me not to wear any underwear. And then he just continued to go into more and more intimate places.
Jon LaPook: And when that happened, what, what was going through your head?
Jessica Howard: I remember thinking something was off but I didn’t feel like I was able to say anything because he was, you know, this very high-profile doctor. And I was very lucky to be at the ranch working with him.
Jon LaPook: Did any of the other girls in your cabin talk to you about Dr. Nassar?
Jessica Howard: Yes. The girls would say yeah he touches you funny.
Jeanette Antolin: I remember being uncomfortable because of the area. But— in my mind, I was like, “If this helps, I’ll do anything.”
Jon LaPook: Did you ever complain to anybody about it?
Jeanette Antolin: No.
Jon LaPook: Why not?
Jeanette Antolin: It was treatment. You don’t complain about treatment.
Dr. Nassar allegedly abused Dantzscher from age 13 to the time she was 18. Sexual abuse lawyer John Manly also appeared in the episode, and mentions the 60 women who have come forward, but believes it is more likely in the hundreds. While he certainly blames Nassar for his alleged crimes, he wants everyone to remember how USA Gymnastics as an organization failed to protect its underage athletes. Referring to the organization and the Karolyis, he says, “The story here is that no one was watching to protect these girls,” adding, “And they put medals and money first.”