Episode 38: The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the Significance of the Larry Nassar Trial (Trigger Warning)
This week Shireen Ahmed, Amira Rose Davis, Brenda Elsey, Lindsay Gibbs, and Jessica Luther update listeners on the pending 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Brenda interviews Professor Rachael Joo, an expert on South Korean sport. She provides a nuanced analysis of tensions between local residents and critics of the environmental and economic impact of the games.
The team then pivots to a very serious topic: the trial of Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics doctor and associate professor at Michigan State University who is accused of sexually assaulting approximately 150 girls and women. Then they forego the usual burn pile to incinerate everything that’s happened in the last two decades to hundreds of girls and women’s subject to Nassar’s treatment and unheard by institutions that were supposed to protect and serve them.
The Badass Woman of the Week segment is dedicated those who suffered Nassar’s abuse and features the voice of survivor Larissa Boyce.
Intro (3:40) Winter Olympic update (7:39) Brenda interviews Rachael Joo (23:01) (TW) Discussion of the trial of Larry Nassar as a giant incinerating burn pile Burn Pile (53:45) (TW) Bad Ass Women of the Week (57:58) What’s Good (1:00:26) Outro (1:02:22)
For links and a transcript…
“The Winter Olympics Needs More Diversity” http://progressive.org/dispatches/winter-olympics-needs-diversity/
(From 2002) “U.S. team lacks racial mix / Little diversity found on U.S. Olympic Team” https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/U-S-team-lacks-racial-mix-Little-diversity-2875070.php
“Does US Figure Skating Need to Change Its Olympic Selection Process?” http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1921353-does-us-figure-skating-need-to-change-its-olympic-selection-process
“Olympian Adam Rippon Stands Up to Mike Pence’s Homophobia” https://www.thenation.com/article/olympian-adam-rippon-stands-up-to-mike-pences-homophobia/
“The many enablers of Larry Nassar” https://thinkprogress.org/larry-nassar-enablers-c46b8ceb5200/
“Larry Nassar’s victims confront him in court with the devastating reality his sex abuse left behind” https://thinkprogress.org/larry-nassars-victims-shine-light-on-the-wreckage-sex-abuse-leaves-behind-7219a4ac6320/
“Taking on ‘The Monster’: Survivors Confront Dr. Larry Nassar” https://www.wnyc.org/story/larry-nassar-faces-sentencing-abusing-young-gymnasts/
“Gymnast Maggie Nichols writes in letter she was first to alert USAG to abuse by Larry Nassar” http://www.espn.com/olympics/story/_/id/22011755/gymnast-maggie-nichols-says-was-first-alert-usa-gymnastics-abuse-larry-nassar
“Who Has U.S.A. Gymnastics’ Back at This Point? The U.S.O.C., for Some Reason” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/19/sports/olympics/nassar-gymnastics-raisman.html
“We Need To Be A Lot Angrier About The Larry Nassar Scandal” https://www.buzzfeed.com/jessicaluther/why-was-sandusky-a-bigger-scandal-than-nassar
“Why don’t we care about the biggest sex abuse scandal in sports history?” https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/dec/16/gymnastics-larry-nassar-sexual-abuse
“This week, 89 Larry Nassar victims raised their voices about his abuse. Cable news ignored them.” https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/dec/16/gymnastics-larry-nassar-sexual-abuse
“Nassar surrounded by adults who enabled his predatory behavior” http://www.espn.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/22046031/michigan-state-university-doctor-larry-nassar-surrounded-enablers-abused-athletes-espn
“FBI Says Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar Recorded Abuse on Go Pro” https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/gymnastics-doctor-larry-nassar-hit-new-sex-abuse-claim-n698741
Brenda: Welcome to this week’s episode of Burn it All Down. It may not be the feminist sports podcast you can but it’s the feminist sports podcast you need. On this week’s panel we have the brilliant Amira Rose Davis, assistant professor of history in women’s gender and sexuality studies at Penn State. Our favorite dead weight lifter Jessica Luther, independent writer in Austin, Texas. Sports writer at Think Progress in DC, the tenacious Lindsay Gibbs. Shireen Ahmed freelance sports writer and take no shit cat lover in Toronto, Canada and myself Brenda Elsey, associate professor of history at Hofstra University.
This week we’ll talk some Winter Olympics, interview Professor Rachael Joo, an expert on South Korean sport. Then we’ll do a difficult but necessary pivot to the trial of Larry Nassar foregoing our usual burn pile to incinerate everything that has happened in the last two decades to hundreds of girls and women subject to his treatment and unheard by institutions that were supposed to protect and serve them.
So Amira, how are you feeling about the game today?
Lindsay: Anybody have any red gloves on lately?
Amira: This is ridiculous. Mangate. Glovegate. I am so over it and I’m trying to not care. I’m like whatever happens, happens. Who cares? We already have so many rings and what not but literally my stomach hurts. I want it to be over. Just wake me up tomorrow. Tell me if we won.
Lindsay: Patriot’s fan Amira over there is a little bit nervous about Tom Brady’s hand even though the rest of the known universe knows that of course nothing is actually really wrong with Tom Brady’s hand.
Amira: He had stitches. Seven stitches.
Lindsay: This is all a conspiracy.
Shireen: So, did Abby Wambach in her head, and she went back in and played.
Amira: Maybe he’s a little bit more delicate okay?
Jessica: He’s just gonna believe. What is his whole thing?
Amira: That’s true. I figured he’s going to drink a bottle of water and he’s going to imagine his hand being … he probably didn’t even need the stitches. He could have just imagined by the ability of this skin and it would have like covered it. I’m just completely out on all of this. To be honest, I am more concerned about our defense. So, you know. We’ll make it through.
Lindsay: Well, Blake Bortles, you know.
Jessica: Are the Patriot’s playing the …
Amira: Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jessica: That’s the team I’m rooting for just because I love The Good Place so much. And there is a character on The Good Place who loves Blake Blortles.
Amira: The Good Place. That did warm my heart seeing Jason’s montage when they made it into the championship game. But yeah.
Jessica: In the latest episode he needed a fake name and so he went with Jake Jortles.
Lindsay: Oh my god. That’s so good.
Jessica: How do you not love that?
Lindsay: Maybe one day Canada will get real football, but we’ll have to see.
Shireen: You know we actually have the CFL. I love them, and we’ve actually got the best hockey in the world.
Lindsay: Johnny Manziel is coming to the CFL too.
Amira: Can I just say on the best hockey in the world? I will have you know that the Boston Bruins have beaten the Canadiens three times in the last week. I am a very happy person over here.
Shireen: Amira, we’re not going to get into that. How many Stanley Cups do you all have?
Brenda: Listen, real football is soccer. I’m leading the bus today and that’s the way it’s going to go and if Tom Brady’s hand hurts, he can always deflate the ball. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
Amira: Low shot.
Brenda: No low shot. Low shot that he’s allowed to play cheater pants. Okay we’re going to move on. Okay so we do have the Winter Olympics coming up and I’m really interested Amira, what’s on your mind? What are you paying attention to?
Amira: Yeah, so there is a few things happening. As we get a little closer to the games and the opening ceremony in PyeongChang, it’s about 18 days from the time of recording, a little over two weeks. We have a few developments that I wanted to bring up. One and this is probably the biggest one, we now know that North Korea will be participating in the games, the IOC has confirmed them. They will be marching in a united delegation with South Korea, one torch bearer from each country under a unit Korean flag and they are fielding athletes in five sports, most notably a united women’s hockey team. They are competing again as Korean and they have 12 members of the team from North Korea.
They are also competing in four other sports as individual athletes. The IOC has now approved this. The IOC President Bach has said, “The Olympics Games are always about building bridges. They never erect walls. The Olympic spirit is about respect, dialogue, and understanding … blah blah blah. We’re hopefully opening the door for a brighter future on the Korean Peninsula and invited the world to join in on a celebration of hope.
So, as we know the Olympic spirit, despite the IOC’s decades of insisting that it’s this just wonderful fluffy, we often know that it’s insanely political so we’ll all be watching to see how this plays out in PyeongChang. The other thing that we’ve been talking about here is our friend Pita Taufatofua, who is best known as the shirtless Tongan flag bearer from the Rio games. Well he is now officially qualified for the winter games in cross country skiing. He is just the second Tongan to do and his qualification, he missed the flight to one of his races to qualify so this was really down to the wire, but he made it to the winter game and his inclusion reignites this conversation that we’ve had on this show and we’ll continue to have about diversity in the games and when we talk about diversity in the winter games, we’re not just talking about in the United States context but globally right, we’ve seen the IOC continuously drop the ball and not really give a damn that countries from Latin America, from continental Africa, are not represented in the Winter Olympics at all. The more inclusion that we’re seeing this year by Nigerian bobsledders, by Pita and his cross-country skiing is going to put a spotlight on this dearth of global competitors and have a conversation that we need to keep going.
The last thing that happened this week in terms of the Winter Olympics is Adam Rippon who is the first openly gay athlete to be selected for the Winter Olympics, pushed back on Vice President Mike Pence being appointed to lead the US delegations in the opening ceremonies. He said, “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence who wanted to fund gay conversion therapy? I’m not buying it. He doesn’t stand for anything that I believe.” Pence and his spokes office of course pushed back oh this was not factual, but we know that they have a loose idea about what facts actually are and Adam himself took to Twitter to say you know what I have the receipts and he is an epic Twitter thug. I want everybody to read where he showed him his own words. He said listen, I’m proud to represent the country and to me what America is is I’m an out gay man, our differences is what makes America great and I am not interested in doing a meet and greet with the delegation if Pence is leading it.
So, these are some of the things I have had my eye on this week. We have united Korea. We have additional diversity in the Olympic games which is shining a light on their lack thereof this year and many years before that, and we have Adam vs Mike Pence. So that’s your Olympic update for now.
Brenda: And that brings me to the subject of our interview for this week. The following interview on the Winter Olympics is one that surprised me because of the way in which Professor Jew highlighted how PyeongChang is quite different from some of the recent Olympics we’ve seen and her nuanced explanation of the tensions between local residents and those who criticize the games for environmental and economic costs. So, I’m here today with Rachael Joo, associate professor of American studies at Middlebury College. She is the author of Transnational Sport: Gender, Media, and Global Korea published by Duke University Press in 2012. We are thrilled to have an expert today on sport in South Korea. Thank you for joining us at Burn it All Down Rachel.
Rachael Joo: Oh, I’m happy to be here.
Brenda: For those of us or listeners who aren’t really familiar with PyeongChang, can you describe a little bit about what the area where the Olympics will be held is like?
Rachael: Yeah sure. It’s really rural and it’s not really developed. There are a few ski resorts and the hope is that in the wake of this Olympics those ski resorts will expand, and it will be seen as a kind of international destination for skiers and for winter sports enthusiasts. It is located about 3 hours by car from Seoul, which is considered the heart of South Korea. It is in a highly mountainous area. They have also incorporated a town called Gangneung, which is along the east coast of South Korea and that is a kind of suburban town or a small-scale city. That area doesn’t see a lot of snow and they’ve built a lot of the ice facilities there for the figure skating, ice hockey, and the short track speed skating or the speed skating. And they did that as a way to incorporate the capital of this region, this province into the games. So, a lot like Sochi where they distributed the games into different areas of the region, they followed that model. That was largely a local decision to distribute the resources. There was a lot of corruption in that involving those who ended up bringing down the previous president who was impeached in March of last year.
Imagine a mid-range industrial city or small industrial city and that’s where the ice faculties are located. Then all of the alpine facilities are located in PyeongChang itself which is a mountainous area.
Brenda: So, since 1988, I remember reading reports in 1998 of some accusations and reports of human rights violations associated with clearing out the poor and other groups of people in preparation for the Olympics. Do you feel, is that something that is ongoing today or has that changed?
Rachael: It certainly was with the stadium, the World Cup stadium in 2002. That became a scandal. Those who were displaced were generally poor and working-class people who weren’t given replacement housing as promised. The upcoming Olympics was seen as happening in an undeveloped area, largely an undeveloped area where those who were displaced were not large numbers of people and were seen as acceptable sacrifices for development. A lot of the development within that area has been organized by the provincial government of Gangwondo, which has been a largely poor and rural province and they are working with a lot of the Chaebols or the large conglomerates. So there is a lot of local control you could say in terms of how the Olympic development is happening in South Korea and this leaves out a lot of the central government, which is located in Seoul and in Gweonggi-do which is the province of Seoul. There has been a lot of ambivalence by the majority of the Korean population about what kinds of dealings have been happening. There clearly has been a lot of corruption.
Brenda: Do you think that the people in the surrounding area of PyeongChang that it means something different or special to them or has it mostly been a burden?
Rachael: I think that there is a lot of defensiveness. With national development in South Korea, a lot of it was centralized in Seoul and about a quarter to a third of the population live in Seoul and the surrounding area. There is industry in Kyŏngsan Province, which is south of Gangwondo Province and there is also, the second largest city Busan which is right on the tip of the country, which is relatively wealthy as well. There is a real sense that this is a regional pride issue and there is a lot of regionalism in South Korea. There is a sense that any criticism of the PyeongChang Olympics is a criticism of Gangwondo. So even those that may have been displaced or are going to suffer the environmental effects of the Olympics feel very defensive about any outsiders coming in and either saying that the environmental destruction is bad for the area and the nation and the world just in general. They are also very defensive about anyone coming in and trying to take advantage of the economic opportunities that may appear, however limited and short lived.
Brenda: A lot of your expertise right has been on global media or sports media. What is that you think the US audiences might not get or what the sports media in the US might be wrong during these Olympics? I mean what should be looking for?
Rachael: I think one of the things you should look for is how South Korea is very good at creating very visual images of the games and the appearance of the games. And I think this is for lots of Olympics, to the people and the workers and the supporting staff is an interesting question because I think the images that we’re going to see are going to be sleek and present South Korea as a very contemporary and ultra-modern place with lots of technology and beautiful people. I think that presentation is a primary concern of the Olympic Committee and what actually happens behind the scenes, behind the stage so to speak, I think is something that will be reported by individuals, bloggers, and social critics, of whom there are many in South Korea. I think looking out for those kinds of stories would be a good thing to do because the actual image itself, is I think going to be pretty sleek.
Brenda: You mentioned before environmental damage and I know this is sort of a scholarly interest of yours too, what kinds of damages are happening?
Rachael: Well there is just a lot of clear cutting of forest. A lot of very quick rapid upturning of earth in areas. I was just there this summer, there is a lot of last minute work that is being done and a lot of that last-minute work is being done without any environmental review of the long term effects on drainage systems, hydrological systems, and there have been environmental activists who chained themselves to forests and said … their whole slogan was 500 years for 15 days. So, 500 years of forest for 15 days of games is not worth it. They were forcibly removed and there was not a lot of local support again because many of the local people who live there feel that any critique of the games is criticism of their region and also preventing their opportunities for economic advancement.
There are a lot of those kinds of tensions that are happening on a smaller scale. If you saw the kinds of development that’s been happening. It feels very violent in terms of the kinds of reshaping of landscapes for these games. It’s questionable and unlikely that these facilities will be used for any other purpose or will be used in any widespread capacity after the games are over.
There is a lot of cost overruns that have been happening in terms of the construction. A lot of it is happening last minute. There are a lot of add ons. There is no way that the Gangwon-do Province will be able to repay. So it’s going to be a national issue in terms of the rest of the country being responsible for the cost of this Olympics. I think it’s going to become a big political issue after the Olympics are over.
Brenda: One of the other things since Brazil is a little more in my wheelhouse that we saw is the difficulty for both Rio, San Paulo and other areas to de privatize or get rid of some of the private security forces that they put in the place for those mega events. Has South Korea experienced anything similar to that where they have had to either change some local laws or hire private security forces in order to accommodate the IOC?
Rachael: I think security right now is probably the number one issue and it’s considered a national issue because of the missile test from North Korea. I think it’s also considered something South Korea, that’s affecting the actual perception of the games and attendance for the games. The willingness to participate in the games as tourist, even as athletes. I think the biggest concern is national security right now and there is some concern about cyber security with the Russian Olympics team. I think they’ve been banned as a country although individuals will be accepted as athletes, as competitive athletes. There is this concern that there is going to be a cyber-attack as well.
So, in terms of the actual every day day-to-day security there hasn’t been the sense that it’s exceptionally I guess emboldened.
Brenda: One of the things that we’ve talked a lot about on Burn it All Down is the difficulty of loving some of the sports even though you know all the horrible things that are happening around them. Are there things that you are excited to watch?
Rachael: Yeah, I’m excited to watch the figure skating championships. One of my research focuses is Asian American studies, so I’m just interested in how a lot of the Asian American figure skaters are represented in relation to a lot of the Asian figure skaters and there other figure skaters around the world.
I’m excited about women’s hockey. There is an interesting story that’s gotten a lot of play between or about two sisters who are playing for two different national teams. One who was adopted. Their names Marissa and Hannah Brandt. They are from Minnesota and one was adopted, the older sister was adopted from South Korea and the younger sister was a bio child of the parents. South Korea contacted the adoptee and asked her if she wanted to play for the South Korean Olympics team, so she has agreed, and she also adopted her birth name to play under. That’s also very interesting. It was unclear whether Hannah Brandt would make it onto the US Olympics team and she has now. So they may potentially play against each other. That’s a really interesting story.
Brenda: That’s so interesting. That’s fascinating.
Rachael: There is a whole history of South Korean adoption that has involved lots of individuals like Toby Dawson who is a freestyle skier. He was adopted by two ski instructors from South Korea and Vail and he used the Turin Olympics to try and find his birth parents and he subsequently found his birth parents and they were reunited in this live ceremony. Toby Dawson then subsequently got a job coaching the South Korean Olympics team. There is this whole history of this narrative of reunification and finding one’s bio parents. It’s also very problematic in the sense that there is a sense in South Korea that blood defines your nationality regardless of whether the state or whether your own sense of identity aligns with that.
Brenda: Rachael Joo. Thank you so much for being on Burn it All Down.
Rachael: No, I really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.
Brenda: And now we’re going to pivot to a very serious topic and one that we would like to send out a trigger warning to listeners about. The conversation that follows will probably have details of sexual abuse, which may be very explicit and upsetting to people. We’ll put time stamps on the show notes in case those of you who need to skip it want to skip it.
This week in Michigan, Larry Nassar, the team USA gymnastics doctor and associate professor at Michigan State University heard the testimonies of the women he assaulted. At least 150 girls and women suffered sexual abuse at Nassar’s hands for over 20 years. As part of his plea bargain, all of these victims have the right to appear in court and give their testimony to confront Nassar. The testimonies reveal so much about how people in institutions refuse to listen to the girls and women, instead of listening to those hundreds of survivors, people chose to rest on the supposed authority of one man, an all too familiar monster as it turns out.
This week at Burn It All Down, we’ve struggled to think of how to honor the survivors and articulate actual words that make sense of a case of this magnitude. So, we’ve decided to forgo our usual format of a burn pile and structure the conversation as the biggest incinerator ever to burn it all down. We’re going to start with Amira who is going to talk about her particular choice aspect of the case. Amira?
Amira: Yeah, I want to start with the man himself and how he revealed how shitty his character is even in this moment. This week, as almost a hundred survivors stood in front of him in a courtroom and revealed to the judge, to the courtroom, to the world the wake of devastation he left. He had the audacity to write a single spaced six-page letter complaining that it was too hard for him to listen to the description of abuse. That he was mentally not able to withstand this, blaming the judge and the courtroom for turning it into a media circus.
What the fuck? I’m sorry. The audacity. The audacity of causing this pain and not being able to withstand a day. These women, these girls, many of them still minors have been living with this for years and you can’t take 48 mother fucking hours to hear you have inflicted. They are holding up a mirror to you and you are running away? You are a coward. And kudos to the judge in this case who responded to this ridiculous letter and said listen spending four or five days listening to them is significantly minor considering the hours of pleasure you have had at their expense in ruining their lives. I just … this is about power, and you can see now that he is shredded from it, he has no ability to exert himself over these brain young women. He is cowering. He is cowering and he’s weeping, and he is just … even in this moment I don’t know what else I would have expected. I knew he was a monster, but this revealed him to be a coward. I’m burning it. I’m enraged. I just have no words.
Lindsay: Yeah, I have been listening to pretty much all these victims’ statements and one of the things that has struck me, the level of his evilness and his soullessness, you don’t think it could astound you anymore and yet it does over and over and over again. What has gotten lost in this conversation is not only did he sexually abuse, which is the worst not only I’ve ever said, but most of these women came to him for specific treatments of pain and he did not properly treat them. Many times, he actually invented diagnosis of severe back pain or misdiagnose them so they would keep coming to him, so he could keep abusing them for his own pleasure. So many of these girls, besides the emotional pain and the ways their lives have fallen apart, they are still in extreme physical pain because they were never treated properly when they were supposed to be.
Brenda: And we know how emotional trauma works in the body and exacerbates all kinds of, there are psycho somatic reactions to those types of things, on top of the fact that they weren’t treated for their actual physical ailment. Shireen, what do you want to burn about this case?
Shireen: Well, amongst the many things, like everyone else wants to incinerate, for me one of the most harrowing things was the lack of media coverage on this particular … it was one of the most horrific, systemic abuse in sports in the history of the United States. I think that it was just staggering how little and I’ll actually be referring to work that Lindsay has done and Lindsay … just really the work, you know I’m talking about the lack of media coverage, the work you put forward to this like hats off to you because I’ve been relying on your heavily and I know this work is exhausting. When I say that I also want to add that mad respect and much love and lots of self-care to the people that have been covering this because it’s not easy.
Now in terms of the coverage, or lack thereof, and which Larry Nassar had the audacity to say to the judge that he accused of a “media circus”, which is not true, the Indianapolis Star broke this story and we had it in September of 2016 and in a previous episode we did have the journalist on that had been following this. Then Lansing State Journal had covered it. Dvora Meyers from Deadspin had been covering. I think, and Jessica wrote a piece for BuzzFeed on it, I think it’s important to know that there was less than 20 minutes combined of Fox News, MSNBC, CNN on this entire case. We’re talking about everything from the facts to witness testimony to actual court because he’s being sentenced, this is just now what we’re seeing is the victim impact. But the fact that it hadn’t been covered the way it ought to be is just so devastating and instead we’re hearing about … I don’t know … President Agent Orange having temper tantrums and Forbes Magazines. It’s just getting lost and it shouldn’t be.
Brian Graham of The Guardian actually wrote an article about this and why it’s not getting more attention and he wrote about this and he said it’s just that people don’t care. That really struck me because the reality is there are systems, violent systems in place and do people really not care? If people call up their local stations and say listen we want to hear about this, why is this not being reported if they tweet accurately? These things actually do make a difference. For people to say, it’s also I understand, difficult for people to hear and read about it and it can be triggering and lots of love out there to the survivors who are being re triggered by this, but this is a systemic problem within this sport and in the United States and in many other countries. The only way to clean out this dirty laundry is to air it. It needs to be out there.
Again, first and foremost love and support to the survivors. Those who have come forward and those who still can’t. But in terms of media, you have a responsibility and not only to cover it, to cover it responsibly. Use media tool kits if need be. Chicago Task Force Femfesto. Like, it needs to be done and please do it responsibly.
Brenda: Jessica, you actually wrote in BuzzFeed about people caring or not caring enough.
Jessica: Yeah, I did. They don’t seem to care enough in my experience and from the circle I run in, even though I run in this one right here where we care very deeply. The article is framed around the Sandusky trial, which a lot … I’m from Penn State, just inundated the news like on all sides. My entire point of the piece was to say that what we’ve learned, the mask drawn back is that all that Sandusky coverage had nothing to do with the victims in that case and caring about child sexual abuse. It was literally just the institution and specifically that coach, Joe Pa that everybody loves to much and that we can see that because here we have his horrific case with Nassar that doesn’t receive the same kind of intensity of media scrutiny.
It’s not that people haven’t been covering it. Of course, there is a defensive response to the piece, there’s lots of articles about this and I heard about it from one of my friends, so you must be wrong. How are you ever going to prove that the intensity of the media coverage is very different? That the tenor and the flavor of it is very different. It seems obvious to me and I think that’s because they don’t have an institution or a famous person that they identify with and care deeply about that is involved here. It’s not about the victims. It’s not actually about that and trying to mitigate that kind of harm and I think that was really what I wanted to draw attention to.
Brenda: Lindsay is somebody who covered this intensely. Do you have something to comment in terms of media coverage of this?
Lindsay: I think that there needs to be a line drawn between reporting and coverage because the reporting on this case has been absolutely fantastic. It is because especially the Indianapolis Star and the Lansing State Journal reporters, that we are at this point. Their reporting led to these brave survivors coming forward and got us to this point. So there has been phenomenal reporting but that study that Shireen mentioned that I wrote about, about 20 minutes, so this was last week. It was Monday through Friday morning and it looked at CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. So, three 24-hour, 7-days a week cable news stations. It tallied in all the four days on all the stations just less than 20 minutes of coverage on his case. This was the biggest week for the case in the media because it was the week that all the victims were speaking day after day, 9-5 in court. That was really, for me, a staggering number because we’re not expecting unfortunately at this point, for those networks to do any new reporting, new investigative reporting on this. But they should be amplifying it and they should be treating like something people should care about.
Because so many people get their cues on what to care about from those cable news stations. Building on Jessica’s point that this is a great example of how the Paterno scandal or what Sandusky did the people were more outraged about Paterno’s legacy than they were about the child sex abuse. On that note, I think I’ve heard a lot, maybe we just don’t care about female victims. Maybe we care about male victims. But I think society has told us that we don’t really care about male victims of sexual assault either. We care about men’s sports and the legacies of men’s sports than we do about women’s sports, but we treat all victims like shit.
Brenda: So, on the burn pile, which is already just flaming, flaming, flaming … flames up to the sky. Jessica, what are you going to throw on?
Jessica: So, I’m going to start the enabling part of this. I want to talk about one specific enabler of Nassar’s who is getting less attention overall because there are so many fingers to be pointed here. But I want to talk about this guy, his name is John Geddert. He was the head coach of the US Women’s gymnastics team for the 2012 London or in 2012 London when the fierce five, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, and Jordyn Wieber won gold. Four of those women Douglass, Mahroney, Raisman and now Weber have said that Nassar abused them. Weber, the 2011 World All Around Champion was personally coached by Geddert who is the owner of Twistars, a USA Gymnastic Club near East Lansing.
On Tuesday last week, Outside the Lines published a long piece about Nassar’s enablers and the first one profiled was Geddert. Here is how his relationship to Nassar is described in the piece, “the two men were all but inseparable professionally and socially. They worked together for more than 25 years, first at Great Lakes Gymnastics starting in 1996 at the gym Geddert owns now, Twistars. They worked the 2012 Olympics together. Geddert was in Nassar’s wedding party when Nassar got married in East Lansing in 1996. They attended each other’s house party and traveled the country and later the world together at competitions. They vouched for each other when faced with career threatening circumstances”. Most disturbingly, if we’re listing in a hierarchy, at least one woman has said very clearly that Geddert knew of Nassar’s abuse. This is how Outside the Lines wrote it up, “On least one occasion, Geddert walked into the back room of Twistars while Nassar was digitally penetrating a young gymnast according to the woman’s court testimony. And this is what she said, “all I remember is him, Nassar, doing the treatment on me with his fingers in my vagina, massaging my back with a towel over my butt and John walking in and making a joke that I guess my back really did hurt.”
The gymnasts that spoke to OTL about Geddert connect the two men through their abuse. In two separate incidents, a parent and a gymnast reported Geddert to the police for assault. The gymnast told police that Geddert stepped on her toe, grabbed her arm, and pushed her into the wall to discipline her. Nassar texted that gymnast’s grandmother to plead on Geddert’s behalf. Lindsey Lemke who started training at Twistars when she was seven years old and is currently a senior at Michigan State University, spoke about Geddert’s behavior this week. “He would take girls by the shoulders. Squeeze hard enough to leave marks, shake them, and yell directly into their face. There was specifically one time when he picked up the vault hand mat and hit me with it because I couldn’t get my vault right that day and this was already after I had crashed into the vault hard enough to bruise and bleed.”
The quote that will forever stay with me though from this piece that OTL did is about how the two men’s abusive behaviors fed each other. One gymnast told OTL, “part of what enabled is John broke little girl’s spirits and bodies and Larry was there to fix them.” This made me think of how often we excuse coach’s behavior, which in any other context would be seen as abusive because we have this idea this is how you make athletes better. You berate them. You push them around. You make them feel little in order to see if they can rise above that. John broke little girl’s spirits and bodies and Larry was there to fix them. We have to reckon with part of this too.
Brenda: It’s difficult just to hear that. It’s so important to recognize that this isn’t about one person. But breaking little girl’s spirits is nothing anyone should be doing. So, speaking about Michigan State, and just to segue into my burn, I went to Michigan State and I belonged to the Campus Feminist Collective. I worked at the women’s resource center. I know there are people at Michigan State who would have moved mountains to prevent this and they could have. But for the irresponsibility of the officials that were already informed. It’s unbelievable to me what has happened. It is unbelievable. But in any case, now it’s believable and we have to process and digest that.
This is this week’s, what has pissed me off so bad. Patrick Fitzgerald, the lead attorney for Michigan State University in the cases, defended MSU’s response to Nassar in a letter to the Michigan Attorney General. He said, “The evidence will show that no MSU official believed that Nassar committed sexual abuse prior to newspaper reports in the summer of 2016.” The operative word here is believe. They didn’t believe people. They were informed. They had the information, but they did not believe those students. They did not believe those women. They did not believe softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez who told at least two different trainers she was assaulted at least 10 times by Larry Nassar in 2000. She went unheard and ended up leaving softball and then MSU. Even after the Title Nine investigation concluded Nassar’s procedures constituted violations, he continued to be employed for 16 months. It’s unbelievable to me. I would like to say at the very least, the students at Michigan State are absolutely clear about this. A couple of days ago the Associated Students of Michigan State University, the student government passed a resolution saying, “We as undergraduate students no longer have the faith and confidence in the current administration of Michigan State University to carry out the duties of fostering a safe and secure campus atmosphere.”
All of these people need to resign. This is unbelievable. I just want to continue. A few days ago, the board of trustees than reiterated their support for president Lou Anna Simon. It’s clear that she knew this.
Amira: Reiterated their support this week.
Brenda: Two days. Two days ago. She responded that she is watching the testimony by live streaming.
Lindsay: She showed up one day for a couple of hours. She did show up for a couple of hours one day.
Brenda: She claims she is watching everything live streaming. It’s a ten-minute drive. I would just like to say if people feel frustrated, what is amazing about this is the MSU board of trustees consists of eight members for eight-year terms. Two members selected every two years by the people of Michigan in a state-wide general election. Michiganers, get your asses up and vote these people out. The current chairperson, Brian Breslin from the Republican Party already said he’s not going to run again.
So anyway, I’m just going to end on burning it, but I also want to put flame to the feet of people in Michigan and say do not let these people represent you. You have an option. It’s not like Harvard where their trustees are god knows who. These are elected officials and they need to be held to task.
Sorry about that. Shireen, yeah.
Shireen: Just quickly, one of our favs on Burn It All Down Jemele Hill actually published today in the Undefeated, today is Sunday, she also is an MSU grad and she writes just really profoundly, “Michigan State needs to wear this shame. The University deserves this humiliation, derision, doubt, discomfort and every unkind word. We need to listen to every word from the victims and adsorb all of their anger. They have dealt with this betrayal and violation of their trust for years. Michigan State only has to survive a few news cycles.” It’s just really important and thank you Bren and all those MSU alumnus who are out there calling them out because it’s important.
Amira: As somebody who works at Penn State, who has really been reckoning with similar ways to move forward, I think one of the things you pointed to Brenda is still important about mobilization and that there are people, I work in the women’s studies department here, who is amazing. Part of what they do, and they are students are demanding accountability and the thing with these institutions is that they are so large, that they can be points of reckoning and they are people you can build with and it’s always going to be a battle. It continues to be a battle here and it’s been a few years. That’s the other thing that people need to realize is that you’re strapping in for a really long battle where a lot of people in power don’t want to give that up easily. This is just the beginning.
Brenda: Absolutely. Lindsay, do you want to pour gasoline on this burn pile? Just make it happen.
Lindsay: Don’t I always. I did want to quickly say that on Saturday one MSU trustee Mitch Lyons, did call for the resignation president Lou Anna Simon. We’ll see if that’s a trend. Of course, on the same day, the basketball coach Tom Izzo reiterated his support and said, “I hope the right person is convicted.” If Michigan State could get a PR person or something. If they can’t get a soul, can you at least get a PR person? I don’t know. It’s just infuriating. Are we ready to go to the mammoth? The mammoth?
Let’s talk USA Gymnastics and US Olympic Committee, shall we? So, first of all, the first known direct report to USA Gymnastics officials about the abuse was in 2015. We can burn everything about their response since then and that in itself is enough for a humongous scandal, but I really quickly would like to say that it’s important to note that John Geddert was a USA gymnastics certified coach in 1998 when he was told about the abuse, when he found out about the abuse. Twistars is a USA Gymnastics certified gym and that means that they had the responsibility to report it to USA gymnastics in the late 90s. So, USA Gymnastics, if everyone had done their jobs, would have known in the late 1990s, even if the Michigan State Element of this wasn’t going on and that’s gotten lost and that is appalling.
I’d also like to note that all of this is happening within the context of a larger sexual abuse scandal out of USA Gymnastics. So, this is from the very first Indianapolis Star investigation into this that launched all this but remember the very first Indianapolis Star investigation of this, was into the systematic sexual abuse of USA gymnastics. It wasn’t even focused on Larry Nassar. It was just that Rachel Denhollander read this investigation, we had her on the show a few weeks ago, episode 31, it’s a must listen. So, when she read their big investigation, that’s when she came forward about Nassar and got the ball rolling there.
So, top executives failed to alert authorities to many allegations of sexual abuse and they relied on policies that enabled predators to abuse gymnast long after USA Gymnastics had received warnings. That is a quote from the Indianapolis Star investigation. So, it’s a really important context for all of this because USA Gymnastic denials just don’t fit with the history that we know.
Let’s start in 2015. In 2015, Sarah Jantzi who was the coach of Maggie Nichols who was an elite gymnast at the time, who was expected to be on the Olympics team in 2016, before we she was injured. So, Sarah overheard Nichols telling Aly Raisman about one of Nassar’s treatment sessions. This coach was very alarmed and notified USA Gymnastics officials immediately as well as Nichols parents. USA Gymnastics, you think they want you to think that they notified law enforcement right away. That’s what they initially said. They did not however. It took them five weeks.
The first thing they did was to hire a workplace harassment investigator to look into the matter. It took them five weeks and it should be noted, and I have to credit the podcast Gymtastic, which is an excellent gymnastic podcast, but for pointing this out for me. The independent investigator actually gave them the report, gave USA Gymnastics the report at the end of one week saying yes, you need to deliver this to the FBI. USA Gymnastic waited till the following business day, which was Monday, to report it because the FBI probably doesn’t take calls on the weekend.
Anyways, around the time USA Gymnastics finally notified the FBI, Nassar and the USA Gymnastics Committee officially parted ways but USA Gymnastics allowed Nassar to publicly portray it as a retirement. He wrote a sappy retirement post on Facebook. USA Gymnastics did not notify Twistars which once again is a USA Gymnastics accredited gym where they knew Nassar was treating patients. Nor did they notify Michigan State University.
So, it took until mid 2016 for the FBI to actually interview Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols. They didn’t interview Aly Raisman until after the 2016 Olympics which I just don’t feel is a coincidence. Do you? It actually took nine months for the FBI investigation into this to get officially launched. It took that long for USA Gymnastics to call them up and say hey are you actually investigating this or not? During this whole time, they told parents who were there being interviewed, they told parents that they could not talk about this publicly and the reason they were not talking about this publicly was because of the FBI investigation, the one that wasn’t launched for so many months.
Sorry. This is one of those cases where every single detail I like find is more appalling than the last. We also know they paid McKayla Maroney $1.25 million to stay silent. There is believed to be other confidentiality agreements that USA Gymnastic paid out as well. There was a non-disclosure agreement included in that, but they are saying now that they will not support that which is good. That’s so kind of them.
They also said, Maggie Nichols came out publicly to ESPN this past week for the first time as a victim A, as the person who first reported to USA Gymnastics. In this though, USA gymnastics gave a drop dropping response to Maggie Nichols, criticizing that they waited five weeks to report this to the FBI. By saying that, private an investigator talked to Raisman and Nichols, it didn’t have “reasonable suspicion that they had been molested by Nassar. It took until they spoke to a third victim.” They released this statement this week during this trial is going on.
Let’s take it to how USA Gymnastics and US Olympics Committee who oversees US Gymnastics have been held accountable for this. Well they haven’t. Steve Penny who is the president of USA Gymnastics, the CEO I believe of USA Gymnastics, was finally forced out just this last spring. So once again, quite some time, over six months after the Indiana Star investigation came out. He did receive a $1 million dollar severance package however. Everybody else on the USA Gymnastics board including chairman Paul Parilla, who I believe Chairman of the Board is big boss man if I understand executive talk. The Vice President, the treasurer, all these people who staunchly defended everything that Steve Penny did. We know Steve Penny explicitly asked the gymnasts and their parents to keep quiet. They all staunchly defended him and still have their jobs. There are calls for USA Gymnastic to completely clean house down to even some trainers. One trainer, Debbie Van Horn who is now the USAG’s director of sports medicine services. There are calls for her to step down immediately because she worked directly beside Nassar for two decades and was supposed to be the other female in the room during Nassar’s treatments.
She was recently promoted. Also, a lot of this abuse happened at the Karolyi Ranch, Bela and Marta Karolyi who we know there have been allegations that they are physically and verbally abusive for years. We can go back to there. I know I’m going long. I’m sorry. There is just so much here.
Jess, when you were talking about Geddert and that emotionally abusive environment and physically abusive, I couldn’t help think that the same thing is happening at the Karolyi Ranch, right, which is the centralized system for USA Gymnastics, has built it into this power house and look it’s important to know that at this Karolyi Ranch compound, parents were not allowed to attend. Often private coaches aren’t allowed to attend. It is isolated to the point that it’s find.
Amira: Exactly. And Aly’s point was so great this week, sorry to jump in, that at the same time they released the statement saying okay we’re not going to have gymnasts return to the Karolyi Ranch. They had people there that same day training.
Lindsay: So just going back a little bit. At the Karolyi Ranch, Nassar was allowed to enter their dorms privately. He was allowed to treat them wherever, which goes against every regulation. Every single one. A lot of the gymnasts, including … it was really elite gymnasts who were here but Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Maggie Nichols, McKayla Maroney all say they were abused at the Karolyi Ranch and up until earlier this week, the Karolyi Ranch was still the place where the national team was going to train. When Simone Biles came forward with her statement, she said, I can’t believe I’m going to go in order to make the next Olympics, I’m going to have to go back to the place where I was abused.
So finally, this week USA Gymnastics announced that it was parting ways with the Karolyi Ranch and it was looking for other places. They ended up canceling the next national team training camp, so it could find another ranch, however like Amira just told us there were gymnasts there currently training at the time and there is an artistic gymnastic or acrobatics gymnastic event happening there in February because it was too late to reschedule.
If you’re wondering, nobody from the USOC showed up to hear testimony all week. Aly Raisman asked I would like to finish this by saying why isn’t the US Olympic Committee here now? I have represented the US in two Olympics in both USAG and the USOC have been quick to capitalize on my success, but did they reach out to me when I came forward? No, they did not. USOC has not taken away USAG’s Olympic certification. So, burn.
Brenda: This deserves a huge chorus of burn right. Let’s just burn it. Loud burns. Ready?
Shireen: Burn it burn it burn it all down.
Brenda: Bad ass women of the week. Our reward this week goes to the fiercely courageous survivors of Larry Nassar. We hear you. Our admiration, solidarity, and love are directed towards you these weeks. Shireen?
Shireen: We would like to offer a poem, read a poem by Lebogang Mashile who is actually a South African American poet, presenter, actress and this is really beautiful. It’s called Tell Your Story.
Jessica: After they fed off your memories, erased dreams from your eyes, broken the seams of sanity, and glued what’s left together with lies, after the choices and voices have left you alone and silence grows solid adhering like flesh to your bones.
Amira: They’ve always known your spirit’s home lay in your gentle sway to lighten substance the jaded mirrors and false prophets have a way of removing you from yourself. You who live with seven names. You who walk with seven faces. None can eliminate your pain.
Shireen: Tell your story. Let it nourish you. Sustain you and clean you. Tell your story. Let it feed you. Heal you. And release you. Tell your story. Let it twist and remix your shattered heart. Tell your story. Until your p past stops tearing your present apart.
Brenda: That’s beautiful. Now we’d like to hear a little bit from some of the testimony. Lindsay?
Lindsay: Yeah, this clip is from Larissa Boyce who in 1997 when she was at teenage gymnast, she told Michigan State coach Kathie Klages that she was abused by Larry Nassar. It took 20 years for her to see any justice, prevail all. She gave an incredibly emotional and moving testimony at the end of the day on Friday that I have been thinking about all weekend. I’m going to play you a clip from the end of that where she flashes back to what it was like being 17 after she was told that she was wrong. That she wasn’t actually abused and the doubt that filled her soul after that and now this reckoning. Thank you, Larissa, for your voice.
Larissa Boyce: I sought answers and explored my past after all of this started coming out. I came across a journal entry that I wrote during the time you were abusing me. It was dated January 16, 1998. I had just turned 17 and I’m going to share that with you right now. Slowly day by day it is creeping up on me. Always one step closer to devouring my soul. I feel so unworthy of living and being happy. I am always feeling the guilt of something, which gets heavier as each day passes. It’s almost as if I have a pile of bricks weighing down on my shoulders. Every day a new one is added on my weary back. I am tired of being so unhappy with things in my life right now. I even feel guilty for feeling guilty. I guess that I am just a mental case.
Will these feelings change and leave me in peace? Or will I have to live with this the rest of my life? I do everything wrong. A 17-year-old girl wrote that. Do you see that dark place that she was in? To have those words, have that buried inside of me. I did not understand the pain I was feeling but now it makes complete sense. You tore me apart with your selfish desires but like I said earlier I am strong and I am really resilient. I will survive, and I choose to be stronger because of it. You chose the wrong prey. We are athletes. We will not give up or give in. We are trained to fight past the pain and hurt. United, we are now an army of amazing women who are paving the path to justice and change.
Brenda: Finally, we’d like to talk a little bit about what’s giving us joy and hope in the dark times this week. Jessica?
Jessica: Mine is Halt and Catch Fire. It’s a TV show. It aired on AMC. My husband and I finished watching it this week. There are only four seasons, 40 episodes. It’s all on Netflix. It became one of my most favorite shows ever and it’s about the tech world starting in the mid 80s going to the mid 90s. Starts in Texas of course end in Silicon Valley. These people are always on the cutting edge of tech. You get to see every version of Nintendo that existed in that time. It’s really fun in that sort of way. But it’s really a show about relationships and people and specifically about two women and their friendship and the roller coaster that they go through together across time and I just loved it. This week, I mean we watched the last four episodes I think on Wednesday night and I was a wreck in the best way. I just loved Halt and Catch Fire. You all should watch it.
Brenda: On the to do list. Shireen.
Shireen: Well I know that everybody was on the edge of their seats for #Shireenmeetsnadia2018 and so what ended up happening a couple days ago really good friends of mine, another women in sports network, sent me a Nadia Nadim jersey, a Man City jersey which I Instagrammed and she replied to my Instagram. She actually replied. I think it must have been the 700 messages and tweets that I’ve been pushing. Anyway, she acknowledged my presence. I love her. Hopefully we’ll meet.
Also, this week, later this week, I’m going to Surrey, BC for the Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s documentary film festival and I am going to be doing a panel for a film called Girl Unbound about Maria Toorpakai, who is from Waziristan in Pakistan and she is a young woman who plays squash and sort of had to disguise herself as male in order to do that to escape sort of violence from the Taliban and persecution. So, that’s going to be very cool. So, I am very excited about that. And tomorrow is my birthday.
Brenda: Happy Birthday. Everybody everywhere should be happy that Shireen. Amira?
Amira: My something good is that I’m heading back to Texas to give a talk. I am very excited because Texas, it’s always great to see my family and I will be getting to see Jess, which is super exciting and I’m going to watch my little cousin who plays for Baylor. They have a big game. They are number four right now playing number six ranked Texas. It’s a huge game on Thursday night and I’m going to go cheer her on. I’m very excited about that. And also, since I’m not going to be on the podcast next week, but I wanted to send a very special shout out to my oldest child Samari who is turning the big 10 on January 30th. I have been in the parenting game for a decade, which is ridiculous but also, she is absolutely the light of my life and she makes every day just the best days and she has for a decade now. So Happy Birthday bug.
Lindsay: It’s the Australian Open and in a couple weeks I would be watching a lot more of that than I would be victim statements but most of my time has gone to victim statements, but I have caught bits and pieces of the Australian Open here and there. I just love it. I love the sport and I just love the sport. I just love tennis so much, friends. It’s just good for the soul. That Simona Halep/Lauren Davis match, 15-30 in the third. Watch that. If someone ever tells you they don’t like women’s tennis or they only like Serena or something like that, show them the last few games of that match.
Brenda: Awesome. And my what’s good for the week is that I bought my first pair of indoor soccer cleats. Do you even call them indoor soccer cleats Shireen?
Shireen: Well, they are not technically cleats because they don’t have the studs.
Brenda: Right. Indoor soccer shoes. Shoes sounds so pedestrian. I want something more bad ass.
Shireen: You call them boots. That’s the proper term.
Brenda: Okay, okay. I got it. I bought them to take lessons from Shireen when I visit her in Montreal in two weeks. So, I’m super excited because I’m secretly going to kick her butt.
All right. That’s it for this week in Burn it All Down. Burn It All Down is on Sound Cloud but can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and Tune In. We appreciate your reviews and feedbacks so please subscribe and rate. Let us know what we did well and how we can improve.
We’d like to send out a special thank you to Hofstra University for its ongoing support of this podcast. You can find us on Facebook at Burn It All Down. On Twitter, @burnitalldownpod or at Instagram @burnitalldownpod. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our website www.burnitalldownpod.com where you’ll find previous episodes, transcripts and links to our Patreon. We would appreciate you subscribing, sharing and rating our show, which helps us do the work we love to do and keep burning what needs to be burned. I’d also like to thank my co-hosts today for actually articulating words in the face of monstrous case instead of just screaming for the last hour. Have a good week everybody.