Dr. Larry Nassar worked for decades for the United States Olympic Gymnastics team, presumably performing his job ethically and with dedication.
But now two gymnasts—one of whom was a member of the 2000 U.S. women’s Olympic team—have accused the 53-year-old physician of sexually abusing them.
And they're taking their case to court.
A lawsuit filed last week in California alleges that Nassar—who was dismissed last year from his job with the team—groped and fondled the teenage Olympian sexually, using the ruse of “physical therapy” to hide his actions from scrutiny.
The woman, named “Jane Doe” in the lawsuit against Nassar and the USA Gymnastics organization, has been identified by her attorneys only as medal-winning member of the team from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
The second accuser, Rachael Denhollander of Louisville, Kentucky, said in an interview with the Indianapolis Star that in 2000, she was being treated for lower back pain at Michigan State University by Nassar when he sexually abused her.
The Star writes that the two athletes' stories are very similar:
“The women, in separate interviews with IndyStar, provided detailed accounts that closely mirrored each other as they outlined their allegations.”
Denhollander, who was 15 years old at the time of the alleged abuse, told the Star that Nassar's sexual abuse escalated over the course of five treatments, and included him massaging her breasts and penetrating her.
Even more disturbing, Denhollander said that her mother was present for the therapy sessions, but saw nothing because Nassar positioned himself in a way that hid what he was doing to her daughter.
Denhollander told the paper how horrifying the ordeal was:
“I was terrified. I was ashamed. I was very embarrassed. And I was very confused, trying to reconcile what was happening with the person he was supposed to be. He’s this famous doctor. He’s trusted by my friends. He’s trusted by these other gymnasts. How could he reach this position in the medical profession, how could he reach this kind of prominence and stature if this is who he is?”
Matthew Borgula, attorney representing Nassar in the suit, wrote in an email to The Associated Press that his client intended to “vigorously defend himself”:
“Dr. Nassar denies any misconduct relating to any gymnast, patient or anyone else. To the extent he provided medical treatment to anyone, that treatment was always done with consent of the patient. He is proud of his 29 years of volunteer service with USA Gymnastics.”
However, the California lawsuit alleges that USA Gymnastics suppressed, hid, or simply did not disclose knowledge of Nassar engaging in sexual conduct its athletes.
The attorneys who filed the lawsuit on behalf of “Jane Doe,” John Manly and Vince Finaldi, wrote in a statement:
“Our client represents the very best America has to offer. She sacrificed her youth and adolescence, spending thousands of hours in rigorous and often painful training to bring glory to our nation as an Olympic athlete. She had an absolute right to trust USA Gymnastics, its coaches and staff. Unfortunately, they have proven time and again that they are more interested in protecting the reputation of their multi-million-dollar enterprise than the child athletes who are entrusted to their care.”
In response, USA Gymnastics released a statement on Monday claiming that Nassar was let go from his job in the summer of 2015 when President Steve Penny went to authorities after hearing the allegations against the physician.
The statement claims:
“USA Gymnastics has cooperated fully with the law enforcement agency since we first notified them of the matter, including - at their request - refraining from making further statements or taking any other action that might interfere with the agency’s investigation,” the statement read. “We are grateful to the athletes for coming forward to share their concerns when they did.”
In the meantime, Nassar has additionally been temporarily suspended from clinical and patient duties at Michigan State, where the doctor holds an associate professorship in the sports medicine program.
According to school spokesman Kent Cassella, the suspension will be maintained pending a police investigation into the criminal complaint.
University of Michigan police have thus far not responded to press queries regarding the case.