Michigan State interim president John Engler wrote in an email that he believed Rachel Denhollander received a “kickback” for being the leading voice in the case built against convicted serial sex abuser Larry Nassar.
Engler’s conversation was turned up in a public records request filed by the The Chronicle of Higher Education, which reported on Wednesday that the former Michigan governor sent the following email to Carol M. Viventi, vice president and special counsel to the president, on April 15:
“It is deeply appreciated,” the text of the email reads. “At least we know what really happened. The survivors now are being manipulated by trial lawyers who in the end will each get millions of dollars more than any of (sic) individual survivors with the exception of Denhollander who is likely to get (sic) kickback from Manley (sic) for her role in the trial lawyer manipulation.
“It is too bad we can’t have a debate about who is really trying to help those who were harmed by Nassar,” Engler continued. “At least, all of the positive changes are beginning to get some modest attention. It will be years before the use and abuse by trial lawyers point is understood. Have a good Sunday. See you Tuesday morning. John.”
What Engler seems to be suggesting is that John Manly, a lawyer who represented women in civil suits against Michigan State, USA Gymnastics, and the Olympic Committee, paid Denhollander for encouraging women that were assaulted by Nassar to sue the institutions he worked for.
Denhollander was the first woman to publicly address the criminal sexual activities of Nassar, who, in addition to his spot with USA Gymnastics, was both a professor and the gymnastics and rowing team doctor at Michigan State. Denhollander filed a criminal complaint against the university in 2016, granting an interview to the Indianapolis Star shortly after that would lead dozens of women to come forward over the coming months. Their collective testimonies led to Nassar’s conviction.
Denhollander refuted Engler’s claim that she was receiving payments for her testimony or media interviews, offering the following response when contacted by the Chronicle:
“It is out of his comprehension that someone would do something for anything other than money and power. I am not getting kickbacks, ever.” She continued: “It shows all the more deeply his own mind-set toward sexual-assault survivors. The idea that he is going to be able to solve the problems of the school when this is what he says about sexual-assault survivors is absolutely ridiculous. Engler needs to go.”
The email is the second time Engler has come under fire for his inadequate responses in the face of the largest sex assault scandal in American sports history. At a university board meeting in April, Kaylee Lorincz revealed that Engler offered to write her a check for $250,000 in an attempt to get her to drop her lawsuit against Michigan State.
The Chronicle piece, which you should read in full, has more on Engler’s reaction to that incident (he disputes it) and Viventi’s behind-the-scenes role as the person that makes the president and trustees feel good about themselves when they’re being assholes.