In June 2015, Maggie Nichols and her coach Sarah Jantzi reported to USA Gymnastics officials that the gymnast had been sexually abused by team doctor Larry Nassar. Their complaints, which were passed onto then-CEO Steve Penny, prompted a five-week internal investigation during which Nichols, Aly Raisman, and McKayla Maroney were interviewed by Fran Sepler, a private consultant, who recommended that USA Gymnastics report Nassar to the authorities. USA Gymnastics said it contacted the FBI the following business day after receiving Sepler’s recommendation.
This timeline of events has well-documented for over a year, starting with the Wall Street Journal’s report back in February 2017. But today the Indianapolis Star reports that while USA Gymnastics was sorting out what to do with Nassar, it was simultaneous helping the doctor create a cover story for his absence.
After Nichols made her report, Nassar was removed from contact with the national team. But given that he was a fixture for so long on the gymnastics scene—I remember seeing him with the team at the 2014 world championships in China—his absence at major domestic and international competitions was noted. Rather than go with the truth—namely, telling people that Nassar was under investigation for child sexual abuse—or simply saying nothing at all, USA Gymnastics agreed to help Nassar offer a respectable excuse for his absence at gymnastics events in 2015.
According to emails obtained by the Star, attorney Scott Himsel, retained by USAG, informed Nassar that “it is in everyone’s best interest” that Nassar not attend a gymnastics event that weekend. Himsel offered that USA Gymnastics could explain his absence by citing “personal reasons.”
Nassar countered with, “Can we just say that i am sick? That would make more sense to everyone. Would that be ok?”
Himsel replied: “We’ll let [USAG COO] Ron [Galimore] know to advise people that you weren’t feeling well and decided to stay home.”
Nassar anxious to return to “treating” the national team, wrote again, trying to resolve the matter so he could attend the 2015 national championships in USA Gymnastics’ hometown of Indianapolis. (Shortly after those championships, the news about the arrest of Marvin Sharp, coach of 2009 world champion Bridget Sloan, would break. Sharp, who was accused of sexual abuse and possession of child pornography, killed himself in jail not long after his arrest.)
“Because the review is on-going, USA Gymnastics has determined it is in everyone’s best interest that you not attend USA Gymnastics events or communicate with USA Gymnastics athletes and personnel until further notice,” Himsel wrote back that day. “In addition, we suggest that prior to Championships that Ron Galimore will once again advise the medical staff (the Athlete Care Coordinator) that you cannot attend for personal reasons, unless you prefer a different approach that we are prepared to discuss. Please advise whether Ron may do so.”
In September, Nassar’s attorney, Matthew Borgula reached out to USA Gymnastics on his behalf, apparently unaware that his client had been reported to the FBI. Borgula wrote:
“No one believes that Dr. Nassar would so easily miss those events — especially since the athletes and coaches involved with USAG continue to request his attendance,” Borgula wrote. “Dr. Nassar can no longer honor your request to provide false excuses to his colleagues, the USAG staff and/or the athletes about his absences.”
There does not appear to have been a response to Borgula’s email. Later that month, Nassar announced his “retirement” from USA Gymnastics with a post on Facebook. USA Gymnastics let that excuse stand, too.