Six months after the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal broke, and after hearing from current and former female athletes, Michigan State announced on Tuesday that the school sent a mass email from athletic director Mark Hollis to all female athletes that played for the Spartans over the past 20 years, notifying them of the allegations and investigations of sexual assault facing the former Michigan State team doctor. The letter, which can be read in full at the bottom of this post, provided roughly 2,900 athletes with the university police’s contact information and links to updated school policies.
Nassar joined the faculty at the university’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1997 and would serve as the team doctor for several Michigan State teams, including women’s gymnastics and crew. He was fired by the university last fall amid a still-growing swell of reports detailing Nassar’s string of sexual assaults, including numerous cases that took place at Michigan State while he was in his role as a team doctor.
The letter marks the first time since the allegations made their way to the public’s eye in September 2016 that Michigan State has reached out directly to those affected most by Nassar’s actions—current and former female athletes. The letter was sent after the school received notes from multiple former athletes and students asking the school to take a more proactive approach in how it responds to the allegations against Nassar as well as former gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, who was named in a lawsuit filed against the school and Nassar for reportedly discouraging athletes from reporting Nassar.
When asked why the school waited to directly contact its current and former female athletes and whether the move was reactionary in nature, Michigan State spokesperson Jason Cody passed along the following statement:
Hey Nick, I don’t know if it’s necessarily fair to call it reactive; we have been working for six months now to continue to get information to the MSU community and general public about Nassar and how to report information to police.
That has been done via hundreds of media interviews, web postings/statements at MSU sites and the president’s letter to the MSU community on Feb. 3. That letter went to all current faculty, staff and students and to about 300,000 alumni (presumably all former student athletes should have gotten it).
However, over the past couple of weeks, we have heard from some members of the MSU community, such as some former student athletes, who were still needing information on where to go to report information on Nassar. This letter to represents another way we are working to get information out.
In the final paragraph of his statement, Cody answers the question being asked—former Michigan State female athletes potentially affected by Nassar’s alleged insidious treatment methods had to contact to school officials to notify them of their lack of information on the case, which is currently being investigated internally by the university.
One such former athlete that garnered the attention of both the university officials as well as local and national attention is former Michigan State crew member Catherine Hannum, who graduated in 2014. During her Michigan State career, Hannum was a regular patient of Nassar’s, as he diagnosed and treated her for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which results from compressed nerves or arteries around the lower neck to armpit area. The TOS, combined with the tolls of practicing and working out on a rower’s regimen, caused constant pain in her ribs.
Hannum told Deadspin that during her visits with Nassar to treat her condition, the Michigan State team doctor would routinely cross physical and social boundaries and cause her to feel uncomfortable; at the time, she said she and other athletes were “conditioned from the start not to question his treatment style.” She said that because Nassar was a renowned doctor, far out-ranking the athletic trainers on-staff with D.O. and ties to U.S.A. Gymnastics, his treatment styles were written off when he helped the athletes return to the field.
For many athletes, returning to full health was the main focus—the Big Ten did not implement guaranteed four-year scholarships until 2014, the year Hannum graduated, meaning athletes that sustained injuries and slipping performance levels could have their funding cut on a year-to-year basis.
“It was just kind of a widely accepted fact that he got personal in his treatments and it was a necessary evil of feeling better,” Hannum said. “And nobody ever suggested that there was something darker going on with him. It was just that he was such an advanced physician and he studied osteopathic medicine, so he understood that kind of treatment in a way that nobody else really did.”
Hannum said that Nassar would massage her breasts during her visits, claiming it was treatment for her ailing ribs. Athletic trainers were on-hand during these visits, but Hannum said “it didn’t seem like they were paying that much attention to what he was actually doing.” She added that in addition to Nassar’s tendency to cross physical boundaries, the team physician also seemed “socially off,” claiming he would often ask whether her boyfriend gave her massages.
Hannum was made aware of the scandal last September when a friend texted her a link to the Indy Star’s initial story on Nassar on Sept. 12. Eight days later, Michigan State formally fired Nassar. The school told the Star it had suspended Nassar from “clinical and patient duties” on Aug. 30; there is no record of the school publicizing the suspension.
“It was hard at first to think that he would do that, but given the claims that were being made against him, it seemed ignorant not to believe it,” Hannum said. “Then I started to think about my treatment experiences with him, trying to think back about my four years of him being my doctor, and things just started to click in my brain about my appointments, his treatment styles, him asking me if my boyfriend gave me good massages, and just weird stuff like that. And my initial interpretation of him in general, that he was just socially off. Those things all sort of connected the dots.”
Hannum said that after she took the time to piece her personal experiences together with what teammates had confided in each other in the past and the current allegations present in the lawsuit, she looked to the school for a public response. Past the school firing Nassar, she, and the dozens of other former athletes that were once patients of Nassar, never heard directly from Michigan State prior to the Feb. 3 letter from school president Lou Simon to the entire alumni base. The March 7 letter was the first athlete-specific outreach attempt by the school.
Hannum said a friend and classmate wrote to members of the university administration but never received a response. After not hearing back, they encouraged Hannum to write as well. Believing her chances of garnering a response would be as likely as her friend’s, Hannum decided after two months of deliberation to make her email a public letter, posting a copy online and bcc’ing various journalists. Her letter, which was covered by local outlets and earned her an interview with 60 Minutes, called out the administration for its lack of communication with regards to potential former victims. You can read the full letter here.
I have read President Simon’s letter to the MSU community regarding the charges. I am glad to know Dr. Nassar was fired almost immediately upon news of these allegations. I am glad to know Coach Klages was suspended and that she later resigned. I am glad to know the University is taking measures to reinforce and strengthen policies surrounding matters like these - though, I would like a more clear explanation of what this looks like.
Never-the-less. despite all of this, I have not, as a former patient of Dr. Nassar for nearly four years, heard from anyone at the University directly. Many of my peers and fellow patients of Dr. Nassar have not heard from the University either.
It may very well have been nearly impossible to write each one of his patients for the last 20 years, but it should have been done. Acknowledge the situation and offer support to anyone who might have suffered at the hands of Dr. Nassar.
It is impossible for me to believe the University is truly attempting a full investigation when it has not contacted his former patients. If a full investigation were being done, the University should at least offer to listen to Dr. Nassar’s former patients to try to gather as much information as possible and offer support to anyone who might want or need it.
It is painful to live with the knowledge that a predator was enabled by silent bystanders to have access to my body for 4 years, and to know that many of my teammates and athletic peers were put at risk and may have suffered at his hands. It is most painful to me that my University has not had the integrity to reach out to Dr. Nassar’s former patients, apologize and offer its support to them.
Hannum acknowledged in the interview that patient privacy laws may prevent the school from specifically emailing former patients, but said that an email to former athletes should have occurred months ago at the beginning stages of the investigations.
“I think at the very least they could have sent a mass email to former student-athletes addressing the issue,” Hannum said. “Saying that, ‘This happened, we’re sorry this happened, if anybody you know or if you’ve been affected these are the resources available, here are the steps we’re taking to improve and figure out how this even happened.’”
School officials responded to Hannum’s February email, directing her to the Office of Institutional Equity and the Michigan State police department. Three weeks after receiving her email, the school issued Hollis’s letter to former athletes.
In our interview, Hannum also criticized the school for a lack of transparency, citing the fact that the university opted to conduct an internal investigation of the Nassar case—the school is currently employing an external firm to review its football team after three players and a staff member were suspended pending a sexual assault investigation.
“It would be nice to have an independent investigator looking into this because I feel the public would have more transparent information and we would be able to better understand how this person was able to exist in this environment for so long,” Hannum said. “I think by not having an independent investigator, that the school is less likely to give us all the facts and information because they’re trying to protect themselves.”
As directed by school officials, Hannum reported her experience to MSU police, which is currently conducting an investigation of Nassar. According to the Q&A posted on its website, the investigative findings will be passed on to the state attorney general for review. Michigan State police wrote that they received their first complaint against Nassar in 2014; they say they sent the report to Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office, which declined to press charges.
Since the case reached the public’s purview, they have dedicated “17 investigators, digital forensics detectives and a crime analyst” to investigate more than 80 reports of sexual assault.
As detailed in a Lansing State Journal report, Michigan State’s Title IX department conducted an internal investigation of Nassar in 2014 after an athlete complained that he became aroused after massaging her breasts and vagina during a visit to treat hip pain. After the school sought the opinions of four medical experts with close ties to Nassar and Michigan State during the internal investigation, her claim was dismissed, with the school telling her she did not grasp the “nuanced difference” between sexual assault and a medical procedure. When reached for comment, Cody told the State Journal, “I think the university made the right decision with the information we had at the time.”
When asked why the university opted for an internal investigation rather than employ an external firm to review the Nassar scandal, Michigan State provided the following comment to Deadspin on Feb. 15, following the announcement of Klages’s resignation:
“As to why any two situations may be handled differently, the answer is the details and circumstances of any two situations can vary greatly.”
The full letter sent to Michigan State athletes can be found below via MLive:
As has been reported widely in media and was addressed by President Simon’s Feb. 3 letter to the MSU community, former MSU employee Larry Nassar faces mutliple criminal charges for sexual assault. Through his work with the MSU Health Team, Nassar served as a team physician seeing student-athletes across multiple sports.
Because you are a member of the MSU Athletics family, I am writing to ensure you are aware of how to report information about any suspected wrongdoing while you were a student-athlete. Any member of the MSU community, past or present, who may have information relevant to the ongoing Nassar investigation is urged to call MSUPD’s toll free tip line at 844-99-MSUPD.
The MSUPD will follow up on all relevant information it receives. To the extent MSUPD receives information is not relevant to ongoing criminal inquires, MSUPD will forward that information to the University’s outside counsel and University offices responsible for conducting investigations on the University’s behalf, as appropriate.
Information about commuinity, state and national sexual assault resources can be found online at titleix.msu.edu and endrape.smu.edu.
The core values of MSU Athletics are clear: respect for self and others, accountability for actions and cjhoices, and integrity. Sexual assault, in any form, is unacceptable. We will continue our commitment to creating a culture that is safe, supportive, responsive and accountable.”