Netflix’s new documentary Athlete A delves into the harrowing true story of Larry Nassar, a convicted sex offender and former USA Gymnastics national team doctor. Accused of sexual abuse by hundreds of young women whom he treated, Nassar was highly regarded for decades as a physician who worked with many of the nation’s top gymnasts. His crimes first came to light in 2016, when The Indianapolis Star published a series of investigations into the allegations against him.
A staggering number of women came forward over the following two years, culminating in a remarkable pair of criminal trials in two different Michigan counties in 2018. During those trials, more than 200 accusers made victim-impact statements detailing their experiences of sexual abuse under the guise of medical treatment by Nassar. Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison at his first trial, and 40 to 125 at his second. Below, a timeline of how Nassar’s abuse—and the culture that allowed it to continue—was finally exposed.
Amanda Thomashow became the first woman to file an official Title IX complaint against Nassar, telling Michigan State University officials that he had touched her inappropriately during a medical examination. MSU conducted an investigation that resulted in no charges; the school concluded that Nassar’s methods were “medically appropriate” and “did not violate the sexual harassment policy.”
Gymnast Maggie Nichols, who remained anonymous for some time and was referred to as only “Athlete A,” was reportedly first sexually abused by Nassar when she was 15 years old. According to the IndyStar, she said that Nassar had touched her inappropriately during a physical exam at a training ranch in Texas, and had assaulted her on a number of other occasions.
Nichols’s coach overheard her discussing Nassar’s behavior with another gymnast and reported it to USA Gymnastics, which hired a private investigator to look into the allegations. USA Gymnastics said in a statement in 2018 that after the investigator had interviewed Nichols and a second gymnast, it did not have “a reasonable suspicion that sexual abuse had occurred.”
August 4, 2016
The IndyStar published the first of its investigative reports detailing allegations against Nassar. In its initial article, the paper reported that USA Gymnastics had kept on file complaints against more than 50 coaches over the years, all of whom were accused of abusing athletes, and in many cases, had not involved law enforcement.
August 30, 2016
Michigan State University relieved Nassar of clinical and patient duties while an investigation was conducted.
September 12, 2016
The IndyStar published another article in which it interviewed two women, both former gymnasts who alleged that Nassar had sexually abused them as children. One of the women, who was unnamed at the time but later identified as Jamie Dantzscher, a member of the 2000 Olympics team, filed a civil lawsuit against Nassar in California. The other woman, who agreed to be named in the article, Rachael Denhollander, filed a complaint against Nassar with police in Michigan.
Both women stated that they were assaulted during multiple medical appointments with Nassar in the 1990s and early 2000s. With the publication of the IndyStar’s September 12 article, Denhollander became the first woman to be named publicly in relation to an allegation against Nassar, and she remained the only non-anonymous accuser for six months.
September 20, 2016
Nassar was fired from his post at Michigan State University. The university said that it had terminated him after learning that he had violated “certain employment requirements,” which had been put into place after a recent graduate’s 2014 allegation.
November 22, 2016
In Ingham County, Michigan, Nassar was charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, including one with a person under 13. He pled not guilty and was freed on a $1 million bond. But Michigan’s attorney general said that these charges were just “the tip of the iceberg.” At a press conference, police revealed that roughly 50 victims had filed sexual abuse claims against Nassar.
December 16, 2016
Nassar was arrested and indicted on federal child pornography charges. According to the two-court indictment, Nassar was in possession of “thousands of images of child pornography” between 2003 and 2016.
January 10, 2017
Eighteen victims filed a federal lawsuit against Nassar, Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and the Twistars USA Gymnastics Club (which is where many of the alleged assaults took place). The lawsuit alleged sexual assault, battery, molestation, and harassment between 1996 and 2016, and further alleged that MSU had failed to respond to complaints raised against Nassar.
That same month, Nassar’s medical license was suspended by Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
February 19, 2017
Three former gymnasts—Jeanette Antolin, Jessica Howard, and Jamie Dantzscher—went public with allegations against Nassar during an interview with 60 Minutes. All three women stated that Nassar had sexually abused them and that an “emotionally abusive environment” at the national team’s Texas training campus had allowed his abuse to go unchecked.
July 11, 2017
Nassar pleaded guilty to three child pornography charges.
November 22, 2017
In Ingham County, Michigan, Nassar pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. His guilty plea was part of a plea agreement, wherein prosecutors agreed to drop eight other charges against him and to not add charges for other sexual assault incidents that had since emerged, among other agreements.
December 7, 2017
Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on the child pornography charges, which stemmed from more than 37,000 images of child pornography found on his computer.
January 16, 2018
This was the first day of what would become a historic hearing in Ingham County, Michigan. Over the course of the seven-day hearing, a total of 156 women gave victim-impact statements, during which they shared their stories of abuse and sexual assault while being treated by Nassar.
January 22, 2018
Several USA Gymnastics board members stepped down during Nassar’s trial, including the chairman of the board, Paul Parilla. After the head of the United States Olympic Committee, Scott Blackmun, threatened to decertify USA Gymnastics unless its entire board resigned, the federation confirmed that it would comply, pledging to “work with the U.S.O.C. to accomplish change for the betterment of our organization, our athletes and our clubs.”
January 24, 2018
After watching 156 women publicly confront Nassar in court and detail their experiences of abuse, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison. “I just signed your death warrant,” she said as she imposed the sentence, making clear that Nassar would in all likelihood die in prison.
This sentence was in relation to seven of the 10 total charges of sexual assault, all of which took place in Ingham County. The three remaining charges took place in Eaton County, and were addressed at a separate hearing that began on January 31.
The New York Times published excerpts from many of the victim-impact statements.
Also on January 24, Lou Anna K. Simon, the president of Michigan State University, resigned amid mounting pressure during the trial.
“To the survivors, I can never say enough that I am so sorry that a trusted, renowned physician was really such an evil, evil person who inflicted such harm under the guise of medical treatment,” Simon said in her resignation letter.
January 26, 2018
Two days after Simon’s resignation, MSU’s athletic director, Mark Hollis, also resigned.
January 31, 2018
Nassar’s hearing in Eaton County began, where he pleaded guilty to three charges of criminal sexual conduct—two of the charges against girls between the ages of 13 and 15, and one against a girl younger than 13. All three incidents took place at the Twistars Gymnastics Club, according to the plea agreement.
Echoing the Ingham County hearing, more than 60 women and teenagers appeared in court over several days to share their victim-impact statements. Judge Janice Cunningham noted on the first day of the hearing that the number of victims who had come forward against Nassar had climbed to 265.
February 5, 2018
On the final day of the Eaton County hearing, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison, to be served concurrently with the Ingham County sentence but after the child pornography sentence.
Judge Cunningham said that Nassar’s abuse “impacted women, children and families of varying ages, races and walks of life. Individuals that have suffered physical and emotional harm as a result of your actions live all over the country and the world.”
In a statement, Nassar said that he was sorry and that hearing his victims’ words had “impacted me to my innermost core.” He added that “it pales in comparison to the pain, trauma and emotions that you all feel.”
May 16, 2018
Michigan State University reached a $500 million settlement with 332 of Nassar’s victims.
August 22, 2018
Nassar’s appeal of his 60-year sentence on child pornography charges was denied. Nassar’s lawyers tried to argue that the judge should not have taken his 10 sexual assault convictions into account when sentencing him on the pornography charges, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this argument.
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