The sexual-abuse scandal that involved former Olympic gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar and has reverberated across the American sports scene is not over, the mother of a former USA Gymnastics gymnast said Thursday.
Gina Nichols, the mother of gymnast Maggie Nichols, said dozens of people knew of Nassar’s “heinous” crimes and should go to prison for trying to cover them up.
Nassar, 54, on Wednesday was sentenced in Michigan to 40 to 175 years in prison after a seven-day hearing in which more than 150 women and girls offered statements about being abused by Nassar.
“It is really satisfying to see he got 175 years, but that’s just the beginning here,” Gina Nichols said Thursday. “We’ve got so many people who are going to end up in prison because they allowed this to happen. They told us to ‘Shut up.’ They told us they told law enforcement. They lied to us.”
Maggie Nichols has filed a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Michigan State University, where Nassar served as team physician.
Maggie Nichols, 20, grew up in Little Canada and began doing gymnastics when she was 3. By the time she was 13, she was training five to six hours a day, six days a week at Twin City Twisters in Champlin.
Within a year, she had made the USA National Team, was competing internationally and was spending one week a month at the Karolyi Ranch near Houston, the site of the U.S. Olympic training center run by legendary gymnastics coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi. Her coach from Twin City Twisters, Sarah Jantzi, would travel with her.
‘ONE OF THE HEROES’
During the late spring of 2015, Jantzi overheard a “horrible” conversation between Maggie Nichols, then 17, and another gymnast talking about “treatments” administered by Nassar, a doctor at Michigan State University and the Olympic and Team USA doctor assigned to USA Gymnastics at the Olympic Training Center, Gina Nichols said.
When they returned to Minnesota, Jantzi called Gina, a surgical nurse at Summit Orthopedics in St. Paul, and John Nichols, a family medicine specialist at Entira Family Clinics in Roseville, and USA Gymnastics officials.
“Sarah has got to be one of the heroes in this whole story because she had the balls and the guts, as an adult, to do what was right and report this,” Gina Nichols said.
Maggie Nichols, now a gymnast for the University of Oklahoma, declined to be interviewed for this story, but she released a public statement earlier this month.
“When I was 15, I started to have back problems while at a National Team Camp at the Karolyi Ranch,” Maggie Nichols wrote. “This is when the changes in his medical treatments occurred. My back was really hurting me, I couldn’t even really bend down, and I remember he took me into the training room, closed the door and closed the blinds. At the time I thought this was kind of weird, but figured it must be okay. I thought he probably didn’t want to distract the other girls, and I trusted him.”
Then, Maggie Nichols wrote, Nassar “started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should.”
“He didn’t have gloves on, and he didn’t tell me what he was doing,” she wrote. “There was no one else in the room, and I accepted what he was doing because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve my pain. He did this ‘treatment’ on me, on numerous occasions.”
Gina Nichols said Nassar molested her daughter “multiple times” and continued to prey on her by reaching out to her on Facebook and telling me how “beautiful” she looked.
“He was grooming her,” Gina Nichols said. “She was 15 years old. She thought that he was trying to be nice. She didn’t know. There is no way she would know any better. She was just a child.”
‘THEY TOLD US TO BE QUIET’
Maggie Nichols was “Victim A,” which means she was the first to report sexual abuse by Nassar to USA Gymnastics with the help of a coach, Gina Nichols said.
Nassar didn’t leave his position with USA Gymnastics until several months later, Gina Nichols said. He announced he was “retiring” from USA Gymnastics in a Facebook post, she said.
Related ArticlesOver the next 10 months, Gina Nichols said she continued to press Steve Penny, the former president and CEO of USA Gymnastics, about the investigation.
“We were told that they had reported it, and it was being investigated,” she said. “They told us to be quiet, that we couldn’t talk about, because it could ruin the investigation. No one in law enforcement never once called and asked us about it. Not once.”
It wasn’t until July 2016, right before the Olympic trials in San Jose, Calif., that the Nicholses received their first phone calls from an FBI agent investigating the case, Gina Nichols said. “I said, ‘You’re calling now? I reported this a year ago!’” she said. “You know what he said? ‘I got the assignment yesterday.’”
USA Gymnastics officials did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Kerry Perry, who became president and CEO of USA Gymnastics on Dec. 1, provided a statement on the group’s website after Nassar’s sentencing. “During the last seven days, more than 150 courageous women have shared their deeply personal experiences and how Larry Nassar’s despicable crimes impacted their lives,” Perry wrote. “I am profoundly saddened that a single woman, a single girl, a single athlete was hurt. USA Gymnastics applauds Judge Rosemarie Aquilina for handing Nassar the maximum sentence of up to 175 years, in an effort to bring justice to those he abused and punish him for his horrific behavior. The powerful voices and strength of these survivors have left a lasting impression on all of us. Every day, their stories will impact my decisions as president and CEO.”
Gina Nichols took time off work to fly to Lansing, Mich., to read a victim-impact statement on behalf of her daughter during Nassar’s sentencing hearing.
“You’re not a real doctor. You’re not a doctor at all,” Gina Nichols told Nassar on Jan. 17. “You’re a serial child molester, a pedophile.”
‘EVERY SINGLE VOICE MATTERED’
Nichols also called out USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Michigan State University for their “gross, inexcusable negligence for allowing this pedophile to flourish for this long and for all these poor victims to be abused.”
Nichols stayed in Michigan until Friday, listening to dozens of victims give their statements. Her daughter, a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, needed to be at school; Maggie Nichols is competing at the University of Florida on Friday.
Gina Nichols praised Judge Rosemarie Aquilina for letting everyone have their say.
“Every single voice mattered,” she said. “Every. Voice. It didn’t matter to her how long this was going to take. If it took another week, it did not matter to her, because every single person — who this was allowed to happen to for so long — is important. Every voice is important. Every victim is important here, and she knew it.”
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