Nassar is the doctor who was convicted last Wednesday of the sexual abuse of almost 150 of the gymnasts in his care over a period of 20 years, many of them members of the US Olympic team. He was sentenced to up to 175 years in jail after a court heard harrowing testimony in the form of victim impact statements from those abused.
The fall-out began early. Much of that abuse took place on the Michigan State University campus, where Nassar worked for over two decades, and over the weekend the President of MSU, Lou Anna Simon, resigned and issued a public apology to his victims.
Olivia Cowan, one of those abused, didn’t spare Simon when responding: “A public apology after you’ve hid behind this monster for over 20 years will never be enough. Where were you when we needed you?
“If you would have only listened to the women that brought complaints and concerns over all these years, this would have saved so many women and children from being abused,
Though Michigan State may not ring many bells with you, here’s an indication of the stakes: Its sports budget alone is over $107m.
Another angle to the scandal was the coverage, and often the lack of coverage. It was alleged online, for instance, that Fox, the television-channel/buffoon-trumpet beloved of Donald Trump, had not once mentioned the Nassar case on the air.
Website Deadspin helpfully pointed out that Fox Sports signed a 15-year broadcasting agreement with Michigan State University two years ago.
An honourable exception was the Detroit Free Press, which printed a powerful front page which simply listed the women who had come forward to confront Nassar.
The New York Times also published the full testimony of Aly Raisman, one of the most eloquent of those witnesses.
For many media outlets, however, the bigger story was the Oscar nominations.
Writing about child abuse, which is what occurred here, is not what you sign up for when it comes to sports journalism; anyone in their right mind would prefer to get worked up about refereeing decisions or managers’ crankiness rather than getting into the detail we heard last week. The gymnast who killed herself after being abused; another victim who cannot relax when her own children are out of her sight. But the details need to be heard for a simple reason. The lesson must be taught to children that it’s safe to come forward in these situations, and that they need to come forward.
The gymnasts were failed by the system, but eventually — too late for some, but eventually — Nassar was brought to justice. For that reason, the details need to be heard, and those in charge need to be identified for their negligence: the coverage needs to be ramped up and names printed. What happened to the gymnasts could happen here all too easily, and did happen in the past, as those abused by the likes of George Gibney could tell you.
That said, other names emerged in the last couple of weeks which have already become synonymous with leadership and courage. In the flutter and puff about the Oscar nominations there was some handwringing about the actor who played Wonder Woman not getting a nomination.
That non-debate looked more redundant than usual in the light of Aly Raisman’s courage in the courtroom. “I just spoke and I felt like I really had to be strong, I feel a responsibility,” she said. “But after I will be honest, I was sick, I almost passed out.”
Raisman doesn’t need the vindication of an award. The truth was enough.
Leading the way is easier said than done
I doubt that Stalin could have carried out a more efficient purge.
By the end of last week a fair number of the GAA’s influential leaders were confirmed as gone or going. Paraic Duffy’s tenure as director-general is coming to an end, as is Simon Moroney’s time as CEO of Munster GAA. The upcoming vacancy at the top of administration in Cork will be advertised in the summer and, to top it all off nicely, last Friday the email landed around the country confirming Dermot Earley’s departure as CEO of the Gaelic Players Association.
This means that in the next six to twelve months a raft of new people will have to read into their briefs in some of the most challenging jobs in Irish sport, never mind the GAA.
While change is good, according to the management bromides peddled by charlatans and spoofers who carve out a fine living in stating the obvious, there’s a significant difference between management and leadership.
Managers are plentiful and often ineffective, as the HSE could, no doubt, tell you.
Leaders are far harder to find, and the GAA needs to find some good ones in the next 12 months.
Courtesy from O’Neill wouldn’t go astray
I was surprised by Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill’s lack of grace with RTÉ reporter Tony O’Donoghue last week - actually, scratch that. I wasn’t surprised at all. And neither were you, be honest.
Another person who had been linked as closely with another job, as O’Neill was with the glamour posting that is Stoke City, might have been a little less confrontational. Not Martin!
Though nothing turns readers off quicker than journalists praising journalists, Tony O’Donoghue’s professionalism last week deserves a mention. What O’Neill doesn’t seem to recognise, despite his decades as a manager, is that Irish supporters view the amiable Corkman as a conduit for information, and recognise O’Neill’s fondness for passive-aggressive pedantry for what it is: applicable to them by proxy.
A little reciprocal professionalism from O’Neill wouldn’t go astray. Failing that, a smidgen of common courtesy.
Taking fandom a step too far
I wrote here last week about the Philadelphia Eagles fans and how, ah, aggressive they are.
They duly beat the Minnesota Vikings last week to make the Super Bowl, where they’ll face the New England Patriots, they of the detestable (God, stop - ed.).
Anyway, a reader informed me that in the past not only did the Eagles fans throw batteries at someone dressed as Santa Claus, they broke the leg of another team’s best-known fan.
In 1983 Zema Williams, the Washington Redskins’ unofficial cheerleader/mascot teased some Eagles fans when his team beat theirs.
Bad idea. They tore his costume to pieces and afterwards beat him in the car park, breaking his leg.
He spent a year in a wheelchair but, good sport that he was, went back to Philadelphia the next time the Redskins visited.
A woman threw beer in his face, though, and he left.