**Trigger Warning** This week on Burn It All Down, we open the show with Lindsay Gibbs interviewing Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly come forward with allegations against Larry Nassar, and award-winning investigative reporter for the Indianapolis Star who has covered the Nassar case, Marisa Kwiatkowski. The interview has graphic descriptions of sexual assault against minors; if you’d like to skip ahead, the interview ends at 28:17.
Since Kwiatkowski and her colleagues’ initial reporting about abuse in USA gymnastics in August 2016 (www.indystar.com/story/news/inves…oaches/85829732/) and Denhollander’s first telling her story publicly in September 2016 (www.indystar.com/story/news/2016/…-abuse/89995734/), at least 150 people have come forward with allegations against Nassar, a former USA gymnastics team physician during four Olympics and a faculty member for twenty years at Michigan State. He has recently pleaded guilty on multiple counts of sexual assault.
After the interview, Lindsay is joined by Amira Rose Davis, Brenda Elsey, and Jessica Luther, who discuss their reactions to the interview.
Then they shift gears and talk about the debacle that has been the search for a new head football coach at Tennessee and the underbelly of the sport revealed by the annual coaching carousel in college football.
As always, you’ll hear the Burn Pile, Bad Ass Woman of the Week, and what’s good in our worlds.
For links and a transcript
Scroll down for a transcript of the interview with Rachael Denhollander and Marisa Kwiatkowski about Nassar, it is italicized.
Links for the conversation about Nassar:
A top Tennessee WR called coaches “lyin asses” and got dismissed https://deadspin.com/tennessee-wr-jauan-jennings-dismissed-after-ranting-abo-1820723016
Tennessee is horrible, and Butch Jones called a player a traitor for helping a rape victim https://deadspin.com/former-tennessee-player-butch-jones-called-me-traitor-1761125356
From March 2016: Report: Cops Called Butch Jones Before Searching Home Where Two Players Allegedly Raped A Woman https://deadspin.com/report-cops-called-butch-jones-before-searching-home-w-176810399
Coaches defend rape culture at a press conference amidst the Title IX suit https://thinkprogress.org/amid-sexual-assault-lawsuit-16-tennessee-coaches-staunchly-defend-culture-69ef137aaa7f/
NCAA gives Ole Miss a two-year postseason ban for recruiting violations https://deadspin.com/ncaa-hits-ole-miss-with-two-year-postseason-ban-1820922016
Jimbo Fisher left FSU for a 10-year/$75-million gig at Texas A&M and didn’t even tell his players: https://twitter.com/_Dirtie12/status/936693790286471170 (that’s FSU’s QB tweeting, “No call, no text, you could of said something …”)
The Burn Pile:
Sepp Blatter bashing Hope Solo’s credibility: http://www.espn.com/espnw/sports/article/21619054/sepp-blatter-questions-hope-solo-credibility-groping-claim
Deyna Castellanos and the press about her “sensual” goals
J. T. Barrett, Ohio State QB, had surgery on Sunday and six days later started in the Big 10 championship game. WHAT? http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/21632936/playing-jt-barrett-ohio-state-buckeyes-determined-game-day and Joe Thomas’ response https://twitter.com/joethomas73/status/937128061929058304
“This week Maria Torres is attempting to become the first Puerto Rican golfer to earn her L.P.G.A. Tour card.”https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/30/sports/golf/lpga-maria-torres-puerto-rico.html?smid=tw-nytsports&smtyp=cur
Sarah McFadden, a northern Ireland soccer player who eight weeks after having her first child, was back and started in the November 28th game against Slovakia: https://twitter.com/NorthernIreland/status/935538807927123968
Speaker 1: (Singing).
Lindsay: Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to Burn It All Down. It might not be the feminist sports podcast you want, but trust me, it’s the one you need. I’m Lindsay Gibbs, sports reporter at Think Progress, and I will be your captain for today’s episode, which is our 31st. Joining me today is the double trouble dosage of history professors of Amira Rose Davis, of Penn State, and Brenda Elsey from Hofstra, and freelance sports reporter extraordinaire Jessica Luther. Hello, friends.
Lindsay: Good morning.
Lindsay: Quite a week, did anyone see the big news that broke on Friday morning? Of course, we’re talking about the World Cup draw.
Brenda: What else? What else can we be talking about?
Lindsay: What else? Nothing else happened, right? Nothing else happened. Can you say, Brenda, rigged?
Brenda: I’m a little bit stunned by it. I mean, I know … If there was a way to rig it, it would look like this. I’m not saying yet it’s rigged, but I’m saying it looks like it.
Lindsay: Give one example, for people like me who don’t know. What’s one example of the rigged?
Brenda: Okay, so-
Lindsay: Russia. Sorry, sorry Brenda. You go, you go.
Brenda: No, no, no. That’s exactly right, I mean, the very first game of the World Cup is gonna be one of the most, I don’t know, strange. There’s also England who’s facing Belgium, Panama, and Tunisia. Now-
Lindsay: Oh, so that’s a pro England draw.
Brenda: Yeah, I mean all-
Lindsay: I gotcha.
Brenda: I mean all the draws seem to be pretty spaced out in terms of here’s a strong team and here’s three that aren’t, so it’s strange in that way. But, then again, I mean … I don’t know, statistics tell you it’s possible.
Lindsay: Very unlikely, but possible. Well look, we will be talking about the World Cup plenty more in future weeks, but this week, that’s probably all you’re gonna get. I apologize. Now, later on today’s show, we’re gonna be discussing the broader implications of a ridiculous week in the Tennessee football coaching search, and then we’re gonna be throwing the kindling onto the burn pile and celebrating our badass women of the week, but the first half of our show is gonna be dedicated entirely to the Larry Nassar case, which is the biggest sex abuse scandal in US sports history. We’ve talked about it a little bit on the show, but it’s been a while, so as a refresher, at least 150 people have come forward with allegations against Nassar, who served as USA gymnastics team physician during four Olympic games and was a faculty member for 20 years at Michigan State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Lindsay: The past two weeks, Nassar has been in local Michigan courts. Last week he pled guilty to three counts of first degree criminal sexual assault conduct charges in Eaton County, and two weeks ago he pled guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct in Ingham County. In July, he pled guilty to federal pornography charges and his sentencing hearing for the federal charges will be this week on December 7th. A couple of days ago, I had the privilege of talking with the two women who I believe, it’s safe to say, are the most responsible for putting Nassar behind bars. Now, we’re gonna play this interview for you all and then have a short group discussion about it before moving on to the rest of the episode. But, a couple of notes.
Lindsay: First of all, it is a little bit longer than our usual interview segments, so hang in there, and also it does get graphic in parts. So, this is a trigger warning. There are descriptions of sexual assault against minors. In the episode description of whatever podcast app you’re using, we will put in the second sentence, a timestamp for where this interview ends, so that you can jump forward ahead of it if you’re not in a good space to listen to it right now. There are also some technical difficulties that impacted my intro, so we’re just gonna jump right into this interview right after the bumper music. This is my talk with the award winning investigative reporter for the Indianapolis Star, Marisa Kwiatkowski and Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly come forward with allegations against Nassar.
Lindsay: Now, Marisa, I want to start with you. Last August, along with your Indy Star colleagues, Mark Alesia and Tim Evans, you published an investigation called Out of Bounds, that was about how USA Gymnastics had failed to report cases of sexual abuse. I think what most people don’t realize is that this Indy Star investigation didn’t even mention Nassar’s name, but it was focused on the systemic problems at USA Gymnastics. How did that story come about, and for you, what was the most startling thing you uncovered about these policies at USA Gymnastics had or didn’t have, as the case may be?
Marisa K: I had been working on an investigation into why schools had failed to report allegations of sexual abuse to authorities as required by law. There’ve been a couple instances here in Indiana in both public and private schools where the officials had learned that someone was sexually abusing or having a sexual relationship with a student, and yet they had not reported it to authorities. As I was working on that, I had someone reach out to me and suggest that I look into USA Gymnastics, and that they had a policy that was similar to what I was investigating, and they pointed me toward a lawsuit in Georgia, which is really what started this investigation.
Marisa K: I flew to Georgia and got almost 1,000 pages of records, including court documents, pieces of depositions, motions, things like that, and came back, and then Mark Alesia, Tim Evans and I started digging through them and really digging deeper into it. I think really what set that apart … People have reported about sexual abuse in the sport of gymnastics for many years. That’s not something new, but for the first time, we showed that USA Gymnastics had a policy of receiving sexual abuse complaints and not reporting them to law enforcement in every case. We found multiple instances in which those individuals did not report to authorities and then those coaches went on to abuse other gymnasts.
Lindsay: Okay, so Rachel, you’re living in Louisville Kentucky right now. I know you’re a mother of three. It’s been almost 20 years for you since your encounters with Nassar, and since that abuse. Where were you when you saw this Indy Star profile investigation, excuse me, come out, and what were your initial thoughts?
Rachael D: Yeah, I was doing laundry, actually. I had my little one year old on my back and it was … I had to pull out my computer to send an email to someone, and it happened to be trending in my newsfeed, and so I pulled it up and I read it. The first thought that crossed my mind was, I was right. Nobody would have listened to me. And, the second thought was, and if they have files on their coaches, maybe they have a file on Larry, and this is the time. It needs to be done now. And so, I immediately emailed Indy Star within minutes of reading the article and told them what had happened, and it said, I will do whatever I can if you can uncover this.
Lindsay: You were 15 years old, a club level gymnast. Who recommended you to Nassar, and what do you recall about when you first met him? When did you realize that something … that this was inappropriate?
Rachael D: [7:50]I was recommended to him by another club level gymnast, but everybody knew who Larry was. He was a household name. Everybody had seen him carry Kerri Strug off the mat at the ’96 Olympics, and he was affiliated with Twistars], a really prominent gym in Michigan, and of course he was teaching and working at MSU, which is a huge school in Michigan, a big 10 school. I was very familiar with who Larry was, and we all considered it a privilege to have access to the doctor that treated the Olympians. When I met him I was glad to be able to be there, he was very skilled, he was very warm, very caring, very gregarious. He really made you feel like you could trust him. Like he was gonna take care of you.
Rachael D: I was seeing him for my wrist and for my back, and he would … in the first visit, he told me that he would need to do myofascial release for my back and that he needed to rotate my hips because they were out of alignment, and so he would, during the times that I would see him … I saw him every couple of weeks to about once a month for almost a year. On most of those visits, he would penetrate me with his fingers, vaginally, sometimes anally. There was external genitalia contact, but he was very skilled in how he did it. He really is an excellent case study in how predators are able to gain access to their victims.
Rachael D: My mom was actually in the room for every visit that I had with him, which is part of the dynamic that made me think everything was all right because the idea that someone could sexually assault you while your mother watched was just … it just wasn’t even in the realm of my thought process. But what I didn’t realize was that Larry was positioning me so that my mom couldn’t see what he was doing, so my impression was that my mother knew what was going on, and so it must be all right. But she didn’t, and I didn’t know that.
Lindsay: Did you talk to anyone about it at the time, and throughout the years have there been any more thoughts about reporting it?
Rachael D: I did not report it at the time. I actually did not realize the full extent of what had happened to me for years afterwords. One of the last visits that I had with Larry, he turned me on my side and he went up my shirt, and he massaged my breast, and that I knew was sexual assault. But, that was the first time that I had questioned what he was doing. The procedures he was doing were … they were awkward and they were embarrassing, and I didn’t like them, but my thought process at that time was, first, I knew that internal pelvic floor work actually could be a legitimate technique. I knew that from a friend of mine who was a physical therapist, completely unconnected to Larry, so I had that category in my mind when went to see him, so my presumption was well this, Larry must be doing this internal thing that my friend told me about.
Rachael D: And so, I had that category, and then beyond that, my thought process was, if this isn’t legitimate, somebody would’ve spoken up before me, and if somebody had spoken up and there was any question about what Larry was doing, Michigan State and USAG would never allow him in intimate contact with young girls. I relied directly on that belief that he never would have gotten to me. He never would have been allowed intimate contact with me and with all the other girls he was seeing. If there was any question about his medical technique, and because of that, I assumed it must be legitimate medical treatment. Now, after that last visit, one of those last visits, when I realized that part of what he had done was assault, that was all I really realized at that point, and as the years progressed, I started questioning could there be more? Is it possible that there is more that I didn’t realize was abuse?
Rachael D: And so, I began researching internal pelvic floor work, and the more I researched the more disturbed I became because nothing that Larry had done to me resembled legitimate pelvic floor technique. And so, a few years after that, I started talking to some physical therapists. I didn’t give them a lot of details, but we talked a little bit about the protocol, and they were concerned. They were very concerned about what I reported, but I really didn’t fully realize, and wasn’t really able to say this was all sexual assault until very shortly before I came forward. In fact, I got a big surprise during the investigation because my presumption, when I reported, was that Larry was trained in internal pelvic floor work, that he was assaulting girls under the cover of his training.
Rachael D: Under the guise of being certified to do internal work. When he came out and responded to my police report and responded to Indy Star, and responded to the title nine team, and said, “I don’t do pelvic floor work. I’m not trained in pelvic floor work.”, that flipped my world upside down because that was never even in the realm of conception for me. That moment, when I read his response to the title nine report and to the police report, and I read Indy Star’s story, and I read his response, that was when I fully realized the depth of what had happened because up to that point, I thought he was still operating under the guise of at least some form of legitimate medical treatment.
Lindsay: But there was none. God.
Rachael D: There was none.
Lindsay: Marisa, I can imagine that the reaction to the Out of Bounds, the first investigation must have been overwhelming. At what point did you see Rachael’s email and hear her story, and start looking into Nassar?
Marisa K: Well, we received her email, I mean, I think it was within a few hours of publication. It might have been 10:30 in the morning. At the time, it was just one of many. I mean, we received many, many tips about individuals or other coaches who had also … there were concerns about their conduct, or there were other survivors of sexual abuse who had reached out to us, and so Mark and Tim and I really started just gathering all of those together and we divvied them up to try and look into them. Now, Larry Nassar’s name stood out to us because it had come up just in terms of he was a prominent figure in gymnastics during the earlier part of our investigation so we recognized the name and who he was, and so that was something that we were particularly interested in. We didn’t really shift our focus to digging more deeply into those allegations until we received a call from an unrelated individual who said the same thing has happened to her.
Lindsay: At that point, you got your … the second story together, which focused in on Nassar. I believe that was published in mid September. At that point could you ever have imagined … I’ll start with you, Marisa, that we would be here a year later with the breadth of it, the scope of it, 150 victims who have come forward? All of these court cases. Did you have any idea that it was this big, Marisa?
Marisa K: I don’t think we had any idea of the scope of how many women and girls would come forward. I will say that we did realize that it was bigger than the two cased that we’d written about in the first story. Sharing Rachael’s story, and sharing Jamie’s story in that first piece that we did, we knew that that wasn’t all of it, because USA Gymnastics, in their statement to us had said that they’d relieved Nassar of his duties because of athlete concerns and we knew that the two individuals that we had interviewed were not those two individuals. We’d also interviewed a third female who we did not use in the initial story, but she had shared the same experiences, and she also was not the person who’d reported it to USA Gymnastics. We knew that there were quite a few, but we didn’t know that it was going to be as significant as it was. Not to say that it’s not significant. One person is significant-
Lindsay: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
Marisa K: The scope of it.
Lindsay: Absolutely. What about you, Rachael? Did you have a sense of how wide reaching this was?
Rachael D: Yeah, absolutely, because even at 15 when I realized, even part of what Larry had done, I knew by that point that pedophiles don’t have just one victim. That was part of the reason that I didn’t report as I started realizing what had happened, because I knew I wasn’t the first. Larry was very skilled in what he did. He was very brazen, he was very rehearsed. He knew exactly what he could do and how to do it to get away with it. I was not a test case for him, and so I was convinced, even at 15 and 16 that I was not the first victim and that there was no way others hadn’t raised concerns before me and been silenced.
Rachael D: I was also very convinced that he wouldn’t stop, and so over the next 16 years, I was sure that there were little girls walking in his door and being abused, quite possibly on a daily basis because this was something he did very clearly and very, very regularly. I knew that. I think, honestly, that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. I don’t think we will ever know how deep Larry’s sexual abuse reached and how many victims he abused.
Lindsay: If you could even put into words what this experience has felt like, both being so open, and being so vulnerable about these horrible things, but also seeing actually, after all these years, this many facing the consequences of his actions?
Rachael D: You know, it’s been incredibly difficult. Probably the most difficult season of my life, to be honest. To make that choice to give up every shred of privacy and every shred of dignity, and to have all of those details known so graphically. I mean, there are pictures of me on the internet demonstrating what Larry did to me. I honestly find that horrific, I still find that horrific. My kids are gonna see those pictures someday. My male friends and my male coworkers know things that nobody was ever supposed to know, and I really hate that. I still really hate that, but it’s worth it. The cost is worth it, and I have a choice what I focus on.
Lindsay: Marisa, there’s still been a … I believe, from my point, a staggering lack of accountability, both from USA Gymnastics and Michigan State. We have seen the President of USA Gymnastics resigned, but I believe many of the people on the board of directors who were there all these years are still in their positions. At Michigan State, of course, the gymnastics coach, and I always mess up the pronunciation of her name so you will have to correct me, but she’s the only one at Michigan State we’ve seen lose her job so far. From your perspective, as someone who’s been with this story from the beginning, has there been enough accountability? Do these organizations, these two prominent organizations realize their role in this, and if not, how do we get to that point?
Marisa K: I think time will tell. You have a new president who is just starting this month for USA Gymnastics, the board though, as you pointed out, has not changed and has been through statements, somewhat resistant to accepting culpability and I’m sure that some of that does have to do with the pending litigation that they’re facing, but they did hire outside counsel that issued a lengthy report with 70 recommendations for how they should improve and how they should change their procedures and their policies to reflect best practices. And so, time will tell if they implement all of those policies, and if they not only implement them but follow them. I think for Michigan State University, there is still … they’ve done an internal investigation, which we haven’t seen the results on yet, but time will tell how they move forward and what happens the next time that they receive an allegations for both of those organizations and what they do with that allegation when they receive it.
Lindsay: Rachael, one of the things about this story, for me, is that I feel like every time I uncover something horrific, there’s five horrific things below it. It’s this springboard. It seems like there were so many missteps along the way. From the Michigan State standpoint, is there anything that particularly stands out to you that went wrong here, that allowed this to continue for this many years?
Rachael D: There are so many things that went wrong in both organizations. From MSU standpoint, you really have an overall problem with how they view sexual assault, how they treat sexual assault victims, and their understanding of what they do with those complaints, and of how to handle alleged predators. Kathy Klages is an excellent example, and even Kathy actually did not lose her job over this, she was allowed to voluntarily retired, with a full pension, so she was put on temporary suspension, but then she voluntarily retired with a full pension. It’s a little difficult to say that even she suffered any real consequences for what she did. But as far back as 1997, Kathy was receiving complaints from two gymnasts, one of whom is speaking publicly, Larissa Boyce, who told Kathy, “Larry’s penetrating me when he’s doing these medical procedures. He’s putting his fingers in my vagina.”, and Cathy immediately assured her that it was legitimate medical treatment.
Rachael D: She called Larry up, actually, and told him what Larissa and what this other gymnast were saying, and then she required the girls to go back to him. She even told Larissa that, “I could file a report on this, but that there would be very serious consequences.” Not just for Larry, but for her. She silenced two sexual assault victims three years before I walked into Larry’s door, and you had a repeat performance with at least two other women. A runner, and a softball player, Tiffany Thomas Lopez, who was on the MSU Softball Team. Both of those women individually reported to different athletic trainers, and both times their complaints about Larry, that he was penetrating them during medical exams, went to some degree up the chain of command to some athletic supervisors. How far up that chain of command, we don’t know because Michigan State is not releasing that internal report, but in both cases, again, just like with Kathy these women who were reporting sexual assault were assured that they were receiving legitimate medical treatment.
Rachael D: [21:15] Now, in 2014, when a woman came forward, and again, said that Larry was sexually assaulting her under the guise of medical treatment, Larry’s response to that was that he did not penetrate her. His colleague’s response is that Larry did not penetrate, and the 2014 title nine investigation said the women did not, “Understand the nuanced differences between sexual assault and a medical exam.” When I came forward, only two years later, you saw this exact same attitude once again. Dean Williams Strampel was directly involved in helping clear Larry of the charges in 2014. Of the concerns in 2014, and when I came forward with my testimony, he immediately sent Larry an email saying, “Good luck. I’m on your side.” At the point that I came forward, I came forward with national and international medical journal articles showing that what Larry was doing was not medical treatment. I had three pelvic floor specialists on record who were willing to vouch for me and who were willing to speak to the police.
Rachael D: I had prior disclosures that were contained in my medical records showing that I had been telling the same story since 2004, that I had been saying Larry was penetrating me and describing what he was doing, that was in my medical records in 2004. I had a letter of reference from a district attorney vouching for my character. I came forward with a significant amount of evidence and Strampel’s response to that was to email Larry and say, “Good luck. I’m on your side.”, and then when I came forward with my video testimony, he actually sent that around to the office and sent it to the MSU Provost, and he mocked it. He laughed that it was the cherry on the cake of his day. When you look at this overall picture of how MSU has handled complaints of sexual assault, it’s been abhorrent. It’s been absolutely abhorrent, and MSU’s response to that is we didn’t deliberately cover up. We didn’t know Larry was a sexual abuser.
Rachael D: Yeah, and that’s a smoke screen. That’s a red herring, because enabling doesn’t usually look like someone saying, “Oh, you’re a rapist and rape is okay, so we’re gonna let you keep on raping.” That’s not what enabling looks like. Enabling looks like deliberate indifference. It looks like extreme negligence. It looks like silencing the victims. It looks like an immediate presumption of innocence toward the perpetrator. It looks like everything you saw at MSU, and they have absolutely refused to acknowledge any of that.
Lindsay: Why do you think, and you’ve been an investigative journalist for what, 12 years now, I believe? You’ve seen so many different cases of institutional coverups and denials, and willful ignorance. What about our culture allows things like this to be covered up for so long? Have you been able to pinpoint anything that ties some of these stories together? Do we just not want to believe the worst in the people that we know?
Marisa K: That’s certainly a piece of it. I mean, there’s so many different layers. There’s … Rachael talked about it earlier. Larry was a very charismatic individual and he was the buddy for a lot of gymnasts. He was the guy that when their coaches were being hard on them, trying to encourage them to excel, he was the one who would slip them candy. He was the one who would brighten their day, or have a joke, and I think that certainly plays into that culture in not just youth sports, but in all sorts of venues. I think there’s also for some, not all people, a liability aspect.
Marisa K: They know that if it’s reported that it will be in the public domain, and that there is a potential for adverse effects, whether it’s a civil lawsuit or just bad public relations, things like that. I think, also friends. They know him, they like him, so it’s not just that the other people like him, but that the officials in positions of power like them as well. I think there’s just so many different layers to it that each situation, it really depends on those specific dynamics to explain why it happens, but it’s not exclusive to youth sports, it’s not exclusive to gymnastics, to Hollywood. It really is happening, unfortunately, everywhere.
Lindsay: Rachael, what is the one thing that you hope that people take away from this case? You say that it’s worth it to come forward, and obviously, Nassar getting what’s coming to him is a big part of that, I’m sure, but what is the one thing that you wish would change or that people would understand?
Rachael D: Yeah, like you said, Larry being brought to justice, and particularly not being able to prey on little girls anymore is huge. Seeing other victims be able to understand what’s happened to them, and to begin to find their voice, and to reach for healing is just incredible for me to see. But from a societal standpoint, a cultural standpoint, the lesson that we really need to learn here is the same lesson we need to learn everywhere else. We need to be willing to speak against our own community because speaking against our own community is the thing that people are most unlikely to do and it’s the thing that we most desperately need. Abusers always have some sort of community that surrounds them. It may be a sports community, it may be a university community, it may be a political community, a religious community. It might be a physical community, but there’s always a community that surrounds the abuser. Victims who are abused by that person know that the community response, when they come forward, is going to be excruciatingly painful.
Rachael D: They know that the community that is closest to the abuser is going to surround that abuser, and is going to do everything they can do protect him, oftentimes, simply because they just don’t understand how it could be true that this person would do that sort of thing. Or, because there are some shared values between the abuser and the community that the community does not want to jeopardize by letting the truth be know. But the people who are surrounding the abuser in that community, they’re the ones that are most able to make a difference. They’re the ones that are most able to stop a predator. They’re the ones who are close enough to see the warning signs, and to support the victims, and yet they’re the ones least likely to do it.
Lindsay: Well, look, thank you both so, so much for talking with me today. Rachael, I know gonna be at the trial next week, is that correct?
Rachael D: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yup, I will be there.
Lindsay: And then, I hope that you will get some peace for a while, and get to rest and spend time with your family this holiday season. Marisa, what is the best way for people to follow your work, and do you think we’re gonna see anything more about this USA Gymnastics story?
Marisa K: Mark and Tim and I are gonna continue to be following all of the developments relating the USA Gymnastics and Larry Nassar, as well as our colleague Matt, who works at the Lansing State Journal. You can find all of our work on indystar.com, you can follow us on Twitter as well or Facebook, whatever’s easiest for you, but just to, I guess, follow up with what Rachael said, I also hope that people throughout this process and throughout all of the other things that have been happening feel like they do have a voice, whether they choose to use it to be public, or they choose to report it to law enforcement, but that they feel that they will be heard and believed.
Lindsay: [28:20] Okay, so Jessica, Brenda and Amira, we’ve just listening to the interview with Marissa and Rachael. What are your biggest takeaways? What are your thoughts? Jess?
Jessica: Man, I mean, I thought so many things. I was so impressed with both of these women. Listening to Rachael in particular, I mean, it’s always … as someone who works with survivors, to tell their stories in a public setting, I was really … I felt a very emotional response to her description of what it has meant. The cost that this has meant to her as a private citizen, to be this public, to talk about what she’s given up in order to make sure that this man is held accountable after decades, when lots of people made sure he was not held accountable. That was … man, listening to her, but she finished by making sure to say that it’s worth it. Right? I don’t know, the other thing that I was really struck by was the part where she talked about how … I mean, this is the quote that I wrote down.
Jessica: “Larry was very skilled. I was not a test case for him.”, and she said that she knew that when she was 15 years old, that she could understand because of how slick he was with how he did this to her, and just … I mean, the thing about the Nassar case, and Lindsay, your work on this has made this incredibly clear, just all the people in power who knew and understood what was happening and just let this keep happening to these teenage girls that this man had access to. I don’t know, there was something about hearing her say, “I could just tell.”, was … I don’t know. I wish I could be more articulate about it.
Lindsay: No, I agree. That was one of the most chilling parts, one of the most chilling things she said, I think. Because, I wasn’t really expecting it, you know? I wasn’t expecting that answer, and I wasn’t expecting her to be so clearly aware at such a young age of how widespread this was. I was anticipating a different reaction, and that’s my bias coming into it. Maybe hoping, maybe it’s easier if this doesn’t seem … I don’t know. I don’t know. There’s nothing easy about this. Amira?
Amira: Yeah, I was also profoundly affected by Rachael’s testimony here, and how she described her mother being in the same room. But the thing that really stuck out to me was this idea, her shock and her assumption, right, that there’s no way that all these people could know and allow this to happen. How … just thinking about that, and thinking about one of the things that happens with survivors, it’s not just a loss of personhood, or feelings of control, but it’s a loss of faith in these institutions that you’ve put faith in, that you’ve had ideas about. It’s a whole reframing of how you think people are supposed to protect people. That, to me, was really heartbreaking and also spoke to the kind of pervasiveness of the structures, and the inadequacy or lack of care for these vulnerable women. Girls, really.
Lindsay: Yeah. Brenda?
Brenda: Yeah, I had a lot of reactions, and I was amazed by the composure of both women. It struck me that it’s a lot more important than sometimes we think to have investigative journalism. I mean, obviously, Rachael’s testimony needs to be centered, but the ability to forward … She came forward when she heard about reporting, and so it is so important. I know it’s triggering and it’s upsetting, and for a lot of us, it makes for a really bad week. But I was really struck by how it prompted her to come forward into this incredibly brave thing, and how important it is to have women journalists, how important it is to put funding care, money, resources, I don’t know how it works because I’m not a full time journalist, but it’s gotta be that we put some stock in that because otherwise, she wouldn’t have come forward.
Lindsay: Yeah, Amira?
Amira: Yeah, I think that’s really important. I think there’s a long history there of women testifying, and looking around and finding, and investigating sexual assault, and I think we’d be remiss in this moment with it just being the anniversary of Rosa Parks decision to sit on the Montgomery bus and spark a boycott to highlight her years of rape justice activism in the Jim Crow south on behalf of black women. I think that there’s a long, long history of women getting in the trenches, finding the story, and not letting it go. Holding it with both hands and continuing to hammer at it until it gets to highlight the voices of the people who need to be heard. I think that’s really, really important legacy that Marisa is carrying out here.
Lindsay: I agree, and just really quickly, I actually read this in a different interview that she did, but she talked a little bit about the case in Georgia that she … that was the first that opened the doors to this. She found out about that case file, she got a tip about this case file in Georgia that was against the USA Gymnastics doctor, and because of the way the case was going, they were gonna close that file to the public the next day. She got on a plane that very day and went down to get access to the case file. Look, all the kudos to Indy Star for this investigative unit, because that’s a lot of money to spend for a last minute flight. Look, we have to support local journalism because I will tell you that the Indy Star’s work on this, and the Lansing State Journal. There is one reporter there, his name is Matt. I’ll put his full name and everything in the episode notes, but they have just done tremendous work investigating this, and deserve all the credit. Jess?
Jessica: Yeah, and I found that in a lot of the work I do, when I covered the Vanderbilt case, I went to Nashville and interviewed a bunch of people in person, but I relied on the Tennessean. Their local media, and that’s been true for Florida State coverage. I … yeah, local media, man. I have a couple last things that I was thinking about while listening to this. One was, Marisa’s point at the end about time will tell whether or not Michigan State is better, and this is something that I think a lot about. People ask me a lot about this with Baylor, like are they better now? How do we know? It’s so hard, right? This is one of the most difficult things about this kind of work is how will we know it’s different? If it’s good, we might never know. Right? Because, who’s reporting if things are fine? That’s a hard part of this, the time will tell part of this.
Lindsay: Also, silence isn’t super comforting right now because we know that there was so much silence before. You’re right, it’s hard to say.
Jessica: Yeah. Then the other thing that Rachael said that I’m gonna carry with me for a really long time is right towards the end when she talked about what enabling looks like. She said that amazing thing about how it’s not saying, “I’m okay with rape.”, it’s having deliberate indifference, extreme negligence, silencing victims. That’s what enabling looks like, and that’s the stuff that’s easy to turn away from and to ignore, and to not pay attention to. That’s why it works so well. I just thought that definition was very powerful, and again, I think, I think a lot about but she just said it so well.
Lindsay: She’s so well spoken, and I mean, stressing that you have to be willing. You’re not really tested on any of this until you have to call out people in your own community. Until you have to realize that that person right next to you … Look, we’re seeing this in a lot broader cultural context right now, we’re seeing newsrooms having to report on people within their newsroom who were been accused of sexual assault or sexual harassment. We’re seeing in congress, the inability to actually advocate for a lot of these congressional members who’ve been accused of horrible things to go forward. One of the chilling … I wrote a piece this past week about … it was focused solely on Michigan State’s missteps within this case, and what will accountability look like at Michigan State through the NCAA and through title nine, through their board of trustees.
Lindsay: I’ll link that in the show notes as well, of course. But one of the most chilling details from that reporting, and when I say reporting, most of this was researching the local reporting that had already been done. But one of the most chilling details was that the gymnastics coach, this was in 2016, after the Indy Star investigation on USA Gymnastics. After the Indy Star investigation on Nassar that brought forward a couple of victims. After Nassar was already fired from, and let go from Michigan State, a year after he was let go from USA Gymnastics because of an FBI investigation, the MSU Gymnastics coach called a team meeting at that university, for the gymnastics team. She passionately defended Nassar, and she asked the gymnasts to sign a card for him if they so chose. There were women on that team who had been molested by Larry Nassar. I don’t even know … what do you say to that? Then, she got to keep her job until the following February when she was suspended for a day, and then voluntarily resigned. There’s just a lot of work to do here. Okay, let’s move on.
Lindsay: [37:50] We’re gonna switch gears here a little bit …
Jessica: A little bit. Yeah. They’re not that different.
Lindsay: I mean, look, there’s still bad stuff. There’s still corruption, but I wanted to make sure there was a segment where we could channel our rage.
Lindsay: [crosstalk 00:38:05].
Brenda: [inaudible 00:38:05] institution of higher education, perhaps?
Lindsay: Right? Yeah. Whenever I’m looking to channel my rage, I look no farther than the NCAA. Okay, there is no time … We talked about the NCAA’s corruption here year in, year out, especially when it comes to a lot of college football and college basketball. If you listen to the show, you know that this is no new topic, but there is no season where the corruption of this system of ametrism is more egregious than during bowl season for college football because you see these … it’s when all the coaching firings and rehirings go. It’s when you see these coaches leave these kids high and dry as these kids are playing bowl games. Just going through … putting their bodies on the lines for games that are pretty meaningless just for their school to earn money. You just see so much ridiculous … Speaking of ridiculous, the Tennessee coaching search has been … it’s just been an example of the most absurd ways that this goes. It started earlier this week with Greg Schiano, former head coach at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was universally hated by journalists, players, everyone, and not a good coach.
Lindsay: He’s recently been at Ohio State and he was an assistant to Urban Meyer, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, last Sunday, hours after we had recorded our last episode, Tennessee announces out of nowhere that he’s gonna be the next head coach. Jess, maybe you can take us to what happened next.
Jessica: Yeah, fans were really, really angry. They were angry, I don’t know, I don’t know why. I don’t totally understand all the intricacies of Tennessee fandom, and apparently they loved John Gruden, and they really thought he was gonna be their coach, and so they were particularly mad that they hired anyone else. But also, Schiano has this really horrible reputation, I think it goes back to his Rutgers days, followed him out into Tampa, and that he deserves. I mean, the Tennessee fans were right to not want this guy to be their coach, but they kept saying the easy excuse here was that Schiano was an assistant at Penn State during the Sandusky years, and his name was brought up during all the Sandusky stuff but he was never prosecuted or formally charged. It’s possible, maybe, that he knew and never said anything. I think we all know that it’s possible … that he never said anything.
Jessica: But he’s denied all of that, and this became the excuse, that he was morally bankrupt and therefore could not be the head coach of their football team, which made me so mad, you guys. I can’t even explain to you, when I go round to talk, which I do a lot, about college football and sexual violence, one of the coaches that I talk about is Butch Jones, who is now the former coach of Tennessee because of the horrific way that this coach handled multiple players being accused of sexual violence, two in particular, in that case. It’s just like, in that case, not only did the police call Butch Jones before they went to collect evidence from the players apartments, but there was another player, a third player, who helped that woman who had reported. He helped her get to the hospital after she says she was harmed.
Jessica: In retaliation a player, I think, punched that guy? Butch Jones called him a traitor. This is what the guy has said in an affidavit, and no one seemed to care, I felt like when all that happened, I was just screaming into the wind. I mean, I wrote a piece for Vice about it. I was so upset about everything that happened. That player then transferred. I think he went to UTC, Tennessee Chattanooga, and this idea that they have some moral positioning because Schiano had some kind of connection to Sandusky. The whole thing was bonkers to watch in real time, and they ended up having to fire the athletic director because everyone was so mad about how everything messed up. No one wants to be coach there next. I don’t know who’s gonna be-
Lindsay: No one.
Jessica: No one.
Lindsay: No one. Their programs are much worse than Tennessee.
Jessica: But there’s rumors that now the new AD is [inaudible 00:42:10], and apparently there are rumors that he made all this really horrible so that they would fire the AD so he could get the new job. The other thing I want to say about this is that because of all of this, Tennessee now owes the former AD John Curry $18 million … or no, they owe him $5 million. Butch Jones and his staff are expected to receive $13 million dollars. Eight of those going to Jones. Tennessee’s gonna have to pay $18 million in buyouts for all of this, and then they’re gonna hire new people that they’re gonna pay a ton of money to. The whole thing is just … it makes me so mad.
Lindsay: Brenda, do you wanna yell a bit?
Brenda: I do, a little bit. I would just like to point out that according to Tennessee State as a state, 22% of its children under age 18 live below the poverty line and coaching search itself is costing 13, $14 million. I don’t know, Sports Illustrated did that, and Jess just explained some of that and the way that it’ll break down. So like, what the hell? What … what? That’s a public institution that needs to be publicly accountable. I mean, I know we can’t get back to Michigan State, and that’s a painful rabbit hole, but those … people on the board are elected by the people in that state. Those are public funds, so those people that live below the poverty line that pay a sales tax every day, or whatever it is, they’re all contributing to a particular system that’s supposed to provide some kind of safety net, and instead rips it away and spends it on these bozos. I’m just like, what? I guess that’s where I’m at right now, is just public money for … And then the players end up not getting anything, and hurt, and on public assistance. That’s where I’m at. I’m so lit. Smoke is coming out of my ears.
Lindsay: Oh my God, Amira?
Amira: [44:15] Indeed. It’s that last point that had me raging, watching Jimbo Fischer and his massive … I can even wrap my head around it. I think it’s so frustrating because like you said, it comes at the same time where people are out giving blood, and sweat, and time and preparation and they’re not getting paid a dime. This is the moment this and March Madness, when you just are screaming pay the players, every moment of the day. For Jimbo Fischer, did you see, he reportedly didn’t even tell his players he was leaving.
Jessica: I know.
Brenda: I know.
Lindsay: He just put his Christmas tree up.
Jessica: He put his Christmas tree. Yeah, the quarterback for the team Tweeted, “No call, no text, you could’ve said something.”
Amira: Which is absolutely ridiculous. You go into these homes, and you convince people to come and play for you, and you promise them all of this, and you leave. There’s no … it just really … I don’t even have words for how frustrating and hypocritical, and disgusting, frankly, it is. The other thing is to see this coming on the heels of this scam tax bill that was pushed through, that is gonna disproportionately, absolutely decimate graduate education, all I can think about is all the people around the university, players included, graduate students, lower level academic adjuncts who are fighting tooth and nail for anything, anything from the institutions just to sustain, and yet you wanna go and give all of this money to coaches who aren’t even loyal, who are gonna jump at the next sign of career.
Brenda: They’re good, they’re not that good.
Amira: It’s the most frustration.
Jessica: Yeah, and let’s just note, if you’re a player and you try to transfer, there are all these rules and they try to keep you off the field for you, to punish you for leaving. These coaches, someone said it, Jimbo was like, “See ya.”, before they even finished the season. He just gets to jump.
Amira: Exactly. Exactly.
Jessica: It’s just wild to me.
Lindsay: Plaxica Burress who’s an NFL player, Tweeted this week, as all this is going on, he goes, “The great Nick Sabin told me not to leave school for the NFL and to finish what I started, and he left before the season was over.”
Amira: Exactly. Exactly.
Lindsay: That just sums it up so ridiculously.
Amira: But it also reminds us why we have to continue to think about sports as labor because this idea of controlling labor and controlling bodies, disproportionately bodies of color, particularly in college football and basketball, as well as we can even look at professional leagues who do the same thing, right? This is a labor issue. This is controlling labor whereas the same standards don’t apply for coaches who want to take their own careers into their hands.
Lindsay: Yeah, just really quickly. USA Today does some of the best work on coaching salaries. They keep a really great database, and in the vein of the most infuriating, which is literally that these coaching buyouts, and paying these coaches not to coach. They looked at the case of Kansas University. In 2009, one year after Kansas’ last winning season, Coach March Mangino received a $3 million settlement from Kansas after quitting amid allegations that he mistreats players. That helps Kansas avoid a fight for the $6.6 million he would’ve been owed. Coach Turner Gill succeeded Mangino and went 5 in 19 in two seasons before Kansas fired him in 2011 and bought out the remaining $6 million left on his contract. Kansas then turned to Charlie Weiss, the industry legend for making a living off of getting fired, and before Kansas, Notre Dame had terminated Weiss after a 6 in 6 season in 2009, and paid Weiss more than $16 million to settle his contract. With the final payout, payment remaining at the end of 2015. At Kansas, Weiss did it again. He compiled a 6 in 22 record before getting fired in 2014 with more than $5.4 million still owed to him in monthly installments. Okay.
Amira: It’s so frustrating. Hey, Brenda, do you think if I could convince you to come to Penn State you’d get a buyout from Hofstra?
Brenda: I would love to make a living off getting fired.
Lindsay: I think you’d be really good at that, Brenda. You could really do that …
Brenda: [crosstalk 00:48:23].
Amira: No teaching, just …
Lindsay: No, it is. It is.
Brenda: I think it’s shocking to me, we would never … professors don’t get anything of the kind.
Lindsay: [48:58] Okay, it is burn pile time. I think we are locked and loaded. Jess.
Jessica: Yeah, I’m gonna continue to talk about this labor and exploitation issue in college athletics. Two weekends ago, JT Barrett, Ohio State’s quarterback aggravated a right knee injury before their game against Michigan when he was hit by a cameraman on the sidelines. The following day, Sunday, he had orthoscopic knee surgery. Okay? He had surgery. Four days later, four days later, he fully participated in practice, and on Saturday night, only a week after his injury and six days after surgery he started in the Big 10 championship game against Wisconsin and ended up playing the entire time. Barrett’s coach, Urban Meyer, said that in order to get back this quickly, Barrett was doing 15 hours of treatment a day. He also said of Barrett’s quick recovery, “That’s not normal. It takes a rare individual because there is a pain threshold. When you’re talking about 15 hours a day of treatment, which is what he did, I can’t say that’s normal. I’ve had players who had similar things happen who are out two, three weeks.”
Jessica: Okay, so this is really hard for me. We know that Barrett is not getting paid for this. We know Ohio State will not be paying for his healthcare for the residual issues he’ll have from the bodily sacrifices that he has made. The sacrifices that make millions for Meyer and the university. Kudos to former Wisconsin offensive lineman and current Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas, who took to Twitter during the Big 10 Championship game to express his concerns about Barrett returning to the game so soon after surgery. Now that Twitter allows endless characters, these are long quotes, because of his Tweets are long, so quote, this is what Thomas wrote: “I would like to see NCAA football get an independent second opinion doctor who can help players make big surgical and medical decisions like they do in the NFL. As a guy who’s had a lot of knee surgeries it’s unsettling that JT Barrett had knee surgery a few days ago and is playing today.”
Jessica: He continued, “Oftentimes, players don’t have knowledge or experience to make big medical decisions that could have a major impact on their life and career. The doctor works for the coach and looks out for his best interest, and the player trusts the coach, but nobody is looking out for the player’s best interest.” He went on to Tweet a lot more about this when people were angry at him for suggesting this. But, after beating Wisconsin 27 to 21, Barrett told the sideline reporter, he said that he felt no pain in his knee during the game. It is possible that Barrett has a high tolerance of pain and was medically good to go six days after knee surgery. It’s also possible that he did whatever he needed to do in order to get back on the field because he loves football, and Ohio State, or knows that he might not be playing many more games in his life.
Jessica: But, it’s also possible that he felt enormous pressure to do whatever he had to in order to get back on the field because people more powerful than him didn’t give him another option. What we know for sure is that college football is so exploitative, and it puts winning above everything else and forces everyone within the system to do the same, and that coaches ask things of their players that are not in service that they players longterm health. Also, just pay these guys for what they’re doing out there. Burn that exploitation, just burn it.
Amira: Yeah, I’m gonna take us to the NFL, which is never a good thing. Earlier this week, it was announced that the NFL and the Players Coalition, which has been the group of players advocating around social justice issues and talking about anthem protests. It was announced that they had reached a decision for nearly $100 million dedicated to, “Causes considered important to the African American community.” Right after this, a few players started highlighting their displeasure with this direction of the player’s coalition, and this agreement. Eric Reed, Mike Thomas from the Dolphins, Russel [00:52:23], they basically came out and said this is a publicity stunt, this is woeful. They called it disingenuous. Basically said this deal is not really $100 million to the problem, it’s less than 100, it’s around 89 million over seven years, which is basically for these billionaires.
Amira: Quarter of a million dollars, and there’s something in place where they could affectively move that money around from different causes, so all the breast cancer awareness stuff they do, or remember when domestic violence was a thing they had to do control on? Or, concussions. All of these kind of ways that they think they can move their brand foreword by throwing money on a bandaid kind of issue hoping that it will actually shut down the discussion around it. You’re seeing this happen in the same way towards these anthem protests. Not surprisingly, a lot of the players have felt like it’s hush money, and have decided that they don’t want to pay to shut up. This is essentially a way of getting people for very little expense on the billionaire owners part to getting players to shut up and stop protesting with this veiled threat that if they aren’t gonna agree to this deal being strong armed into it, then over the summer the league might be forced to consider anthem ban or something of the like. I think the last thing that’s really frustrating about it is that the way they set it up was that it was five owners, five players, and two league representatives.
Amira: But one of the things that is very suspicious about that, it was essentially make a seven versus five decision so even if they accept the deal, which by all means, it looks like they are, there’s no guarantee that the players were gonna get to have any deciding input for control of where this money is actually going because they don’t have the majority, assuming the league officials are agreeing with the owners. This is just a mess, I’m frustrated, and guess what? Colin Kaepernick is still out of a job, so I’m burning it down.
Lindsay: I want to talk a little bit about Sepp Blatter. We love you Sepp. No, we do not. Okay, so Hope Solo recently accused Blatter of groping her at the … an awards ceremony in 2013 in Zurich Switzerland. Now look, we can talk, there’s a lot of problematic things about Hope Solo, which we fully, fully admit here at Burn It All Down, but I think we can all say there’s more problematic things about Sepp Blatter, if we want to talk about problematic people. But, this week, Blatter finally responded to these allegations. I’m guessing you can understand why the burn pile is here. “It’s so absurd,”, Blatter said. “It’s absurd for you, for your editorial board to go on about a theme about this lady. Look at her CV and you’ll see I’m right. It’s absurd.” This is him talking to a newspaper. “You have to go and look,” he said. “It’s not up to me to declare the difficulties that she has had in her life, and why she had all those difficulties. She’s not credible to say things like that. It’s absurd. It’s absurd.”
Lindsay: Sepp Blatter, you moldy, aging old shoe. Do you really want to talk about credibility? You said that in 2004 a female soccer player should wear more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball, who thinks shaking hands is the best way to end racism? And, that football is too macho to have women leaders. Sepp Blatter, whose name is synonymous with corruption and fuckery and bigotry? Who even, something as laughable as the FIFA Ethics Committee found too corrupt to serve in the game? Look, the only thing that’s absurd about Hope Solo’s allegations is that you think you have the right to question anyone’s credibility, particularly a woman’s. Sepp Blatter, I just felt like I needed to talk directly to you, burn it. Burn pile.
Lindsay: Okay friends, it’s been an intense one. Let’s talk quickly. Good things. Amira?
Amira: Yeah, my good thing is that my middle child turned five this week.
Lindsay: Oh, happy birthday.
Amira: Happy birthday Jackson. His newfound favorite thing is to go to Penn State women volleyball games, so we spent the afternoon at his birthday watching the first round of the post season play, and we got to witness Penn State defeated Howard 3 to 1 in three sets to one, but between Simone, and Hailey, and Nia and the black women on our team, and Howard’s team of black women, I was just so full of black girl magic killing these volleyball plays. It was so fun, and to see Jackson absolutely getting his entire life from it was amazing, so happy, happy, happy birthday to my sweet boy, and congratulations to Penn State, who’s moving onto the third round next week.
Lindsay: Yay, two good things.
Lindsay: It’s so rare, it’s like a unicorn. We’re seeing a unicorn. Let’s just stare at it, friends. Let’s not questions where it came from, let’s just for a second, enjoy it.
Lindsay: Save the unicorns.
Lindsay: Alright, thank you all so much. That’s it for this episode 31 of Burn It All Down, which is a little supersized, but we hope you enjoyed it. We want to thank Hofstra University for their support of the podcast. If you wanna see more of us, you can go to Burn It All Down Pod at our website, burnitalldown.com, and our Facebook. Our Twitter, because Twitter limits you, it’s just Burn It Down pod. We want to thank you all so, so much for your support these first 31 episodes. We are gonna shut down our GoFundMe campaign today and that allowed us to launch and make it through 31 episodes and we raised over $4,000 and we are forever indebted. We have a really exciting announcement coming for you all next week about the next steps for Burn It All Down. Fellow flamethrowers, we’re just in awe. We’re also taking ideas for winter Olympics, stories you want to see us cover, people you want to see us interview. We’re starting to plan for the future, friends. That’s all for now. I’m Lindsay Gibbs, with Amira Rose Davis, Brenda Elsey and Jessica Luther. Keep throwing those flames.
Speaker 1: (Singing).