Mac Engel

Nassar case a tragic breakdown of adult supervision

Larry Nassar sits during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Mich. The former sports doctor who admitted molesting some of the nation’s top gymnasts for years was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison.
Larry Nassar sits during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Mich. The former sports doctor who admitted molesting some of the nation’s top gymnasts for years was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. AP

They are Olympians, gold medalists, young women, grown women, and they are all victims of sexual assault who could have easily been your daughter.

The parents of these victims are like any other well-meaning mom and dad who trusted the other adults in the room to do right by a kid.

And all of the more than 150 females who testified against one of the biggest scumbags in the history of American sports, Dr. Larry Nassar, trusted their mom and dad. Instinctively, they trusted mom and dad that they were putting them in a position not just to succeed, but that would first do them no harm.

Safety is the fundamental desire, and priority, of any mom or dad. Your kid might not win the game, and they might watch too much TV and eat too much junk food at a friend’s house, but they’re not hurt.

Through no fault of their own, the moms and dad who entrusted their daughters to the USOC and USA Gymnastics failed, because the entire dysfunctional system is too busy to worry about the kids.

And that is who gymnasts are — kids. They aren’t women. They’re not adults. They’re kids. Quit kidding yourselves.

On Wednesday in a Lansing, Mich., courtroom, former USA Gymnastics team doctor Dr. Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting more than 150 young women who were in his care for decades.

He got off easy.

There are many tragic layers to this case for one column, including the truth that as parents we have to ask our kids, listen to our kids, and triple-check the systems we trust. The consequences of failing to do so can be ruinous.

Think how often you drop your kid off with a “professional” or “trusted adult” and nothing happens. Nor should it. Ever.

Now imagine the one time something did happen, because you trusted a system to vet the coach, the supervisors, the trainers, and the doctors.

You trusted the adults, just like the parents of Nassar’s victims.

But you can never be everywhere your kid is at all hours, and you can never be absolutely sure. The only thing you can do is check, and pray.

Credit The Indianapolis Star for breaking this story that led to this predator’s conviction. The judge in the case specifically mentioned the reporter’s work. Without that story, all of these victims would not have seen their molester on trial, and sentenced to jail.

Even with the story, and the sentencing, there is pain and there are scars that will never fully heal.

Much like with former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who sexually abused young boys for decades, there is only one truly guilty party in this case. Only Nassar is responsible.

But there is guilt and culpability in the fleet of enablers who blindly trusted this vile person. Adults who were too busy to look when girls told them to check. Adults who were too self-absorbed to care.

The people at his place of employment, Michigan State University. The men and women who comprise the leadership at USOC, and USA Gymnastics.

Everywhere, there were adults.

There were warnings. There were signs. But the men and women in position to do anything about Nassar were all too blindly sure that a doctor would never do such a thing.

A doctor signs the Hippocratic Oath that includes the following, “Into whatever homes I go, I will enter them for the benefit of the sick, avoiding any voluntary act of impropriety or corruption...”

And, “I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.”

The vow, honor and responsibility are garbage if the person who takes the oath doesn’t care.

The trust in a physician is intrinsic, nearly as great and immediate as it is with a leader of a church. And we forget that doctors are people, too.

We all know people who, despite their position of authority or respect, are messed up beyond comprehension.

A kid can speak up, but a parent has to listen. To believe. And to act. No matter how uncomfortable.

The prospect is unfathomable, because, who would hurt a kid?

No one I know.

Until it’s the coach you do know. The church leader down the street. The doctor you do trust. Or, worse, a family member.

The majority of these professionals are decent and kind people with honest intentions. Then there are those abusing the innocent as they hide in broad daylight because, surely, no one we know would deliberately hurt a kid.

To put your son or daughter in harm’s way is the last thing any parent wants on their already guilt-ridden head.

More than 150 kids, at least, were hurt by Larry Nassar, who was believed by a fleet of enabling adults because he’s a doctor.

A system of checks and balances didn’t work, because the adults failed.

As a parent, the only check and balance that truly works is the one where you are both, and then, after that you just hope and pray.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof