2018-01-25 / Views

Sports fans, open eyes to sexual abuse

A column by Jay Bushen

One of the biggest draws to sports fandom is its ability to lure people away from the stress of everyday life.

Fandom — in my case a willingness to drink Honolulu blue Kool-Aid and brace for the annual letdown from the Detroit Lions — is a powerful and much-needed distraction. I appreciate the Xs and Os, stats, analysis and even a small portion of the off-field drama.

That being the case, I was never sure what to make of the Penn State football scandal. When the news broke in November 2011, I and millions of other sports fans were bombarded with coverage of something far more serious: the indictment of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who faced 52 counts of child molestation.

The scandal sparked round-the-clock sports coverage, temporarily replacing the escape so many of us seek on a daily basis. Talk around the water cooler tapered off, too, at least in my circles downstate. Child molestation wasn’t something my coworkers and I knew how to talk about.

I should start by saying I don’t care for comparisons of the Penn State scandal and the Larry Nassar investigation. That said, I think it’s time sports fans (like me) unplug their ears, immerse themselves in an uncomfortable topic and learn a thing or two.

At the time, I preferred to tune out the Penn State stuff. A prominent coach molesting young boys in a shower? No thanks. “It could never happen to me or my loved ones,” we say. “Surely this could never happen in my community.”

On Friday, however, I was reminded that we’re closer to this stuff than we realize. A colleague, Amy Hubbell, was livestreaming Aly Raisman’s testimony early in the marathon that was the Nassar sentence hearing. It wasn’t long before another co-worker said he knew Nassar in college — as well as former gymnasts in northern Michigan who traveled downstate to testify.

If you don’t already, here’s what you ought to know. Nassar is a former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics team doctor who is accused of sexual abuse by more than 150 women. According to the Huffington Post, “that’s nearly as many victims as the Jerry Sandusky, Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein scandals combined.” The same man who pleaded guilty to child pornography charges in a separate case last summer also pleaded guilty in November to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct in Ingham County and, as part of his plea deal, admitted that he used his status as a medical professional to sexually abuse young girls.

Tuesday marked Day 6 of the hearing, in which Nassar listened to Victim Impact Statements read by an upwards of 155 accusers. The sentencing was expected to come to a close yesterday.

Among the 155 accusers was gold medalist Aly Raisman, who said Nassar made late-night visits to her hotel room while she was competing overseas.

“The effects of your actions are far-reaching,” Raisman said. “Abuse goes way beyond the moment, often haunting survivors for the rest of their lives, making it difficult to trust and impacting their relationships. It is all the more devastating when such abuse comes at the hand of such a highly regarded doctor, since it leaves survivors questioning the organizations and even the medical profession itself upon which so many rely. I am here to face you, Larry, so you can see I’ve regained my strength, that I am no longer a victim, I am a survivor.”

What have I learned from all this?

Larry Nassar can be anybody. This guy was a decorated doctor with “magic hands,” but his abuse dates back to 1994, and no one stopped him. In other words, it seems some of these monsters are masters of disguise.

And it can happen anywhere. Let’s not forget: Last summer, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld sentences for two convictions of criminal sexual conduct of a well-respected community member in Leelanau County.

As such, people need to remain vigilant. I’m still not 100 percent sure what happened at Michigan State, but I am sure that it’s better to get in front of these things before they get this far. If you hear allegations, or rumors, of sexual abuse, do something about it now. I really hope the university handled all of this the right way internally.

Lastly, good may eventually come of this. The scandal is devastating, but maybe it can teach us something and help us prevent abuse in the future.

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