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Saturday Sports: Gymnasts Testify On Larry Nassar's Abuse


This week, women and girls have been standing up in court to denounce the man who sexually abused them. Dr. Larry Nassar, the longtime national team doctor for the U.S. women's gymnastics team. Their testimony's has been heart-wrenching and outrageous. It's left many reeling and wondering how such blatant abuse could go on for 20 years, how the USA Gymnastics Federation (ph) failed to protect young athletes and if Michigan State University covered up the complaints against Larry Nassar. We turn now to Howard Bryant of ESPN and ESPN the Magazine.

Howard, thanks very much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: I know we've both been watching the court proceedings. What did these women say? What did it mean for them to be able to confront this man?

BRYANT: Well, I think it's very important for them to be able to confront Larry Nassar, especially in a public forum because this is their life. As we always talk about with sports, this is our entertainment. But this is something so heinous that they've had to deal with - and not just Aly Raisman or Simone Biles or some of the other women that have come forward - or Gabby Douglas - that have said that they've been victims of Larry Nassar but also all of the athletes that have come before because this has been going on for 20 years...

SIMON: Twenty years, yeah.

BRYANT: ...I think. And so I think Aly Raisman - her testimony yesterday was incredibly powerful, where she looked at him and told him he was nothing and that they were a collective and that this was finished for him. But to me, Scott, one of the big things that bothers me about this is, why was this their responsibility? There's no question that you give them credit for their courage in stepping forward. But how did this happen? And how, when you look at this, how did it go on for so long? And the - and we're still even asking the question as to if there were problems with the structure. Of course there were problems with the structure.

SIMON: You mean the structure of the...

BRYANT: Of USA Gymnastics and with Michigan State and Karolyi Ranch and all of the particulars where the adults are supposed to take care of these athletes, are supposed to protect them.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And it's no different than any other scandal. When you're thinking about - whether it's church or concussions or the rest of it, you cannot allow - and you and I spoke about this a couple of months ago - that you allow the bad guy to go to jail and you leave the structure intact.

SIMON: Michigan State University announced - the board of trustees said they're - I guess an investigation is going to begin about what might have been a cover-up lasting for 20 years. My question would be, why did they wait so long? Not only why did they wait for 20 years but why did they - Larry Nassar has been under scrutiny for some time now.

BRYANT: Yeah. Well, I think that one of the reasons is for that thing. This is a very American thing that we do. We find the bad guy. We take the bad guy. And we punish the bad guy. And then we leave every mechanism that allowed the bad guy to exist and that enabled the bad guy - we leave those things alone. And Lou Anna Simon, the president of Michigan State, there are calls for her to resign right now. Clearly over some length of time of an investigation, you're going to have to find some impropriety with somebody other than Larry Nassar. He couldn't have done this all by himself.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And so this is one of the things that we have to deal with as a culture because we don't deal with it very well and especially when you're dealing with young people. Joan Ryan, years ago in San Francisco, wrote a fantastic book about a lot of the abusiveness, you know - "Little Girls In Pretty Boxes" back in 1995. And there are plenty of books on this subject.

But it's simply that we look at gymnastics in similar ways that we look at football and some of these other sports - is that it's our entertainment and we don't want to pay attention to what they go through to become elite athletes and all of the possible improprieties that can go on that ended up becoming reality.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF IKEBE SHAKEDOWN'S "THE WAY HOME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.