The specter of the Larry Nassar horror story continues to reverberate over everything he touched during his years practicing as a physician while molesting young athletes. Now, Michigan State University has come forward and agreed to pay $500 million in order to settle claims related to allegations made by more than 300 women and girls who said Nassar assaulted them.
Because Nassar worked so closely with the university, MSU was unable to extricate itself from the firestorm that erupted after Nassar was outed, accused, and later convicted of terrible crimes. The settlement easily eclipses the $100 settlement paid by Penn State University when it had to settle claims made by people accusing former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky of abuse. Brian Breslin, chairman of Michigan State’s governing board, had this to say: “We are truly sorry to all the survivors and their families for what they have been through, and we admire the courage it has taken to tell their stories… We recognize the need for change on our campus and in our community around sexual assault awareness and prevention.”
That some are already comparing MSU and Penn State’s cases to each other is bad for Michigan State, due to the fact that many believe some officials at PSU knew about Sandusky and did nothing… However, that comparison also provides a way forward for the school, whose leadership is desperately trying to separate their institution from Nassar’s crimes. Penn State is, largely, past the PR nightmare the school faced when Sandusky was exposed and, later, convicted. In the eyes of the fans, even the football team has been able to move on.
Michigan State isn’t there yet, and they won’t be for some time, as evidenced by at least one victim’s reaction to the settlement. Rachael Denhollander was one of the first women to publicly accuse Nassar of abuse. When she heard about the settlement, she told the press that the settlement, “…reflects the incredible damage which took place on MSU’s campus.”
That point of view clearly keeps Michigan State in the center of the blame for all that happened, something the university was hoping to avoid.
That’s a tough sell for many, though. Nassar treated many athletes at his MSU-based office, including many Olympians. That was a major feather in the cap for the university, and, now, that feather has turned into a thorn the university will not so easily pluck out.
MSU officials have been repeatedly and insistently accused of “ignoring or dismissing” complaints related to Nassar, and former medical school dean William Strampel, has been charged with “failing to properly supervise Nassar” as well.
At this point, trying to distance itself from the case and the fallout is not working for MSU. The public clearly expects a different response.