Former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon delivered her first public comments since resigning in January under the hot lights of a US Senate hearing room. Simon and two former officials of USA Gymnastics faced an intense grilling Tuesday by a Senate subcommittee.
Lawmakers are looking into how disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar was able to prey on young athletes for two decades before he was caught. Simon did not say there’s anything she would have done differently, even though the period when Nassar was committing his crimes corresponds more or less with her leading MSU.
Simon told the Senate panel she regrets what happened, and apologized to the hundreds of girls and women who were abused by Nassar.
“Again, to the survivors of Nassar’s abuse, I can never say enough, I am so sorry that a trusted, renowned physician turned out to be an evil predator,” she said. “And I am sorry we did not discover his crimes and remove him from the community sooner.”
Nassar was a physician who treated national champions and US Olympics athletes. And his victims say that helped provide him with cover to commit his crimes. Not all spoke up, but those who did say their complaints were ignored until two years ago.
Simon told the committee 2016 was the first she heard Nassar might be a predator.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t wish he had been caught and punished sooner,” she said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder what we missed, or what we could have done to detect this evil before the 2016 complaint.”
Two former officials with USA Gymnastics, which also employed Nassar as a sports doctor, sat at the table with Simon. There are multiple criminal investigations underway that are focused on some of the same questions committee members were asking – who at these organizations might have been aware of suspicions about Nassar, but failed to act.
Former USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny determined the best course for him was not to answer.
“I have been instructed by my attorney to assert my Fifth Amendment rights under the US Constitution,” he said “… I must respectfully decline to answer your question.”
After Penny refused to answer half a dozen times, the committee chair dismissed him. As he wordlessly walked out of the hearing room, a survivor yelled out at him: “Shame.”
The hearing continued with rounds of questions from lawmakers. Senator Gary Peters (D-Michigan) noted MSU has reached an agreement with a group of survivors that totals $500 million dollars.
“This settlement may have grown directly out of a culture that enabled a predator,” he said. “To put it simply, Larry Nassar likely didn’t get away with his abhorrent behavior for years on his own.”
Peters, who has a master’s degree from MSU, called the scandal a “stain” on the school that will last for decades. Simon agreed and called it “MSU’s darkest hour.”
But Simon’s act of contrition did not sit well with a group of Nassar survivors who traveled to DC for the hearing.
“I don’t think her apologies count for much,”
said Morgan McCaul, who said she heard nothing about changing the culture at MSU, or any real steps that might have changed what happened.
“I want to see her apologize for what she did, and I was also disappointed to hear that she wouldn’t do anything differently.”
McCauly says she hopes the Senate hearings will result in new federal laws that make it easier to charge people in positions of responsibility who are made aware of abuse, but don’t act.